Been wanting an electric cargo van to build your adventure vehicle on? The 2022 Ford Transit will be offered in an all-electric model, and they say it will come with the largest public charging network in North America. But will that be enough to make this a good option for a camper van? What else should you know about using an electric vehicle for your Overland dreams? We asked the experts at VanDOit for a quick explanation of how this might work…

2022 Ford Transit Electric overview

all electric ford transit camper van conversion
This graphic and top photo courtesy Ford Motor Co.

The all-electric 2022 Ford Transit isn’t just about putting an emissions-free electric drivetrain on a cargo van…but it is mostly about using that drivetrain for cargo vans. Meaning, Ford is aiming this model at fleet operators who use cargo vans to, you know, haul cargo.

On top of the battery and motor will sit an advanced electronics system that’s aimed at helping companies manage their vehicles digitally. Meaning, they’ll use onboard connectivity and data systems to help streamline routes, improve driver behavior, and otherwise optimize performance to increase efficiency. They’ll also incorporate tons of safety technology, like forward collision warnings, lane keeping assistance, pedestrian detection and automatic emergency/pre-collision braking, automatic high beam headlights, and more.

They say the vehicles will also save on maintenance costs, and reduce downtime. The electric Transit will be built in America (with some foreign parts) and is part of an $11.5 billion investment in electric vehicle technology from Ford. Other models benefitting from this program include the F-150 and an upcoming full electric Mustang MACH-E. Full specs and details will be announced in the near future.

So, can I build a full electric camper van?

vandoit custom camper van built on ford transit passenger van

Let’s be real. Not having to buy gas would be awesome. But we’re a long way from having roof top solar panels keep our adventure vans from humming down the highway all day. Still, we wondered if it were realistic to start having electric dreams. Unfortunately, we got grounded real quick. Here’s why:

“From my understanding, they’re trying to take what’s been learned at Rivian and streamline that,” says Jared McCauslin, the creative director at VanDOit. “And I like the idea of having a full electric vehicle to go off-grid with and using just electricity to power everything.”

“The idea of it for a delivery vehicle is really smart. The problem is that the charging stations don’t tend to be where people want to go camping and adventuring. And you’d potentially have to wait quite a while to charge it at current charging stations. There’s also the concern over battery performance in extreme conditions…it’s not like you can just borrow a battery from someone like you can with gas. You almost become more dependent on the grid in many cases.”

vandoit battery pack for custom camper vans powered by solar

There are also likely reasons that Ford is starting with cargo vans and not passenger vans. Jared said a fully loaded 15-passenger van could have twice the payload of a loaded cargo van. That much weight would dramatically decrease the range, particularly in city streets.

And keep in mind, you have to cut your range in half if you’re doing an out-and-back adventure. Because if you have a 300 mile range, you can only go 150 miles out into the middle of nowhere if you plan on driving back.

Could you just use a generator to keep it charged?

backwoods adventure mods bumpers for ford transit fit
The Backwoods Adventure Mods rear bumper cabinet fits a small Honda generator inside.

Theoretically, wouldn’t a small generator plugged into the system act kinda like a home-made hybrid setup?

“I can’t see why you couldn’t do that,’ Jared says. “But then it becomes a question of why would you want a fully electric vehicle if you’re going to throw a gas motor back on there and have to carry gas cans. But more realistically, a small generator is like plugging your hybrid into a standard 110 socket at home…it’ll charge your car, but it’s going to take a really long time. It’s not like a supercharger at a Tesla station. Driving the van will deplete the batteries faster than a generator could charge them.”

The takeaway? If, or rather when, the infrastructure gets there, it’s gonna be awesome. But we’re a ways away from it being truly practical.

OK, but what about mobile bike shops?

velofix mobile bike shop franchise lets you own your own business doing mobile bicycle repairs

VeloFix could be the real winners here now that they’re expanding their corporate-owned fleets. And for independent bike fitters and repair folks, get rid of fuel costs and maintenance downtime and you potentially add a whole lot back to your bottom line. The vehicles are likely to cost more up front, but amortized over a commercial payment plan, it may balance out.

What do you think? Would you build out an adventure rig in a full electric van?

21 COMMENTS

  1. Electric vehicles can make your adventures greener – but it depends on where the electricity comes from. Wind power? Sweet! Hydro? Sure! Nuclear? Hmm, not so much. Coal-fired plant? Better to drive a gas vehicle.

    • Coal fired plants are closing down all across the country – they can’t compete with natural gas. So, power from the grid is coming from gas, wind, solar, nuclear.

    • So when you say greener adventures you are just going to ignore the huge environmental impact of making the batteries in the first place?

      • I don’t ignore it but, yes, the environmental footprint of making the batteries in the first place is significantly smaller over the life of the vehicle than burning gasoline to power it. There are people who bought Teslas and Nissan Leafs a decade ago who’re still going strong with their original batteries, and battery technology has improved a lot since then. So an electric vehicle battery’s environmental footprint is averaged over years, potentially decades, versus tank, after tank, after tank of gas (ad infinitum).

        And I don’t have an EV. I don’t even have a driver’s licence. So I’m not trying to convince myself that my purchase was correct. I’m just looking at the science here.

    • @Heffe, obviously hydro/wind/solar are best. But electric vehicles are better for the environment than gas cars (when looked at holistically over their service life) even when the electricity does come from coal. Every analysis that’s survived peer review has come to that conclusion, as that’s the essentially universal scientific consensus. Gasoline cars really *are* that bad when compared to EVs. But as @Murdock says, the grid keeps getting more green, and e-cars are getting greener along with them.

    • @Heffe, Nuclear energy is great for combating Global warming, we just need to focus on how to handle the waste and make the plants safter than what we built in the 1980-2000. We have the knowledge and we need the power IMHO.

