Ford’s Transit Connect will have its first real challenger this fall when the City Express compact cargo van arrives at Chevrolet dealerships.
The Nissan-built City, which was introduced last week at the Chicago Auto Show, has a tightly focused mission: appeal to small business owners who need a nimble, fuel-efficient cargo hauler with a versatile interior.
The vehicle will come in just one body style and with one powertrain. It’s the third entry into the segment pioneered by the Transit Connect.
The City Express is built for Chevrolet by Nissan and is based on the Nissan NV200. The Chevrolet and Nissan versions will compete in the small but growing niche that was created in 2009 by the Transit Connect.
Nissan launched the front-wheel-drive NV200 last March and reported sales of 4,619 units for the year. As part of Nissan’s effort to establish itself as a player in the commercial sector, it also offers the full-sized rear-wheel-drive NV van.
Small cargo van sales are expected to grow from about 44,000 units in 2013 to around 120,000 units by 2017, according to IHS Automotive, a suburban Detroit consulting firm.
A fourth small van, the fwd Ram ProMaster City, arrives late this winter. It is based on the Fiat Doblo and will be built for Ram by Fiat. Both the City Express and the ProMaster City will be built in Mexico.
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Ford Motor Co. this week begins welcoming nearly 1,000 new employees at its Kansas City Assembly Plant to prepare for the launch of the all-new Ford Transit that goes on sale in the United States this summer.
According to a press release, the company also is announcing that 175 additional employees will be hired by March to help build the new Transit. The new employees put Ford on the top 10 list of Missouri employers.
The all-new Transit builds on its more than 45 years of heritage in Europe, where it is the best-selling medium commercial vehicle nameplate. On sale this summer, Transit will offer the widest choice of roof heights, wheelbases and body lengths to maximize flexibility, plus a full suite of onboard features and technologies that are intuitive, easy to operate and designed for business. Three proven powertrains will offer best-in-class mileage with plenty of performance to get the job done, while also providing alternative fuel options.
Transit is part of an unprecedented product year for Ford Motor Company. It is one of 16 new North American products – and 23 global products – Ford will launch in 2014, triple the number of new products Ford launched last year in North America.
Transit eventually will replace Ford E-Series, which has reigned as America’s best-selling van for 35 years.
“For decades, Ford E-Series has been the leading choice among business owners for a tough, durable cargo vehicle that also delivers unmatched flexibility and capability,” said John Ruppert, Ford general manager, commercial vehicle sales and marketing. “Transit is the natural successor to E-Series, taking flexibility and capability to new levels, while also adding in superior fuel efficiency.”
Kansas City Assembly Plant is home of the 2014 F-150 and will begin producing the all-new 2015 F-150 in the first quarter of 2015. The 1,000 employees announced today are part of more than 2,000 jobs that have been added at the plant to meet growing demand for Ford trucks, and to launch production of the all-new Ford Transit van. To prepare for the new van, 300 employees started work at the plant in late 2013, with an additional 300 workers joining the week of Jan. 6 and 400 more this week.
Ford Motor Co. introduced the all-new Transit chassis cab and cutaway models, engineered to tackle an almost unlimited variety of specialized jobs and vocations.
Trailer Body Builders reported that the Transit chassis cab features an enclosed passenger compartment and bare frame ready to accept aftermarket body modules ranging from custom cargo delivery to utility body. Transit cutaway is similar to the chassis cab, but with the rear of the passenger compartment open so it can be paired with specialty body modules such as shuttle or school bus bodies.
The Transit — not to be confused with the smaller Transit Connect — will be phased in to replace the Ford E-series van chassis used as the platform by North American manufacturers for Class B and C motorhomes. The Transit cutaway/cab chassis breaks new ground, however, with a GVWR that is more than 4,000 pounds lighter than the E-series’ 14,500 pounds.
The chassis cab and cutaway will be offered in three wheelbases, 138, 156 or 178 inches, and gross vehicle weight ratings from 9,000 pounds to 10,360 pounds.
“No other automaker offers the variety and adaptability that Ford Motor Co. brings to our commercial customers,” said Len Deluca, director, Ford Commercial Vehicles. “Transit’s best-in-class capabilities are combined with an extensive nationwide network of commercial upfitters to provide an unparalleled number of body choices to suit almost any job.”
Transit chassis cab and cutaway models join the industry’s broadest lineup of commercial chassis, which include E-series cutaway and stripped chassis, F-series Super Duty chassis cab, F-650 and F-750 medium-duty chassis cab and F-59 stripped chassis.
Transit offers a range of fuel-efficient engines, including a standard 3.7-liter V6, the same 3.5-liter EcoBoost engine proven in the Ford F-150, and an all-new 3.2-liter Power Stroke Diesel option.
Ford will offer the Transit 3.7-liter V6 with a compressed natural gas/liquid propane gas prep kit to assist customers running their vehicles with these abundant, affordable, clean fuels. This 3.7-liter V6 is also engineered for optimal performance with E85 flex- fuel capability. Each fuel-conscious engine is paired with a six-speed automatic transmission for efficient rear-wheel-drive operation.
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It looks like a minivan. It has sliding doors like a minivan. So why isn’t Ford calling its new seven-seater a minivan? For the same reason you don’t wear mom jeans or listen to Barry Manilow: It’s not cool.
