Ford plans to offer a battery electric-powered version of its Turkish-built Transit Connect small van through some US dealers next year, the automaker said as it announced conventional two-litre petrol powered models with four-speed automatic transmission ahead of their public launch at the Chicago motor show.

The automaker is collaborating with what it described as "Europe's leading battery electric commercial vehicle upfitter" - Smith Electric Vehicles, a unit of the Tanfield Group - to speed the introduction, it said in a statement on Monday.

The development is part of the so-called One Ford global strategy and will offer pure battery electric power for commercial applications on a global platform.

"It also supports Ford's strategy of bringing scalable, affordable and fuel-efficient solutions for millions while helping reduce American commercial vehicle dependence on oil," the firm said.

"The new Transit Connect light commercial vehicle with battery electric power represents the next logical step in our pursuit of even greater fuel economy and sustainability," said Derrick Kuzak, Ford's group vice president of global product development.

"A growing number of our commercial vehicle fleet clients have expressed interest in electrification as a sustainable mobility solution."

The new van will be followed by a a new battery electric small car in 2011, plus next-generation hybrid vehicles and plug-in versions in 2012.

Since 1920, Smith has converted tens of thousands of vehicles to battery electric power and already offers battery electric versions of the larget Transit van line to fleet customers in the UK and some parts of Europe.

Ford said a range of up to 100 miles (160km) would make the electric Transit Connect a "useful hauler, with significantly reduced operation and maintenance costs over the long haul".

Numerous federal and regional programmes offer incentives for US companies to electrify their fleets, the automaker noted.