Once upon a time, I was the design engineer for the advanced vehicle package of the Ford Nantucket program. Nantucket was the code name of what would become the 1975 Ford Econoline full size van that was to continue in production with moderate updates through 2014 – about 39 years!. So, it was particularly meaningful to me to accept an invitation by Ford to attend the press preview for the Econoline’s (now “E-Series”) replacement in Kansas City, Missouri – the Ford Transit.
Hugely Complex Program – Lots of Choice Ford’s One Ford strategy dictates that vehicles be as common as possible around the world. While the E-Series has been the top selling large van in the USA for years, it was basically a North America only product. The European Transit van was completely different. Also, the American E-Series never had the breadth of product choices that the European Transit had. Now that has changed with the American-made Transit about as complex as the European model.
America has been introduced to the European white van offerings with the European Mercedes-Benz/Freightliner Sprinter van and the Ram Promaster (from Fiat). So the 2015 Ford Transit may not take the American eye by surprise, but its complexity is near mind blowing. The 2015 Ford Transit is available in two wheelbases, three roof heights in both cargo van and passenger wagon configurations. There is even a chassis cab and cutaway available. What this means is that you can have an empty box, or a high-roof wagon that can seat up to 15 people. Ford affectionately calls this one the “Jumbo”.
(General Motors has the Chevrolet Express and GMC Savana vans that are sorely in need of updating. At present, The General has no vehicles in the USA facing these Euro-style competitors).
Initially, Transit is available with a sliding door on the passenger side of the vehicle. Later the van version will be available with a sliding door on the driver’s side as well. Because the second row seat would have to be narrowed to be two passengers only, the passenger version – the Transit wagon – is only available with a passenger side slider.
Maneuverable The Transit is very easy to drive with outstanding forward visibility through what has to be about the largest windshield in the industry. Europe-like turning radius makes the Transit very maneuverable in tight spaces. A tight slow-speed gymkhana course in a Kansas City parking lot helped demonstrate how nimble even the Jumbo was through narrow cone alleys.
Wide Powertrain Selection Power comes from a 275HP/260 lb-ft of torque 3.7L V6, a 310HP/400 lb-ft of torque 3.5L EcoBoost V6, or a 185HP/350 lb-ft of torque 3.2L I5 Power Stroke diesel. Of the three engines, the EcoBoost V6 has the most punch and is the most fun to drive – as if that is a major attribute a van buyer is looking for. All engines are mated to a 6-speed automatic transmission. The powertrains in the 2015 Ford Transit get much better fuel economy than the outgoing E-Series; a substantial operating cost savings commercial van operators are looking for.
Can Transit Be Rattle Free? We have all ridden in vans and shuttles that are consummate rattle traps. Of course, they probably have a couple hundred thousand miles on them and have been abused for their entire time in service. And, of course, the vans Ford provided for the press preview had been thoroughly prepped. The remarkable thing about these vans was how quiet and rattle-free they were. They were very tight and solid feeling. It will be interesting to experience one when it hits 100,000 miles.
Navigation Screen Snafu Okay, I can understand Ford’s rationale that few commercial fleet operators would spring for an in-vehicle navigation system when most of their drivers are equipped with GPS enabled smart phones with Google Maps, but the Transit solution to navigation is Sync with MyFord Touch and a relatively small screen. Other Ford vehicles have an 8-inch screen and the Transit loses out in comparison. I know, its a nit-pick, but worthy of mention.
E-Series Continues in Chassis Cab Versions Probably until the end of the decade, the old Econoline/E-Series will still be available in chassis cab configurations likely for airport shuttle use. They are built at Ford’s Loraine, Ohio plant.
Brilliant Ad – Controversy Worth its Weight In Gold Cadillac, once the Standard of the World, has aired an outstanding ad for the Cadillac brand and the Cadillac ELR electric coupe. It was first shown on the American broadcast for the Sochi Winter Olympics and more recently for the Oscars that aired on Sunday, March 2. And what a controversy has ensued. Cadillac’s agency Rogue created the Cadillac Poolside ad to espouse unbridled American confidence and showcase what Cadillac stands for. In the process, the spot has left leaners and right leaners sniping against each other on numerous websites. On Thursday, March 6, arch-conservative pundit Rush Limbaugh (click on the link to be taken to the transcript of the Limbaugh show about the Cadillac ad) devoted the top of his second hour to the controversy the ad has created. The Cadillac Poolside ad pushed a button that allowed Limbaugh to rant for about a half hour.
GM’s 2015MY Full Size SUVs General Motors has launched its new-for-2015MY full size SUVs. While you might wonder why they care about launching these behemoths when the segment has fallen at the hands of expensive gasoline, these are mighty profit generators for the General even at relatively low volumes. Last year, GM launched the pickups upon which these SUVs are based – the Chevrolet Silverado and the GMC Sierra. When they were launched these pickups were criticized because their styling was so evolutionary from their GMT900 predecessors. But, it turns out that GM planners and engineers really know their stuff and the pickups have won kudos for their capability. The Silverado was named the North American Truck of the Year.
