Levine emphasized that the all-new Transit is not just a homologized European van that Ford is bringing to the U.S. It is in fact an entirely new global platform. The all-new version of the Transit van that starts production in 2013 in Kansas City is not yet driving on European roads or on roads anywhere else in the world.
The Transit will come in a rear-wheel drive version. Levine said drivers and operators of the E-Series in the U.S. are used to rear-wheel drive, hence that design choice for the U.S. marketplace.
For the powertrain, Ford has announced two choices: a version of the twin-turbo EcoBoost 3.5L V-6 that's currently in the F-150 and a diesel engine option, though Ford and Levine haven't yet announced any details about performance, fuel economy, or other information about the diesel engine. For the diesel, Levine did say it will be a new engine for the U.S. market.
For the sake of future comparison (Levine was careful to emphasize that the diesel engine specs mentioned here are only for the European version of the Transit), the European Transit currently comes with a new 2.2L diesel engine. That engine is a clean diesel model, meets emissions requirements for Europe, and includes auto start-stop technology.
Levine said the Transit will offer at least a 25% improvement in fuel economy over the current generation of the E-Series. When asked how customers who are used to a V-8 would react to a V-6, he provided the F-150 as an example. When Ford first introduced this engine on the F-150, customers were skeptical. Today, sales of the twin-turbo V-6 version of the F-150 make up approximately 43% of models sold.
Levine added that the Transit is expected to provide a notable improvement in total cost of ownership over the E-Series.
Another benefit to fleets in the U.S. that the all-new Transit will provide is versatility. Ford plans to offer the Transit in more configurations than it can offer for its E-Series.
"It is a thoroughly advanced van platform," he said. "In the U.S. there will be multiple roof heights and wheelbase configurations. It will take us places we were never able to go with E-Series."
Replacing the E-Series
With Transit production slated to begin at Ford's Kansas City Assembly plant, what will happen to the venerable E-Series, a workhorse that's been the best-selling commercial van in the U.S. for the past 33 years and is in its fifth generation? Although Ford mentioned its plan to discontinue the E-Series last year, Levine outlined more details about the E-Series' future, saying specifically that Ford will produce E-Series passenger and cargo vans up through 2014.
"We start production on Transit in 2013 in Kansas City," he said. "There is a period of time, into 2014, when we will be making and selling E-Series and Transit vans, and you'll be able to get them side-by-side at a dealer."
Levine added that although Ford is discontinuing production of the cargo and passenger models of the E-Series, the automaker will continue to produce cutaway models for most of the rest of this decade.
Fleet customer reception to the news about the Transit replacing the E-Series has been positive, according to Levine. Ford gave eight current Transit models to select fleets across the U.S. to test-drive the vehicle and provide feedback that will help Ford further improve the all-new van before production begins.
"Some of the drivers were of the mindset that they were never going to give up their E-Series van," he said. "They didn't want a 'funny-looking Transit,' they wanted an E-Series. What happened was these drivers would get into the Transit and realize it was a comfortable van. It rode better, and with its roof height, they could stand up in the back and get to their equipment. That's a huge benefit with these vans, the drivers are comfortable. And a comfortable driver is a better driver."
Levine said Ford sees a bright future for the Transit in the U.S, and he mentioned the vehicle's history in Europe, likening the level of competition in the European marketplace to that of the full-size truck market in the U.S.
"We think this will build on the success of E-Series," Levine said. "We think this will build on the success of Transit and let us do things with a van that we've never done before and get better fuel economy than we've ever gotten before with our full-size vans.
"The E-Series has been the best-selling van in the U.S. for 33 years, so we know we have a tremendous legacy to live up to. But we think this new van, with its new features, new configurations, new powertrains, lower operating costs, and great fuel economy, will be a game changer."
Greg Basich is web editor for Bobit Business Media's FleetGroup, of which HDT is a part. For more on the Transit and other cargo vans and walk-ins, watch for HDT Senior Editor Tom Berg's annual update in the October issue of HDT.
12/9/2011 Ford Shows E-Series Replacement, the Transit Van
3/6/2012 Upcoming Transit Van to Get EcoBoost V-6, Ford Says