Make / Model Search

News - Ford - Transit - PHEV

Ford Transit Custom arrives, but where’s the PHEV?

Is Ford Australia missing a trick by bypassing a PHEV in favour of an EV?

6 Jun 2024


AS THE first allocation of Ford Transit Customs arrives in this country and Ford prepares the way for all-electric E-Custom variants to join them by the end of the year, there remains one curious gap in the brand’s local plan for its second-generation medium van – a hybrid. 
Such a product already exists – in Europe – the plug-in hybrid (PHEV) Transit Custom, however, is a puzzling omission from the Australian portfolio given Ford Australia has already pledged to make a PHEV variant of the Ranger available in 2025. 
Ford’s petrol-electric Ranger will arrive in the same year as the federal government’s New Vehicle Efficiency Standard (NVES) comes into effect. 
In Australia, Ford has committed to just two powertrain configurations for the Transit Custom: a 125kW/390Nm 2.0-litre turbo diesel paired with an eight-speed automatic and front-wheel drive, and a 160kW/415Nm single-motor battery-electric. 
Europe and the UK get a more diverse line-up comprising four different outputs of the 2.0L diesel with an optional manual transmission, an all-wheel-drive version of the 125kW diesel, a petrol-electric plug-in hybrid, as well as 100kW, 160kW and 210kW versions of the battery-electric E-Transit Custom. 
It is obvious why the manual was not considered for Australia; low manual uptake coupled with no appetite for manual transmissions from Aussie fleet operators effectively kills the business case for them while AWD vans are a niche in this country.  
By why hold back from adding another fuel-efficient option to the range and a useful ‘middle step’ between a combustion-only van and a battery-only van? 
According to Ford Australia general manager of fleet Christine Wagner, a desire to reduce range complexity was a big part of the decision to exclude the Transit Custom PHEV from the local line-up. 
With just six Transit Custom variants across two different wheelbase lengths and two trim levels plus two variants of the Transit Custom-based Tourneo people mover, limiting powertrain options to just two was critical to keeping engine and bodystyle permutations down and the cost of the program in check.  
Does the PHEV have potential, though? 
It certainly might sway operators who are not ready to roll the dice on an all-electric van but are keen to reduce their fuel expenses, and the numbers are indeed enticing. 
With a 1.4L/100km average fuel efficiency on the WLTP cycle, the Transit Custom PHEV uses less than half as much fuel as a Toyota Yaris hybrid – on paper at least – and emits just 40g/km of CO2 (a number that should sound more and more attractive the further we get into the NVES timeline).  
If operators find that the 57km electric-only range supplied by the 11.8kWh battery is sufficient for their day’s driving, then they will burn no fuel and emit no carbon (provided renewable energy is used to charge it).  
There is also a utility advantage, with the PHEV able to be equipped with the same Pro Power kit that will come in the E-Transit Custom which allows up to 2300kw to be offloaded from the onboard battery via two household power outlets mounted near the rear doors. 
It effectively turns the van into a self-propelled generator set which could be a major win for construction trades and mobile businesses that need to work on sites without access to grid power. The diesel-engined Transit Custom does not have the Pro Power capability. 
Powered by a 2.5-litre Atkinson-cycle petrol inline-four and electric motor driving the front wheels via a continuously variable transmission (the same powertrain used by the Escape PHEV during its brief tenure in Australia), the Transit Custom PHEV produces a combined 171kW of power and around 350Nm of torque.  
There is no fast-charging capability and energy throughput maxes out at 3.6kW, so a charge from zero per cent to full takes 3.9 hours. Its 2300kg maximum towing capacity is also – like the all-electric E-Transit Custom – 200kg down on what the diesel Transit Custom can tow though in its most payload-friendly configuration the PHEV can carry a very useful 1350kg within its capacious load area.  
However, like all PHEVs, the petrol/electric Transit Custom suffers from one intrinsic fault: its efficiency is directly linked to the diligence of its operator. 
A recent study by the European Commission that analysed vehicle fuel consumption data found PHEVs were, on average, burning 3.5 times more fuel than expected, a result that confirmed suspicions that owners and operators were not charging their PHEVs frequently enough to realise any fuel economy benefit, instead running their vehicles predominantly on combustion power and relegating the battery and electric motor to dead weight. 
While Ford Australia would bear no penalty associated with how efficiently its customers used the PHEV van, it’s not hard to visualise a scenario where owners become dissatisfied with higher-than-expected operational costs when drivers, especially those armed with a company fuel card, take the easy route of pumping fuel rather than plugging in. 
At least with the E-Transit Custom, drivers have no choice but to charge up. Maintenance costs would likely also be higher, with the combustion engine dictating a 12-month servicing cycle rather than the E-Transit Custom’s more generous 24-month cycle. 
Taxation may be a factor that harms the PHEV business case too. While PHEVs currently enjoy the same Fringe Benefits Tax (FBT) discount as BEVs when purchased for a company fleet or as a novated lease, that privilege is set to go away for PHEVs on April 1 2025. 
An all-electric van will continue to unlock the FBT exemption which would arguably diminish the attractiveness of the Transit Custom PHEV – at least from a company bookkeeper’s point of view. 
Yet while pricing for the E-Transit Custom has yet to be revealed, there’s likely to be a significant gap between pricing of the diesel range – which tops out at $62,990 for the high-grade Transit Custom Sport Double Cab – and that of the BEV van, a gap that a PHEV could handily slot into. 
That said, there is also potential for Ford to close that gap if it adopts the cheaper lithium-iron-phosphate (LFP) battery chemistry used by the Mustang Mach-E rather than the resource-intensive Nickel Cobalt Manganese (NMC) chemistry of the E-Transit Custom’s 64kWh battery pack. 
Ford vehicle integration manager Eduardo Correia said there are no current plans to add a lower-cost LFP battery to the E-Transit Custom, although the potential exists for this to be done later in the lifecycle. 
As for the PHEV, we are told the door to Australia is not permanently closed and that a positive experience with the upcoming Ranger PHEV may well change the company’s attitude toward adding that option to the Transit Custom range. 

For now, though, Ford’s local van line-up will leave the hybrid sitting on the bench, unable to roll up its sleeves and get to work.

Read more

Click to share

Click below to follow us on
Facebook  Twitter  Instagram

Ford articles

Transit pricing

Motor industry news

GoAutoNews is Australia’s number one automotive industry journal covering the latest news, future and new model releases, market trends, industry personnel movements, and international events.

Catch up on all of the latest industry news with this week's edition of GoAutoNews
Click here