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By 16 May 2019 | Categories: news

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Could this be the future of the South African minibus taxi? Ford has revealed the new Transit Smart Energy Concept, 10-seater minibus which is helping the automaker explore solutions for maximising the energy efficiency and driving range of electrified vehicles.

One problem with battery-electric vehicles is that the travelling distance can be impacted by things like internal climate control. For local taxis climate control usually only means opening a window, so perhaps it’s not as pertinent. However, in colder climates for example, the cabin heating feature can reduce driving range by as much as 50% according to the company.

Demonstrated recently for the first time at a special ‘Go Further’ experience in Amsterdam, Netherlands, the rather smart all-electric Transit Smart Energy Concept delivers 150 kilometres driving range from a four-hour charge, supported by energy-saving and energy-generating innovations from solar panels to powertrain heat recovery systems.

Developed by engineers at Ford’s Merkenich Technical Centre, Germany, the Transit Smart Energy Concept uses the same drivetrain technology as the StreetScooter WORK XL commercial vehicle, and a Ford Transit chassis fitted with a battery-electric drivetrain for zero-emissions driving.

Innovations which enhance energy efficiency and driving range being tested for the first time include:

  • An innovative heat pump system which utilises waste heat from the drivetrain components, the outside air, and the air within the cabin to reduce heating system energy usage by up to 65%, resulting in a range extension of 20%
  • power sliding door which opens halfway to reduce heat loss, and can be activated by the passenger using a smart device. The heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning blower is automatically deactivated when the door is open
  • Heated business-class passenger seats and surfaces which enable passengers to control their local temperature, reducing the energy required for the large cabin
  • Six roof-mounted solar panels which charge a 12-volt battery for powering seat heating, cabin lighting, and on-board electrical systems, including wireless charging for passenger mobile devices
  • polycarbonate divider between the passenger door and seating area, which further reduces heat loss as passengers enter and exit, and protects passengers from external elements
  • Ventilated double-glazed windows which reduce cold contact surfaces, and insulate against heat loss
  • Mood lighting which adjusts according to cabin temperature – red for warmth and blue for cooling – subliminally influencing passengers’ perception of cabin temperature
  • An insulated rear floor and roof which further reduce cabin heat loss

The driver can monitor the temperature status of all passenger seats from a tablet-inspired screen mounted in the centre console, which also gives an overview of the power savings. Two screens mounted behind the driver enable passengers to track the vehicle’s location, find out about points-of-interest, and receive news and weather updates. It’s clear that this is perhaps a much smarter minibus than one meant for a local transport system.

Future iterations of the concept are planned to enable the driver to control heating and cooling of individual seats, and deactivation of unoccupied seats. Automatic passenger detection, inspired by existing airbag deployment technologies, will also feature.

Ford anticipates beginning road-trials with the Transit Smart Energy Concept later this year after completing wind-tunnel tests.

“Whilst the Transit Smart Energy Concept isn’t available in South Africa,” says Kuda Takura, Smart Mobility specialist, Ford Motor Company of Southern Africa, “it’s a shining example of Ford’s ongoing commitment to developing new strategies to enhance the energy efficiency and driving range of electrified vehicles globally.”

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