    • @Heffe This actually isn’t true. The podcast “How to save a planet” as well as youtube channel “Engineering Explained” and others have done analysis on it and found that an electric car is still more fuel efficient when run off of a fossil fuel powered grid due to the fact that power plants are far more thermally efficient than a car engine(due to economies of scale and operational efficiencies) AND the fact that electric cars and hybrids have regenerative braking. Additionally, electrical grids in countries where people can afford electric cars aren’t 100% fossil fuel anymore and renewables are the fastest growing sector in power generation. Many countries are and have been for quite some time majority non-fossil fuel (Canada for example is over 60% Hydro & Nuclear). Practically speaking though, the most ‘green’ mode of transportation is still cycling.

  2. A missing piece from this article is that it’s possible (with the right adaptor) to get level-2 charging out of most RV sites at campgrounds. Level-2 charging is plenty fast if you’re parked for several hours, let alone overnight. So you could go essentially as far as you want in one of these, with a minimum of pre-planning. And the cost advantages to doing so are significant, in addition to the environmental benefits. You’re more likely to be stuck in a gas vehicle with a gas-related mechanical problem than a electric vehicle that’s run out of electricity, which is another point this article doesn’t touch on. No radiator problems, transmission problems, no spark plug replacement, no belts and filters, not even so much as the need for an oil change in an electric vehicle. Lower maintenance means fewer times stuck somewhere due to unexpected breakdown!

  3. It also is worth noting that even with a modest solar PV panel setup on the roof, if you did run out of energy somewhere you had solar exposure, you could trickle charge back up to say drive out a day or so later…

    Some quick back of envelope calculations here: start with a 25mpg equivalent van needing 2kWh/mi (9.4L/100km at 1.2kWh/km in SI) then 12 hours of sun on a 340W panel setup (less than 1/2 the roof from VanDoIt) would get you 10 miles (17km) back towards a charging point. Of course, there are energy losses & efficiencies to factor in there…

    But I’ve also seen a number of 1200W rooftop setups, and in a long nordic summer day that might give you 6x or more range.
    60 miles / 100km per day in ideal conditions isn’t anywhere near the range of a gas tank, but it’s not nothing.
    And it is self-replenishing, entirely off-the-grid.

  4. Intrigued, but concerned that this won’t have much practical highway range. Compared to a Tesla, this has a huge frontal area and a far less aerodynamic shape. Probably would take twice the battery capacity of a Model 3 to get the same range…..and that would really drive up the cost. For stop-and-go urban delivery driving, where your speeds are lower and you can regen energy into the battery every time you’re coasting or lightly braking, and your total distance in a given day is relatively modest, a smaller, more affordable battery will do. I suspect that’s the role this van has been developed for.

    A plug-in hybrid would be the ultimate solution for a #vanlife vehicle. You could run on battery alone for short trips, or use the combustion engine for longer trips, arriving at your camp location with a full PEHV battery that could double has a super-high-capacity house battery.

    • Yes! Plus, the built in air conditioner while be MUCH more convenient and efficient that a typical rooftop RV AC that then requires you to run a generator at the same time. A PHEV with a cabin AirCon running off the hybrid battery, that automatically re-charges off the built-in engine sounds perfect for off-grid camping.

  5. Not sure why Ford didn’t bring over the plug-in hybrid drivetrain vs. the full electric. The electric limits range.

    • The range is fine. Unless driving IS the job, clocking 100+ miles on a truck for work every day is just wasting it in traffic.

    • FYI, that euro PHEV transit WOULD be perfect, except it isn’t available with several features that would be game changers for vanlife:
      No towing capacity
      No high roof
      No extended body option
      No all wheel drive
      No adaptive cruise control

      I’m guessing Ford is focused on building the Transit PHEV to be compliant with European efficiency requirements, which means none of these weight-adding features are possible. I’d choose to have those, and deal with the added fuel costs, but evidently in not allowed to make that choice.

  6. The future is starting. It’s far from perfect but it’s gonna get better and better. It’s all based on the price of energy and getting the infrastructure in place. Charging stations, battery recycling, better energy storage and more efficiency is all coming and coming fast. Let’s talk in 5 or 6 years. This is great for the planet and the people.

    • BINEGAR!!! You’re alive!!

      The future is here? Yea…. right. Now that we have fancy clothes, can we improve the monkey wearing them? Nothing says “I love the planet” like lumbering around in one of these to go play. Maybe a Unimog is worse. Maybe.
      Anyway- I miss the Bontrager you sold me many lives ago. And I still blame the downfall of Bontrager on you. Only you. Solely you.

      And- electric or fart fired, given the number of Sprinters and similar variants- the last thing any of us need are more trucker hat wearing, bearded, trailhead poaching, flannel clad outdoorsy doods floating around with branded coozies on their IPAs while they spray about #VanLife.
      (written while wearing flannel, and generally looking like every other Colorado refugee)

  7. It’s ridiculous to think you could be doing something positive for the earth by purchasing a brand new $60,000 van as an “adventure” vehicle. But here we are.

    • Yep, I have an electric car and I really love it but I love to take the subway even more, especially when I am drunk. If I could just put everything on my bike, I would. This being said, I get that some parts of american might not be high speed charge everywhere but the idea that you need a car that runs 500kms to survice is pretty odd to me. I’m a suburban and will never run more than 200 kms a day and thats if I don’t plug at a stop (like my office or anywhere really). So I love the idea that Tesla is pushing on autonomy but its rather getting to the point where its kind of not useful in a modern grid country.

  8. I drive an ev. Anywhere you go with an outlet can charge the van. This includes all campsites. So the infrastructure is there. I know, i use it. Lol.

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