According to a report by the Detroit Free Press, the Transit Connect Wagon will debut later this month at the Los Angeles Auto Show. It’s set to go on sale late next fall.
To the average buyer — or, in fact, to everyone outside of Ford Motor Co. — it will appear that Ford is getting back into the minivan business after a six-year hiatus. The Transit Connect Wagon, which is based on Ford’s Transit Connect commercial van, has the high roof of the van but trades its industrial-looking hood for the tapered nose and trapezoid grille of Ford’s cars. It has sliding doors on both sides and comes in five-seat and seven-seat versions.
The new vehicle will have two four-cylinder engine options, one of which will get 30 miles per gallon or more on the highway. That would make it the most fuel-efficient minivan on the market — if it was a minivan. But Ford insists it’s not.
“It’s anything but a minivan,” said David Mondragon, Ford’s general manager of marketing. “In our mind, it’s a people mover. We think of it as more of a utility, or kind of a hybrid sport utility, than a minivan.”
Mondragon says the m-word is too polarizing and turns off Ford’s target customers: 30- to 42-year-old parents who grew up with minivans and like their utility but don’t want to sacrifice style. At one point, Ford even considered calling the wagon a “you-tility,” but it turned out another carmaker already had dibs on that one.
“A lot of consumers in this segment are parents who still want their own identity,” Mondragon said. “There’s a lot of blandness in the industry, especially in regard to multi-passenger vehicles. They want something fresh and uniquely styled.”
The Transit Connect Wagon has a different look than the average minivan. The roof is higher, the windshield has a steeper slant and it’s got a sturdier, more industrial look.
But more importantly for Ford, the Transit Connect Wagon will be priced like a minivan. The company’s current seven-seaters, the Flex wagon and Explorer SUV, cost $30,000 or higher. While Ford isn’t releasing a price for the new vehicle yet, Mondragon says it will compete at the lower end of the market with vehicles like the Dodge Grand Caravan, a minivan that starts at $19,995.
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For decades, full-size vans were the antithesis of style. According to a report by TruckTrend Magazine, they were defined by their no-nonsense functionality, and automakers made little effort to make the interiors or exteriors interesting or stylish. But if this interior photo of the new Ford Transit Custom is any indication, American van customers are in for a real treat when the U.S.-spec T-series vans hits showrooms.
We’ve already seen exterior photos of the new Transit , and by van standards, it’s certainly a looker. But until now, we haven’t had a good idea of what the interior would look like. Ford of Europe just released this photo of the Transit’s dashboard and front passenger area. What struck us almost immediately is its strong family resemblance to some of Ford’s newer passenger cars and crossovers, most notably the Focus, Fiesta, and the new 2013 Escape. From the four-spoke steering wheel, 4-inch multi-function display between the primary gauges, and its “wing”-center HVAC vents, the interior shares some unmistakable design cues with its passenger-car cousins.
Some RV manufacturers are looking at the Transit as a potential platform for Class B RVs as Ford phases out its E-series van.
Some unique features facilitated by the van’s width are a dashboard-mounted cupholder to the left of the steering wheel, just the thing to cool off the working man’s cup of Dunkin’ Donuts coffee on the way to the job site. The steering-wheel mounted controls suggest Bluetooth integration (no great surprise) and voice-activation of some functions. There are two knee-level cubby holes on the dashboard, one at each corner. A park sensing system and Eco mode are also apparent from the dashboard controls. The photo of the Euro-spec model also shows a six-speed manual transmission, although U.S.-spec models will likely be automatic-only.
The stylish and high-tech dashboard only increases our interest and enthusiasm for the upcoming T-series, which we know will offer the 3.5-liter EcoBoost V-6 as one of the engine options, as well as one as-yet unidentified diesel engine. We’re inclined to believe it will be some version of Ford’s global 3.2-liter I-5, which is good for approximately 200 hp and 347 lb-ft of torque. In view of the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter, Nissan NV, the upcoming Transit, and Ram’s upcoming entry into the van market, this formerly moribund segment is suddenly quite intriguing.
It used to be that ladder-frame-based full-size vans dominated the commercial van segment but all that seems to be changing. Companies like Ford and Chrysler are poised to come to market with their own bigger, lighter, and more fuel efficient (small and large) choices to better compete as the economy implies there are better times around the corner. Whether downsizing or replacing their aging fleets, small businesses will have many more choices in size and capability.
PickupTrucks.com reported that the Ford Econoline or E-Series has dominated the industry for several decades but the heavy, rear-wheel drive, V-8, automatic, full-size van is into its last year of production before the new Ford Transit (due to offer several T-Series models — T-150, T-250, T-350), to be equipped with at least one EcoBoost engine and one turbodiesel, is on the way. The trend nowadays is to have both a large and more compactly sized work van that provides good load-carrying capability, has a substantial tow rating, offers decent I-4, V-6 or V-8 engine choices, has a relatively low load floor, and can be configured in many different ways to fit the needs of the many small businesses around the country.
According to Automotive News, interest in this segment seems to be building — in the last five years, the number of plane-Jane commercial vans sold in the U.S. has gone from well over 300,000 in 2007, to below 160,000 in 2009, and now seems to be riding a “rebound” wave with almost 230,000 units sold in the segment in 2011.
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