Demise of Azure Dynamics Casts Doubt on All Electric Retrofitters

By · August 30, 2012

Ford Transit Connect Electric

Azure Dynamics, the maker of the Ford Transit Connect Electric, is going through its final death throes. While the fate of the Transit Connect EV is uncertain, the failure of yet another commercial vehicle retrofitter raises questions about the viability of the business model in general. There is a place in the EV world for retrofitters, but not for very many. For those companies, conversions specifically to electric drivetrains probably won’t be their main business. Other alternative fuels are looking more attractive these days.

Azure filed for bankruptcy in late March and appears to have been unsuccessful at any attempts to recapitalize. On August 8, Azure sold its patents; on August 17 it suspended warranty claims. A few days ago, I heard from someone in the EV industry that all of Azure’s employees would be laid off soon. That source aimed to hire some of Azure’s engineers. I haven’t been able to reach Azure to confirm.

Ford unveiled the Transit Connect Electric in February 2010. In a company statement issued at that time, Derrick Kuzak, Ford group vice president, Global Product Development, said, “Not only is this an ideal vehicle for eco-conscious fleet operators, it is an important part of Ford’s future.”

But Ford spokesperson Wesley Sherwood yesterday told PluginCars.com that Ford has no plans at this time to manufacturer Transit Connect Electrics based on Azure’s propulsion system. "This is an Azure vehicle sold through their network," he said. "We just provided them the incomplete glider vehicle that they upfitted, similar to the numerous other upfitters that customize and sell our various versions of our vehicles."

If the Transit Connect Electric somehow lives on, the market will be government fleets. That’s who is buying Transit Connect EVs from TranWest Truck Center in Fontana, Calif. I talked to commercial account manager David Pratt and he said TransWest had two Transit Connect EVs in stock and that the City of Santa Monica has committed to buying both. “Government is definitely the big customer” for alternative fuel vehicles, said Pratt.

The Transit Connect Electric always had a problem with price. It’s sticker was $57,400. Other electric-drive retrofitters are similarly overpriced. As a result, less costly alternatives are starting to look sexy to fleets. Pratt mentioned another company in Fontana doing conversions, Agility Fuel Systems. “They are always busy,” he said. Indeed, Agility recently opened a 29,500 sq. ft. headquarters in Orange County south of Los Angeles. It makes natural gas fuel systems for heavy-duty trucks.

Comments

· Max Reid (not verified) · 5 years ago

Cost of regular Transit Connect is 22K, the Electric model is 57K and that too for only 80 mile range. Naturally it will scare anyone. Business cannot afford to spend so much.

Pricing should be realistic and affordable. All EVs are highly priced for now. If they continue to be like this, then the plugins will take away their market.

· Spec (not verified) · 5 years ago

It is all about costs and price.

As Max points out, the Transit Connect Electric was just too damn expensive. The Ford Focus Electric that had an out-sourced drivetrain but is built at Ford plants is also too expensive.

Retro-fitting and outsourcing just doesn't work. Perhaps it can work in low volume & high-price specialty markets like large trucks.

· Bill Howland (not verified) · 5 years ago

Is that engineer (O'Stransky??? (sp?) ) from "Who killed the Electric Car?" still alive? We only need about 5 people like him in the entire country to design a rugged, light weight, energy dense, long-lasting economical battery...

Unfortunately, True Talent is rare. But this dude had it.

· · 5 years ago

Stan Ovshinsky is still with us, Bill. But his wife at the time, Iris (also in the movie) died a few years ago . . .

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stanford_R._Ovshinsky

Yeah, the Transit Connect EV was way overpriced. I won't even go into the goofy Popemobile styling (well, I guess I just did.) Ford seems to want to build a few of this and a few of that, in terms of pure EVs . . . very cautious and seemingly non-committal.

When Ford gets into range extender vehicles, like the C-Max, they give us half the EV range of a Chevy Volt . . . the "Half Volt!"

Is there now some sort of race between manufacturers to provide a mostly gasoline powered vehicle with even less pure electric range than the competition and still call itself an EV? Toyota's Plug in Prius does just 15. Here's betting that Chrysler will one-up everyone else with a range extender car that travels only 10 miles via electricity. But who will be the first to only do 5 and still have the nerve to badge it "EV"?

The race is on! Backwards into the future! Or is it forward into the past?

: - {

· · 5 years ago

It should be cheaper to start with a Leaf, remove the back seat, and "enlarge" the body to give it the same volume inside as the Transit Connect. It might look horrible, though.

Nissan will unveil its electric minivan next year, so anyway that electric Ford is doomed.

· Anonymous (not verified) · 5 years ago

Unfortunately, AZD chose to try to expand too quickly, they wanted to play with the big boys, spend like the big boys, but didn't have the production to spread the costs. Fine to spend $100,000 on documentation when spread out over millions over units, but to try to spread those costs over 1000's of units instead, just doesn't pay. A great company drawn down by delusions of grandeur. One of the best EV control systems, some of the best people in development, too bad they couldn't keep it going.

· Anonymous (not verified) · 5 years ago

Ford touted this thing at the 2010 Chicago Auto Show and on press releases showing off their EV timeline, sold and serviced the vehicle through Ford dealers, and it's still being advertised on ford.com along with Ford's other EVs and Hybrids. This is not simply "similar to the numerous other upfitters that customize and sell our various versions of our vehicles." Ford can go ahead and let Azure go bust, but it's really lame if they try to distance themselves from this product to the point of not supporting the customers who were so enthusiastic about this technology that they decided to pay the high price of entry. Ford should pick up the warranty coverage on these vehicles in Azure's absence.

· EVlvr (not verified) · 5 years ago

I think Ford has some responsibility here - washing their hands of it and saying 'it's not a Ford, it's an Azure" is more than lame. Wasn't the Ford name attached to the conversions? If they want to pretend they have no skin in this, they should have had Azure come up with another name from the beginning, as GM has done with the company converting Chevy trucks into extended range EVs and rebadging them as VIAs.

· Jim Stack (not verified) · 5 years ago

The new Tesla X can carry items like the Transit Connet and has a longer range for about the same starting price.

When you factor in maintenance cost and fuel cost not to mention brake wear the Tesla X is less to own and operate. EVs are like an LED light bulb, more cost up front much less to operate and last longer. I'll predict the AC motors in EVs will last 1 to 10 Million miles. The lithium batteries with temperature control will last over 250K miles and all you have to do is replace the tires ! US electricity is 4 to 10 times less compared to gas or diesel.

· rbryan (not verified) · 5 years ago

Maybe the same tax credits / incentives given to new vehicles should be extended to conversions as well. There are many good reasons to do so, including: leveraging small business inventiveness, an additional segment of auto sector job growth, encourage and broaden plug-in market understanding-participation-growth, reducing national carbon emissions more quickly.
There's a new petition for this idea at: http://wh.gov/bUEc. Please sign.

· John Cooper (not verified) · 5 years ago

I agree the cost is too high. I would love to purchase one, even with the funky styling. But the car companies are going to have to take that leap of faith and go into mass production to bring the prices down. I just don't believe that with one moving part, an electric motor is more expensive to produce than an internal combustion engine in volume. Even with the controller added in. I also agree that the incentives should be available to conversions. More demand for batteries will result in lower pricing there as well.

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