The following is a posting by Jeff Sabatini on Autoblog reviewing Ford Motor Co.’s announced transition from the E-Series van to the Ford Transit, a popular European platform.
It is not often that an automaker decides to dump a best-selling vehicle line, one that’s dominated its segment for decades. But Ford’s commercial vehicle team is doing it not once, but twice. Ford had been phasing out its Panther platform for a good five years before it finally ceased production of its Crown Victoria taxi, Police Interceptor and Lincoln Town Car livery offerings in September. Now the company is set to do similarly with its E-Series van, which will eventually be replaced by Ford’s Transit, the venerable European equivalent.
When the final Panthers rolled off the assembly line in St. Thomas, Ontario, Canada, Ford was left with no direct replacement. Instead, the company plans to sell the compact Transit Connect van in the taxi market, upgraded Tauruses and Explorers as police cars, and a “Town Car” version of the Lincoln MKT crossover to livery operators. All things being equal, these are significantly better products than their Panther-based predecessors, yet in a commercial market where “change” is a four-letter word, Ford has a lot of explaining to do.
The company’s transition from the E-Series to the Transit certainly seems simpler on the surface, as it’s a model-for-model substitution, but that’s not exactly the case. When it launches the North American Transit in 2013, Ford says the new van will be available in multiple body styles, with different roof heights and with multiple engine options, greatly expanding the choices available to its commercial customers. And those who just want to buy a plain, white E-Series will still be able to do so, as Ford will not be discontinuing the model, at least not initially.
“We have a transition plan,” said Doug Scott, Ford Truck Group Marketing Manager, but he declined to specify how long Ford will continue to build the E-Series after the Transit goes on sale, saying only that selling both vehicles concurrently, “will give us enough time to prove out Transit and win [customers] over.”
Scott did say the plan to phase out the E-Series was not sales-dependent, as Ford clearly does not want the E-Series to linger on like the Panther cars did. But Ford will actually continue to build the E-Series in chassis and cutaway cab form at its Ohio Assembly facility in Avon Lake in suburban Cleveland. This plant will be devoted entirely to commercial chassis production, with Ford’s Super Duty F-650 and F-750, and F-53 and F-59 models also being produced there. The F-53 is primarily a Class A motorhome chassis; the E-Series chassis is also popular for motorhomes.
While the E-Series has been the best-selling commercial van in the U.S. for 32 years with over 8 million sold, the Transit has been similarly successful in Europe, where it’s a best-seller both on the continent and in the U.K. Total Transit production has topped 6 million units, and it’s sold around the world in many different configurations. Unlike the E-Series, it’s a unibody vehicle, but with the flexibility to be offered in front-, rear- or all-wheel-drive. In Europe it has primarily been available with turbo-diesel engines, although for the U.S., Ford will certainly offer it with a gasoline engine. We are told that Ford has yet to decide which of its North American engines will be fitted under the hood, but that anything is possible, even a V8.
Ford says the transition to Transit makes sense for customers because the Transit will offer a 25% improvement in fuel economy, thanks in part to a roughly 300-pound weight savings, but without any sacrifice in durability or capability. By switching to a global platform, Ford expects to save money while being able to offer more frequent product refreshes, while also being better able to cope with increasing regulatory expenses.
Forest City, Iowa-based Winnebago Industries, Inc. was recognized by Ford Motor Co. for receiving the “fully meets” classification as part of their Truck Quality Program. According to a press release, Winnebago Industries has received this award from Ford since the program’s inception in 1997.
The Truck Quality Program is the highest honor awarded to vehicle modifiers. It is based on an assessment of a modifier’s engineering capability, design and build process controls, management commitment and quality control procedures. According to Ford, the purpose of this program is to “assure vehicle modifiers have the capability and processes in place to complete the vehicle in a repeatable manner that maintains the integrity of the Ford chassis system, meets Federal and other standards in place at the time of the build and provides end users with a quality-built vehicle that meets their expectations.”
“We work very closely with Ford, as with all our suppliers, to maintain the integrity of the purchased components in order to provide a superior product for our customers in the market place,” said Winnebago Director of Quality Control Chuck Hughes. “We believe we have excelled in Ford’s Truck Quality Program due to the advanced technology we utilize in the development and manufacturing process of our motorhomes with industry-leading designs, as well as by employing seasoned manufacturing engineering staffs and manufacturing management with the commitment to adhere to these stringent guidelines. It continues to be a priority for us in order to meet and exceed our customers’ expectations for the quality found in each Winnebago Industries’ product that we build.”
