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Commercial / Heavy Trucks

Preview: 2014 Ford Transit

After 51 years of service, Ford will be replacing the long-in-the-tooth E-Series commercial van for the 2014 model year. In its stead, Ford will bring us their venerable Transit. It’s a decision that is based on Ford’s desire to shrink their global portfolio to nine platforms, while retaining commercial trucks as part of their company DNA. After all, roughly 29 percent of the vehicles the Blue Oval sells around the world are commercial vehicles.

So why the Transit, then?

Well, it is currently available in 116 markets worldwide and has proven to be a huge success for Ford. But, with 788,000 commercial vehicle sales in North America in 2011, comprising 37.2 percent of the market share, Ford wanted to make sure their next offering was right for the market. They focused on their customers’ needs for commercial vehicles and found they are, in Ford’s words “hard working, open minded, owner/operators who are sensitive to fuel economy.” To ensure the Transit will be all things to all people, Ford will be offering it with three powertrains, in two two wheelbases, and three roof heights. The long-wheelbase, tallest-roof ‘Jumbo Transit’ will have twice the litres in cargo capacity of the smallest, regular-wheelbase Transit.

Engines

The biggest area of change, and potentially shocking to E-Series loyalists, are the engine options. The current E-Class has the choice of a 225-hp 4.6L V8, 255-hp 5.4L V8, and 305-hp 6.8L V10. The new Transit eschews these traditional offerings in favour of two V6s and one inline-5. Despite the reduction in cylinders, modern technology combined with a six-speed automatic transmission actually increases performance for the new Transit over the E-Series. The two six-cylinder engines come out of the Ford F-150 and are the familiar 3.7L V6 and 3.5L turbocharged Ecoboost V6.

These engines are designed to replace the 4.6L V8 and 6.8L V10 respectively, and offer more horsepower, similar torque, lighter weight, and, of course, better efficiency. For those unsure if the full-size commercial van market will abandon V8s in favour of V6s, remember there was the same skepticism around the Ecoboost V6 engine when it was first put into the Ford F-150, and now 42 percent of all F-150 sales are made with the Ecoboost V6. That Ecoboost V6 will also be the most powerful engine available in a full-size van when it arrives to market next year.

The potential game changer, however, will be the engine that replaces the 5.4L V8; the 3.2L five-cylinder turbocharged diesel. Although this engine is not all new, it is new to North America. The South African–built inline-five was chosen for the Transit as it should offer the best compromise between power and efficiency. Expect the DOHC 20-valve engine with a variable geometry turbocharger to produce around 197 hp and 347 lb-ft of torque, which is 9 hp and 22 lb-ft more than Mercedes-Benz Sprinter van with its 3.0L turbocharged V6 diesel. Like the two gasoline V6 engines, the diesel-five will send power to the rear wheels via a six-speed automatic currently found in Ford’s rear-wheel-drive trucks and utility vehicles. There are no plans to bring the front-wheel-drive Transit found in other markets to North America, nor any plans to install the 3.2L diesel into the Ford F-150 pickup… yet…

Chassis Options

Like the outgoing E-Series, the new Transit will be available in familiar chassis designations depending on total GVWR. These will include the 150, 250, 350, and 350HD. The 350HD will feature the dual rear wheels in the ‘Jumbo’ body style, or as a cab-and-chassis configuration. The low-roof Transit will have an overall height of roughly 2,110 mm, while the highest roofed Transit will tower in at 2,795 mm. The high-roof Transit features an airy 1,930 mm of interior height that will grant most people the ability to stand up inside the truck. Passenger versions of the Transit can be configured to carry 8, 10, 12, or 15 people, depending on needs. This is all part of Ford’s strategy to “give customers the most choice possible.”

Will it sell?

Another departure from the E-Series will be the switch to unibody construction from the old body-on-frame manufacturing that has graced the E-Series since day one. Ford claims the Transit will utilize incredibly high-strength materials and sweat the details like the high, recessed headlights—so if a driver bumps a loading dock, the lights do not get damaged. Other features available for the Transit will be MyFord Touch, MyKey, lane departure warning, Crew Chief, rear-view camera, stability control, trailer sway control, curve control, side airbags, and curtain airbags on passenger versions.

The similar-in-purpose Mercedes-Benz Sprinter has been a moderate success, and with the option of more engines and a potentially lower starting price, the Transit should do just fine.