Demise of Azure Dynamics Casts Doubt on All Electric Retrofitters

By Alysha Webb · August 30, 2012

 

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.