WE’VE had a chance to test drive Ford’s new geofencing technology.
It’s available as a standard item on the new Ford Transit Custom PHEV from autumn 2020 and will be retro-fitted free of charge to all those Transit Custom PHEVs that have already been leased or sold – if operators want it.
Geofencing is a clever technology that, thanks to GPS location technology, can create emission free running zones. The term geofencing refers to the creation of a virtual fence or perimeter around a physical location.
In the case of the Transit Customer PHEV the geofence automatically switches the van into fully electric emission-free operation. The beauty of the system is that the driver of the van needn’t do anything to make the van run emission-free. What’s more, the encrypted data can be shared with authorities to confirm low-emission zone regulation compliance, avoiding the risk of wrongful fines and penalties.
The obvious advantage for this is when entering areas such as London’s Ultra Low Emission Zone or when Clean Air Zones (CAZ) are created. The system is pre-configured for legislated zones; when new zones are created, these are added via Over-the-Air (OTA) updates.
Van operators can also create their own go-fenced zones using the online Ford portal – these can be around depots, near schools and so on. They are easy to create by drawing a zone on a map.
So does the geofencing work?
We had an opportunity to test the geofencing close to Ford’s mobility division at Here East in Stratford, east London.
The geofence indicator is located to the right of the steering wheel just in front of the cupholder. A green ring encircles the image of a Transit Custom.
It stays that way until you start to approach a geofenced location when the ring starts to fill in.
According to Ryan Wells, Ford project lead on geofencing, this is “telling you that the system is aware it is approaching a geofenced location and has switched the PHEV system into saving the most amount of energy so it can effectively deploy the battery in the geofenced zone”.
Once you are within the geofence, the green ring fills in completely. To be honest that’s about as much as you will really notice when you enter the geofence. The already quiet PHEV stays that way and whispers its way throughout the zone driving along on its battery. The 1.0-litre engine, which acts as a generator for the battery, remains switched off and only re-engages once you are out of the geofence.
In many ways you would like the van to light up green or go through some other sort of zero emission visualisation – such as in the photograph where the Transit Custom PHEV bursts through a blue ring. But that doesn’t happen. However, you do have the certainty that you have complied with clean air zone regulations.
What if you run out of charge in a geofence?
The geofence operation is ‘smart’ and won’t dump you in the middle of a zone with an empty battery.
Wells again: “The geofence prioritises EV running when it drives into a geofence.” In other words, it will run EV as a default but won’t leave the van stranded if it runs out of battery energy. The reality is that van operators will know their routes and will ensure zero emission running in within a geofenced area.
Ford says that it believes 5% of Transit Custom sales going forward will be PHEV models. With the opportunity for 100mpg we saw in our test and the chance for local trades to run in EV mode only with all the fuel savings that entails, it could easily be more.
A recent Ford study showed that hybrid-electric vehicles could help improve urban air quality: 75 per cent of miles driven in central London by study participants – which included operators Addison Lee Group, British Gas, Heathrow Airport, the Metropolitan Police and Transport for London during the PHEV’s initial assessment phase – were completed in the Transits’ zero-emission electric-only mode.
We feel standard geofencing technology will only help push up that percentage.
Video: New Geofencing Tech Supports Cleaner Air for Cities
Watch this video to understand more about Ford’s geofencing technology on the Transit Customer PHEV.