Euro vans take on North America
When I was about 6 years old, an older kid down the street got a car for his 16th birthday. Now, getting a car from your parents on your birthday is a pretty big deal, but this was even more special because the car wasn’t a car — it was a brand new, emerald green Ford Econoline van.
I’m not sure why he wanted one, but with its big chrome grille, chrome wheels and tinted windows, that van was one of the biggest, baddest looking things with four wheels that I’d ever seen.
He had it for years, too — almost a decade, I think — and the sound it made as he came and went was something I remember to this day. The V8 produced as much deep bass rumble as any muscle car.
That memory was drifting through my mind while I was walking around Ford Field in Detroit during the unveiling of Ford’s new line of vans: the full-sized Transit and the compact Transit Connect, both of which are set to arrive late this year as 2014 models.
After being a staple in Ford’s lineup since 1961, the Econoline (now known as the E-Series) will be retired at the end of the 2013 model year. Replacing it is the Transit, the full-size van Ford has been selling to the world outside of North America since 1965.
Seeking to capitalize on the fast-growing commercial vehicle segment, Ford is re-energizing a platform that has, frankly, gone a bit stale. Although the E-Series has been a good soldier for decades, it hasn’t changed much since 1992.
The Transit is another example of the company’s “One Ford” product strategy. It will be available on six continents and will serve 116 markets.
For North America, it will offer an impressive level of customization, thanks to three body length options, small and large wheelbases and three roof heights. Several cutaway options will be also be offered to serve commercial needs.
Available in two trim levels, XL and XLT, the Transit will offer three engine options: the base 3.7 L V6, the 3.5 L EcoBoost V6 currently available in the F-150, and a new 3.2 L Power Stroke Diesel inline five-cylinder.
Official power numbers and fuel economy ratings have yet to be released. An alternate-fuel kit for natural gas or propane will be available for the 3.7 L engine.
In terms of cargo capacity, the Transit is huge. In its biggest configuration (which has almost 80 per cent more space than the largest E-Series, according to Ford), it sports a 3,749 mm wheelbase, a 2,799 mm roof height and 14,158 litres of cargo space.
Ford says a 6-foot-5 person can stand up inside. I’m not that tall, but the one I stood in was cavernous, with plenty of headroom.
At the other end of the van market is the Transit Connect, which debuted in Europe in 2002 and has been sold in North America since 2009. Despite its age, the current model quickly became a hot seller in North America, at about 35,000 units per year, many of which are destined for taxi fleets in cities such as New York and Los Angeles.
Good fuel economy, low operating costs and a wide range of customization options are hallmarks of the current Connect, and Ford aims to deliver more of the same with the new model.
The 2014 will come in XL and XLT trims with two wheelbase lengths and two engines. Both will be mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. The 2.5 L four-cylinder is standard issue, while a 1.6 L EcoBoost four-cylinder will be optional. An alternate fuel prep kit will be available for the 2.5.
Despite being the little brother, Connect is big on versatility and no slouch in the cargo and towing departments. It has a 725 kilogram payload capacity, will tow up to 907 kilograms when properly equipped and features more than 3,681 litres of cargo space.
Power and fuel economy numbers aren’t yet available, but Ford is predicting the EcoBoost motor will deliver at least a rating of 7.8 L/100 km on the highway.
Ford already owns a 47.6 per cent share of the commercial vehicle market in North America (with 788,000 units sold in 2011) but its grip on this lucrative segment is likely to get even stronger with the Transit and Connect.
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