OAK PARK, MI - Michigan Governor Jennifer M. Granholm drove one of the first Ford Transit Connect Electric small commercial vans in Oak Park on Sept. 22, citing collaboration among four companies as the key to delivering the zero-emissions vehicle to market.

Granholm also cited government funding as a significant catalyst to creating new green jobs in Michigan.

The companies -- Azure Dynamics, Ford Motor Co., Johnson Controls and AM General -- demonstrated their new product, the Ford Transit Connect Electric, at Azure's Oak Park headquarters.

"We've been working to grow clean energy manufacturing in Michigan to diversify the state's economy and create jobs," Granholm said. "The Transit Connect Electric is a prime example of the public and private sectors collaborating to invest in clean energy technologies that lead to new jobs for Michigan workers."

The government provided funding through the federal Department of Energy and the Michigan Economic Development Council to support development and production of the new battery electric vehicle. Program partners have all added significant jobs to their employee base for development and production of the vehicle, and Johnson Controls-Saft has opened a $220 million lithium-ion battery plant in Holland, Mich., to produce the batteries.

To create the Transit Connect Electric, Ford ships a vehicle body or "glider" to AM General's assembly facility in Livonia, Mich. Azure Dynamics then integrates its ForceDrive electric drivetrain into the Ford Transit Connect body. The ForceDrive electric powertrain uses an advanced lithium-ion battery built in Holland by Johnson Controls-Saft. Completed vehicles will be shipped directly to customers throughout North America.

"Electrified vehicles are a key part of our plan to offer a portfolio of green vehicles for retail and fleet customers, and we are building a center of excellence here in Michigan to develop and produce those vehicles," said Nancy Gioia, Ford director of global electrification. "The collaboration we share with our suppliers on the Transit Connect Electric is a critical component in our delivery of the first of five new electrified vehicles we are bringing to market within the next two years, including hybrids, pure battery electrics and plug-in hybrids."

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The Ford Transit Connect Electric can achieve a range of up to 80 miles on a single charge and has a top speed of 75 mph. The battery is rechargeable using either a 240-volt or standard 120-volt outlet. Commercial vans are considered excellent candidates for electrification because they generally drive predictable short-range routes and return to a central location at the end of the drive cycle for convenient overnight recharging. The Ford Transit Connect Electric would totally eliminate gas costs, Ford said.

"We are thrilled to be part of this collaboration," said Azure Dynamics CEO Scott Harrison. "Our partners in this collaboration are all proven, dependable companies who can help us ensure on-time deliveries of proven, dependable products that will help our mutual customers achieve their environmental goals. Today, we are also pleased to announce that one of our partners has also become one of our customers, demonstrating their confidence in this product."

In addition to Granholm's visit, Johnson Controls announced it has become a new lead customer for Azure Dynamics, ordering 20 Transit Connect Electric vans. The lead program was developed by Azure to deliver an exclusive supply of 2010 Transit Connect Electric vehicles to the first 10 customers in the fourth quarter of this year.

Johnson Controls' new battery plant in Holland is now making initial lithium-ion battery pack shipments to Azure. The plant is among the first fully dedicated li-ion automotive battery facilities in the world and was made possible in part by a $299 million matching grant through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act along with $168.5 million in incentives from the state of Michigan.

"The stimulus grant and the state of Michigan incentives substantially changed our manufacturing footprint expansion," said Mary Ann Wright, vice president for Technology and Innovation at Johnson Controls. "Without these incentives, we would not have come to the United States. As a result, we are here today -- less than 10 months since receiving the grant -- shipping batteries from our manufacturing line in Holland, MI that are making their way into real vehicles for real customers."

The Transit Connect Electric will be produced by AM General at a facility in Livonia.

"It is no accident that AM General's Engineering and Product Development Center is located in Livonia. Our more than 500 highly skilled workers provide design and engineering expertise for some of the most advanced military and commercial specialty vehicles in the world," said Rick Smith, president of AM General commercial business. "We benefit tremendously from the abundant experience base, significant infrastructure and higher education resources that Michigan provides." 

Originally posted on Green Fleet Magazine

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