Green Update–>Here Come the Volts, Leafs, …and Transit Connects

Volts lined up in snow

The first deliveries of Volts are coming off the line at the Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly Plant, and 350 (originally reported as 160) cars will be shipped this week to dealers in California, Texas, Washington, DC, and New York. Chevrolet intends to go nationwide with the Volt within two years.

GM touts this as a milestone, which it is, even as CEO Dan Akerson bad-mouths the competitive Prius as a “geek-mobile.” (Why are GM bosses like Akerson, Lutz, and Whitacre always given foot-in-mouth media training?)

Two Nissan Leafs have already been delivered to West Coast buyers, also with some corporate hoopla, but Nissan is pursuing a cautious launch in California, Arizona, Oregon, Seattle, and Tennessee. Ultimately the 20,000 reservations for cars “will be filled by the end of summer 2011” (doubtful, I think).

Less coverage has been given to the Ford Transit Connect Electric, which also shipped its first vehicles to customers last week. The van is really a joint product of Ford and Azure Dynamics in Livonia, Mich., and could help turn the corner on electrified vehicles here and in the U.K.

I think the concept is a winner, since it’s perfect for small delivery businesses and fleets that run their vehicles on fairly predictable routes of less than the truck’s 80-mile-per-day range. The vans can recharge at night, so there’s no range anxiety, very low maintenance, and Ford has lined up some big-company commitments. The full story is here.

The problem is—and will be for a while—the price: $57,400 U.S. before any incentives. Since you can buy the gas-powered version starting at $21,200, it will take years to recoup the price difference through maintenance savings. Yet companies like AT&T, Southern California Edison, and Johnson Controls have signed on.

There is also talk of a CNG version, and there will likely be competition abroad from Nissan-Renault with its Kangoo Van ZE electric, which launched in the U.K. in September at £16,990 ($28,643 U.S.) minus VAT.

Do you think electric vans have a viable future?

—jgoods

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Used Toyota Prius
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