Ford has announced that the full-size Transit van, slated to begin production in the U.S. in 2013, is already here and in some select customer’s hands for testing.
Trailer/Body Builders reported Ford held a media briefing at its Dearborn, Mich., headquarters and provi How To Get Your Friend To Break Up With Your Ex Boyfriend ded an overview of its commercial vehicle lineup, an update on production for its F-650 and F-750 vehicles, and a glimpse at the Transit, which the company had on hand for viewing.
“Our ‘One Ford Plan’ is a plan that started [five years ago] as a global plan, not a regional plan,” said Derrick Kuzak, group vice president-global product development. “It’s only natural that we extend that plan to our commercial vehicles with the Transit as a global van.”
The Transit, currently built in Europe, would be manufactured Ford’s Kansas City assembly plant starting in 2013. The vehicle has been a global success for the company, selling more than 6 million units since its debut. Ford plans to phase out the E-Series cargo van throughout the next decade, replacing it with the Transit as part of its overall strategy to reduce the number of vehicle platforms it offers to around 12 by 2014. A few years ago, Kuzak said, that number was 27. The company estimates that over 80% of its global vehicles will be covered by the 12 platforms.
Ford is making a $1.1 billion investment in the Kansas City facility to produce the Transit, Kuzak added. While specific details on the vehicle, such as powertrain options, have yet to emerge, Tim Stoehr, commercial truck marketing manager, told Fleet Owner that there will be “multiple configurations for multiple applications” in the U.S.
When it debuts, the van will represent the “next generation of the Transit,” Stoehr said, and would be a truly global vehicle, modified slightly for individual markets. In Europe, the van is offered in three roof heights, four lengths, and with three diesel engine options and in cargo, passenger and chassis cab configurations.
The E-Series van that the Transit will eventually replace has been Ford’s best-selling commercial van for more than 32 years.
“E-Series really has been our commercial workhorse,” said Rob Stevens, chief engineer-commercial truck. “It is well over half of the van market today. The E-Series van is really focused on the commercial market.”
One big advantage of the new Transit, Ford said, is the weight savings over the current E-Series model.
“The weight savings is at least 300 pounds, which translates to improved fuel economy,” Kuzak said. “That’s what it’s all about, substantial savings to the bottom line of our commercial customers.”
That weight savings should translate to about 25% better fuel economy than a similar E-Series van, Ford said.
Ford is building a new test road at its Michigan Proving Grounds to simulate the expected conditions and applications that the Transit will face here in North America.
Ford also announced that its F-650 and F-750 vehicles, currently made in Mexico under agreement with Navistar, will be manufactured at Ford’s Ohio Assembly Plant, which now produces the E-Series van. Ford and Navistar have discontinued their Blue Diamond Truck LLC joint venture. The Ohio plant will also produce the E-450 stripped chassis, which Ford will continue to make even after phasing out the E-Series cargo van, as well as the company’s F-53 and F-59 stripped chassis products.
“It really is about dedicating that plant to the commercial industry,” Kuzak said.
Ohio is set to provide tax breaks to Ford Motor Co. which is spending $128 million to retool its assembly plant in Avon Lake, near Cleveland, to make commercial vehicles, according to a report in the Detroit News.
Ford announced in October, as part of a new labor agreement with the United Auto Workers, that it would convert the Ohio Assembly plant to make larger commercial vehicles when the Econoline van or E-Series is discontinued at the end of 2013.
The investment keeps the plant open and retains 1,900 jobs. No new jobs are planned, said Ford spokeswoman Marcey Evans. Future plans call for Avon Lake workers to do medium-truck and frame assembly work that currently is done in Mexico. The Ohio plant also will do motorhome chassis work and continue to make E-Series cutaways that are then modified for use as service vehicles.
The Ohio Tax Credit Authority met Monday (Dec. 6) with an agenda that included Ford’s incentive request. Most automotive investments receive state and local aid.
A press event is planned for Tuesday morning at the Ford plant where Ohio Gov. John Kasich is expected to confirm state incentives.