Big Bronco to Compete With Chevy’s Popular Blazer In the late 1960s, Ford Motor Company was competing in the sport utility market with the first generation Bronco a small hardcore vehicle designed to go off road in a big way. The 1st Gen Bronco was to compete with the Jeep CJ and International Harvester Scout of its day – off-road. Today, these 1st Gen Broncos are coveted by off-roaders all across the nation. At the same time, General Motors was thumping Ford with its Chevrolet Blazer SUV. The Blazer was a two door derivative of the four door Chevrolet Suburban and sold in impressive numbers. Ford had nothing to match the Blazer, but in the early ’70s began a program to develop a strong competitor to the Blazer.
Has the 2014 Auto Show Season been a bust so far? Well, with the exception of the all new Ford F-150, there has not been much to justify all the fabricated hoopla at either the North American International Auto Show in Detroit or the Chicago Auto Show. You can almost count the significant new news on one hand. In order of importance to the United States market and their manufacturers here are the most significant: Ford F-150, Chrysler 200, Honda Fit, Hyundai Genesis, Mercedes C-Class in Detroit and the Subaru Legacy in Chicago. OK, that is six significant entries. Others that might have made the list are the GMC Canyon mid-size pickup and the Lexus RC-F coupe. The Detroit Show ended up focusing on performance models or concepts like the production-ready Subaru WRX STI, Toyota FT-1 super car, Chevrolet Corvette ZO6 variant, BMW M3 sedan and M4 coupe, Cadillac ATS coupe. The only other vehicles of note at the Chicago Show were the 2015 Lincoln Navigator with new front and rear styling and the Mercedes GLA compact crossover SUV.
America has a love affair with the pickup truck. It boggles the mind of foreigners how we could continue to love these huge hunks of metal with solid axles and thirsty V8 engines. With each calendar year, pickup trucks continue to get more comfortable, capable, and efficient. The 2014 Silverado makes a huge leap over the previous generation and has left me pleasantly surprised at what GM has done to make their bread and butter so much tastier.
Back in 2008 I had an Impala as a rental for three weeks. The mouse fur fabric of the seats combined with the awful instrument panel and wheezing powertrain left a lasting impression with me. In 2008, it was clear that the Impala was developed during a dark time at GM where profits came before product. Can GM shake off that awful stigma Impala has had for years?
The GMC Terrain is one amazing vehicle. Why, you might ask? GM can’t seem to make enough of them. Even as the Terrain ages, it is still selling incredibly well. It was really the first vehicle where GM made the first good effort at interior design with a well-crafted centerstack, tons of 2nd row legroom, and features galore. Does slapping the Denali name on the Terrain make it the ‘must have’ in the Terrain lineup? Not exactly.
Background of AutoPacific’s IVAs: AutoPacific’s Ideal Vehicle Awards for 2o13 are given to brands and vehicles that best meet the expectations of their buyers. The person driving the truck does not want it to be bigger or more powerful or have better info/entertainment systems. Based on the results of over 52,000 respondents, the IVAs are owner-based awards that can serve to give truck buyers an idea of how well manufacturers have designed vehicles with their customers in mind.
As you read through the brief descriptions of the winners’ results you will notice some similarities where owners of most vehicles want change. Visibility Among all trucks about 22% of owners want better driver’s seat visibility. Roominess About 19% of truck owners want more passenger roominess than now. Power vs Fuel Economy Even when talking about today’s high gas prices, truck owners want good power and acceleration. About 21% want more power and acceleration and only 9% of the respondents would sacrifice power and acceleration for better fuel economy. Ingress/Egress About 19% of all truck owners want their vehicles to be easier to get in and out of. Info/Entertainment Technology Design of the info/entertainment technology is one of the most hotly contested areas of vehicle design today. Some manufacturers have a good handle on this, but 22% of truck owners want more info/entertainment technology than they have now. These folks are offset by 14% who want their info/entertainment technology to be easier to use.
With that preamble in mind, here are the Ideal Vehicle Award winners for trucks for 2013…
Background of AutoPacific’s IVAs: AutoPacific’s Ideal Vehicle Awards for 2o13 are given to brands and vehicles that best meet the expectations of their buyers. The person driving the car does not want it to be bigger or more powerful or have better info/entertainment systems. Based on the results of over 52,000 respondents, the IVAs are owner-based awards that can serve to give car and truck buyers an idea of how well manufacturers have designed vehicles with their customers in mind.
As you read through the brief descriptions of the winners’ results you will notice some similarities where owners of most vehicles want change. Visibility Among all cars about 29% of owners want better driver’s seat visibility. Too often visibility is sacrificed for swoopy styling. Roominess About 24% of car owners want more passenger roominess than now. Of course, some people bought a vehicle that may be smaller than they like so they want something bigger, but many are also reacting because passenger roominess has been sacrificed for style. Power vs Fuel Economy Even when talking about today’s high gas prices, owners want good power and acceleration. About 26% want more power and acceleration and only 7% of the respondents would sacrifice power and acceleration for better fuel economy. Ingress/Egress Going with the basic package challenges like roof height vs styling and rear seat room vs styling there is also ease of getting in and out. About 26% of all car owners want their vehicles to be easier to get in and out of. Info/Entertainment Technology Design of the info/entertainment technology is one of the most hotly contested areas of vehicle design today. Some manufacturers have a good handle on this, but 25% of car owners want more info/entertainment technology than they have now. These folks are offset by 13% who want their info/entertainment technology to be simpler and easier to use.
With that preamble in mind, here are the Ideal Vehicle Award winners for cars for 2013…