Ford’s Transit Connect Connects Two Continents
Get a good look at Ford’s first European ambassador
By Blake Muntzinger
Ford displayed its 2010 Transit Connect in all its commercial glory for the press last week at its Dearborn Development Center in Michigan. It marks the genesis of plucking several products from Europe for injection into Ford’s North American lineup. US-spec models start production next April in Turkey, with their stateside arrival slated for mid-2009.
The Transit Connect appears diminutive compared to Ford’s trucks and vans that North American consumers are accustomed to. However, don’t be deceived– it’s larger than it looks. The 179.3-inch Transit Connect is longer than its closest competition – Chevrolet’s HHR Panel with a bumper-to-bumper measurement of 176.2 inches. Europeans have the option between a short and long wheelbase models; only the long wheelbase versions will be sold west of the Atlantic Ocean.
Ford is revising the interior for the North American market; the materials in the display vehicle, which is the version currently on sale in Europe, felt like they were from circa 2003. The dash layout was easy to navigate with its simple HVAC controls and gages within arm’s reach. Expect that same idea to carry over, but designed to be more cohesive from a design and material perspective with the rest of Ford’s products.
It’s unsurprisingly spacious with a copious amount of headroom for five passengers. Spanning the length of the windshield is an open storage shelf in lieu of sunglasses or tissue holders; it will be standard on all passenger and commercial models. The shelf has a raised lip to prevent objects from sliding off the surface. With passenger versions, converting that shelf into smaller cubbies would clean up the appearance so owners won’t feel like they’re driving an electrician’s truck. However, as an electrician’s truck, it’s deep enough for small tool or first aid kits within easy access.
This vehicle’s versatility is Ford’s strongest selling point. Its dual sliding doors make loading cargo easier than the HHR’s conventional door styling approach. It boasts 143 cubic feet of cargo space with the second row of seats removed, 114 cubic feet when the second row is folded, and 75 cubic feet when it’s in use. For some perspective, compare Ford’s largest SUVs, the Expedition and Expedition EL. With the second and third rows folded in the Expedition EL, 130.8 cubic feet is created; the figure drops to 108.3 cubic feet in the regular Expedition.
“One of our key messages is affordability and the low cost of ownership,” said a Ford representative. Discussions on pricing have just begun for the North American market; no numbers have been set. The Transit Connect will be sold nationwide upon launch in the US, not strictly in key markets as originally discussed, meaning carpenters in Montana and florists in New York can enjoy the same benefits as a plumber in Barcelona.
A 2.0-liter, four-cylinder Duratec motor producing 136 hp will be the only engine offered when it first arrives in the States. There is no official word on whether or not a diesel engine or the new 2.5-liter motor in the 2009 Escape and Mariner will make it into the Transit Connect sold here in the States. Fuel economy is tentatively set at 19 mpg in the city and 24 mpg on the highway, but the Ford representative said that official numbers will be slightly higher once more tests have been done.
Ford currently uses a 1.8-liter diesel powerplant in the Transit Connect in Europe, which buyers there love because of it’s great torque and thriftiness with fuel, but there is no way that engine could pass U.S. emissions in its current form, so that particular diesel is out as an option here in North America. If Ford were to offer the 2009 Escape’s IVCT 2.5-liter engine in the Transit Connect here, Ford could easily improve those previously quoted mileage numbers for the Transit Connect, and thereby make the vehicle one of the segment leaders in terms of fuel economy. Of course, the caveat is that you would also need the six-speed auto-box out of the 2009 Escape to get to those numbers, and that would drive the price of the Transit up a little more. However, in what is surely belaboring the obvious, Ford needs to ensure the best fuel economy possible in all their vehicles, especially when it’s so much on the mind of the potential buyer.
Just for comparison, the Chevrolet HHR Panel returns 22 mpg in the city and 28 mpg on the highway when equipped with the 172 hp 2.4 liter Ecotec four-cylinder hooked up to an automatic transmission. The 2009 Escape has a stated highway mileage rating of 28 miles per gallon with 171 hp with the new six-speed automatic, and that is in a slightly heavier vehicle than the HHR Panel.
Yet another great reason for considering the new 2.5 liter engine is the fact that a fully loaded cargo area in the Transit might strain the small 2.0-liter motor. Ford should use the Escape’s 2.5-liter engine in this vehicle giving economy and power, a one-two punch to give the Transit Connect a fighting chance against the competition.
That’s the commercial market; how about the consumer market for the Transit Connect?
In terms of the consumer market, Ford’s Transit Connect is different enough to be cool. It’s small enough to (potentially) get segment-leading fuel economy, yet has the utility of a large minivan. With certain configurations fitted in the back, music lovers could plant a subwoofer on the floor while utilizing the remaining space for their, well, cargo. It doesn’t make the conceited effort to be cool like Scion’s xB or Honda’s Element, mostly because it wasn’t designed for coolness. BTW, those two vehicles initially targeted a young customer base – a customer base that didn’t exactly show up to the party in terms of sales.
Growing up in a proud non-minivan household, I never had the pack-the-minivan-for-the-family-trip experience. Since my sister and I suffered in a series of Pontiac Bonnevilles instead, I have no aversion to vans, or, embarrassing childhood memories involving my mother driving me around in a minivan. Even for those people that suffer still from a past that contained a minivan in it somewhere, the Transit Connect might be entirely acceptable transportation because of its looks and its commercial roots (it’s so industrial, man).
Imagine a Transit Connect that’s Scion-ized with a lowered suspension, ambient lighting, tinted windows, custom paint job, and different wheels – similar to the X-Press or Sportvan but with a longer wheelbase. At least one tricked-out version like this will be available for the public eye this November at the 2008 SEMA show in Las Vegas, and I’m sure you will see more soon.
It will be interesting to see how the North American market reacts to the Transit Connect. We know that American consumers will buy four-cylinder vans from Japanese makers, and they used to buy them from VW, but will they buy a four-cylinder van with the Blue Oval on it? And will the commercial customers who represent the bulk of Ford’s intended market for the Transit Connect, buy a four-cylinder work van, period? And considering that the dollar has really taken some lumps against other currencies, can Ford make money on the ones they’re able to sell? Will the fact that the Transit Connect is manufactured in Turkey weigh on buyers’ minds here in the States, or is that a non-issue? Is Ford ahead of the cultural curve, or is this is a dead-end?
We’ll know soon enough – Ford plans to start selling the Transit Connect here in mid-2009, which isn’t very far away.
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