Jim Tetreault, Ford’s vice president of North America manufacturing, will be in attendance as well as a UAW regional representative, to confirm the company’s previously announced investment plans.
Rep. Betty Sutton, D-Copley, and Ohio state Rep. Matt Lundy, D-Elyria, will hold a press conference call to criticize Kasich for not actively supporting the $85 billion auto bailout.
Even though Ford Motor Co. didn’t receive a bailout — as General Motors Co. and Chrysler Group LLC did — some have argued that Ford might not have survived if its rivals’ collapse had destroyed the auto supplier base.
When Daimler started selling its Sprinter van in North America – first as a Freightliner, then as a Mercedes-Benz and even a Dodge – it found companies on this side of the Atlantic were keen to get their hands on a European-style van, including the RV industry where the platform is widely used in van campers and in some Class C motorhomes.
But, according to Autoblog, the Sprinter is about to get some European competition from an American automaker. That Ford makes certain products for overseas markets is nothing new, but as part of its drive to standardize its lineup around the world, the Blue Oval automaker is apparently planning on bringing its full-size Transit van Stateside.
Not only is it bringing the Transit to the American market, but it will also be building it here, too. The news is confirmed by a recent United Auto Workers announcement that reveals that, with production of the next-generation Escape moving to Louisville, Ky., the Transit will be assembled for local consumption alongside the F-150 pickup truck at the Kansas City plant.
According to Car and Driver sources, in order to avoid confusion with the smaller Transit Connect, the big van will be badged as a T-Series in this market, with nameplates like T-250, T-450 and T-550 – similar to the F-Series trucks, and more pertinently, the E-Series vans that used to be known as the Econoline. They can call it whatever they want; we just hope we get a version of the UK-market limited-edition SportVan.
A proposed new contract between Ford Motor Co. and the United Autoworkers calls for the automaker to invest $128 million in its Ohio Assembly Plant in Avon Lake to build medium-duty trucks and motorhome chassis, the Detroit Free Press reported.
The newspaper credited people familiar with the negotiations as its source for the information about the contract.
Workers at the plant, which is in parts of Avon Lake, Sheffield Lake and Sheffield, currently builds the E-Series vans and E-series cutaway van chassis used by RV manufacturers in Class C motorhomes. The plant is currently on a two-week shutdown.
Ford announced in a news release this morning that it pledged to add 12,000 hourly jobs at its U.S. manufacturing plants by 2015 and invest $16 billion in its U.S. operations, including $6.2 billion for its plants as part of the proposed contract.
The tentative agreement must still win approval from rank-and-file union members across the United States before it goes into effect.
Winnebago Industries Inc. was once again recognized by Ford Motor Co. for receiving the “fully meets” classification as part of their Truck Quality Program.
The Truck Quality Program is the highest honor awarded to vehicle modifiers, according to a news release. It is based on an assessment of a modifier’s engineering capability, design and build process controls, management commitment and quality control procedures. According to Ford, the purpose of the program is to assure vehicle modifiers have the capability and processes in place to complete the vehicle in a repeatable manner that maintains the integrity of the Ford chassis system, meets federal and other standards in place at the time of the build, and provides end users with a quality built vehicle that meets their expectations.
In order to earn the “fully meets” classification, companies must meet all minimum requirements, as well as score a minimum of 85% on Other Criteria (OC) items. Winnebago Industries has received Ford’s “fully meets” classification every year since the program’s inception in 1997.
“Once again, Winnebago Industries is proud to earn the fully meets classification from Ford’s Truck Quality Program,” said Winnebago Industries’ Director of Quality Control Chuck Hughes. “Our top priority is to manufacture the highest quality motorhomes on the market – and it all starts with the chassis. Meeting the stringent requirements by Ford to earn this classification shows that we are maintaining the integrity of the chassis while at the same time building the superior products our customers want. We hold Ford’s Truck Quality Program in high regard and we will continue to strive to meet their expectations, as well as those of our customers.”
In addition, Winnebago Industries recently received its 15th consecutive Quality Circle Award from the Recreation Vehicle Dealer Association (RVDA). Quality Circle Award winners are determined by the Dealer Satisfaction Index (DSI) survey, which RVDA conducts annually with its dealer organization. The DSI survey, which determines the Quality Circle Award winners, rates manufacturers’ performance in eight core areas: sales support, sales territory, vehicle design, vehicle reliability/quality, competitive price/value, parts support, dealership warranty support and overall dealer communications. Winnebago Industries is the only motorhome manufacturer to receive this award every year since its inception.
