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2015 Ford Transit – Conquerer of the White Van Market

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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.2015 Ford Transit Group Shot

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.2015 Ford Transit Wagon F34

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”.2015 Ford Transit Jumbo SV

(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.2015 Ford Transit Cockpit

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.


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