Although it’s not time for a celebration yet, the U.S. auto industry in September posted its best monthly wholesale sales rate in 13 months. The industry sold 959,049 light vehicles in September — a year-to-year jump of 29% — for a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 12.2 million, as calculated by the Automotive News Data Center.
Inventories last September were depleted in the aftermath of the federal government’s cash-for-clunkers incentive program, Automotive News reported.
Other than August 2009 when the clunkers program inflated the sales rate to 13.7 million, last month was the first since September of 2008 during which sales surpassed 12 million. The rate in September 2008 also was 12.2 million.
“It’s a solid month, another step in a stable, somewhat painful recovery,” said analyst Jesse Toprak of TrueCar.com. “This may be a healthier way to recover.”
George Pipas, Ford Motor Co.’s lead sales analyst, said September capped the fourth straight quarter of modest recovery in the pace of U.S. auto sales.
And modest improvement may be acceptable at this point, he said, in that it may keep industry players from falling back into the bad habits — overproduction and massive incentives — that led to disaster for so many companies when U.S. auto sales tanked.
“We’re happy with what we’re getting,” Pipas noted. “We’re not going to waste a lot of time wishing that things would go quicker.”
Looking at the big picture:
* Ford’s sales jumped 40% to 160,375 on strong sales of pickups and new models such as the Fiesta subcompact.
* General Motor’s sales rose 11% in September to 173,031, including its four discontinued brands. However, its core brands — Chevrolet, Buick, Cadillac and GMC — rose 22% while retail sales of those core brands jumped 39%.
* Chrysler Group posted the biggest year-over-year increase of any manufacturer for the month, rising 61% to 100,077.
Are U.S. Pickup truck buyers prepared to set aside their love affair with V-8 engines and climb into more fuel- efficient models instead?
Time will tell because Ford Motor Co., in a high-stakes move, is promoting a high-tech, 6-cylinder engine in its best selling F-Series pickups.
Ford this fall will introduce a 300-h.p. V-6 and a new six-speed transmission in its F-150 pickups , the No. 1 seller in a market in which eight cylinders still rule, The Wall Street Journal reports. And for the first time, Ford will offer a V-6 in its popular crew cab model, which accounts for 60% of all F-150 sales.
While Ford in the past has offered V-6 engines only in its most basic, two-door F-150’s, the automaker plans to start marketing F-150s with a 3.5 liter “Ecoboost” V-6 — potent enough to tow a 11,300 pound trailer — that gets up to 20% better fuel economy than a V-8 with comparable power, F-150 Marketing Manager Mark Grueber told The Journal.
Behind the move is an attempt by Ford to hedge the risk that its highly profitable vehicle line could get battered by another run-up in gasoline prices, and it also must meet federal fuel economy rules that will steadily ratchet up the minimum mileage required by all vehicles.
Ford in 2009 sold more than 500,000 F-Series trucks — the best selling U.S. model line for 28 years — and sales were up nearly 35% through the end of July.
Ford Motor Co. recently announced that Thor Industries Inc. is the top volume manufacturer of motorhomes built on Ford chassis.
The award came from Ford after calculating F-53 Super Duty chassis Class A motorhome and E-Series Class C cut-away chassis sales from January 2009 through December 2009, according to a news release.
“We are thrilled to win this award. Ford is a great supplier to us and to the overall motorhome market. Throughout the years, the relationship with Ford has continued to grow, and we have been very successful with Ford chassis’ and engines,” commented Bill Fenech, president of Damon Motor Coach and Four Winds International Corp.
Thor’s subsidiaries Four Winds International and Damon Motor Coach offer their gas class A RVs on the reliable Ford F-53 Super Duty chassis. Four Winds offers the Ford’s F-53 chassis on their popular Hurricane and Windsport Motorhomes. The Daybreak, Challenger, and Outlaw models from Damon Motor Coach also offer the Super Duty Class A motorhome chassis. Four Winds Class C products are built on the Econoline Class C cutaway chassis. This include their Four Winds, Chateau, Siesta and Citation brands.