We’re getting a bit of a break on the price of gas right now, as it’s been inching down slowly after running up to over $3 per gallon just before Memorial Day weekend. If you bring that subject up to most people, they’ll likely recall last summer, when it was up around $4.50 a gallon. Hopefully, we’re not going to see that price level again for some time.
As we fret about the price of gas, imagine being the owner of a small business that uses a van to move tools or merchandise around. Each increase in the pump price cuts into the bottom line. Now imagine a medium-size business with ten vans. Or how about a large business with 100 or even 1000 vans or more. Gas prices change can change their balance sheets by a significant margin.
Ford may have a solution for businesses, whether they’re small, medium or large. It’s a smaller van called the Transit Connect. It looks like something out of the future, but it’s here today, to potentially help the commercial vehicle world as well as the Ford Motor Company. (Ford is already the leader in sales of full-size cargo vans.)
During the congressional bailout hearings for the Detroit Three car companies earlier this year, executives from Chrysler, GM and Ford all vowed that they were developing vehicles that would get much better fuel efficiency. For Ford, the Transit Connect is one of the first efforts to that end.
Casting about the same shadow as a mid-size crossover SUV, the Transit Connect sits tall and wedge-like, with a steeply raked windshield and slab sides, Ford’s new little van looks like something out of a science fiction magazine, circa 1975. You certainly won’t mistake it for any other vehicle on the road.
It definitely has a “European” look to it, and with good reason. The Transit Connect has been on sale in Europe since 2002, part of an overall line of commercial vans named Transits. Ford decided that American businesses might like an alternative to its own full-size Econoline vans, and to the Chevrolet HHR Panel, the Transit Connect’s nearest competitor in the marketplace.
But unlike the HHR Panel, which is really just a version of the HHR passenger vehicle with fewer windows, the Transit Connect is a real van. There are sliding doors on each side, and vertical space for most adults to stand up inside without ducking too much. There’s room for 135 cubic feet of cargo, and a maximum payload capacity of 1,600 pounds.
Part of this van’s appeal lies under the hood. A 2.0 liter four cylinder engine mates to an automatic transmission (there are no other powertrain choices – yet) and returns EPA fuel economy numbers of 22 mpg in the city, and 25 on the highway. It runs just fine on 87 octane regular unleaded gasoline, and only requires maintenance at 7,500 mile intervals, according to Ford.
During a brief drive in the Transit Connect, I found it to be extremely maneuverable thanks to its compact size and small turning radius. From the loading dock at the produce market to the parking lot at Costco, this little van would be a breeze to park and load. Visibility out the huge windshield is very good, and you can even see pretty well out the back window.
Of course that rearward visibility will be compromised somewhat if any of the optional commercial packages are installed after a Transit Connect arrives stateside from its factory in Turkey. Shelves, racks, bulkheads, drawers. They’re all available for every kind of trade, from contractor to caterer. At Ford’s media event for the van, we got to see a cool example with a shelving package designed specifically for catering companies. Large sliding shelves resembling huge cookie sheets were easily accessible from the rear doors.
The Transit Connect van is also available with Ford’s Work Solutions packages, which includes a clever way to keep track of tools. RFID (radio frequency identification) tags can be attached to any tools that are normally carried in the van. So a tradesperson will know right away if he or she has the right tools on board before heading out to a job site, thanks to a display screen on the dash which monitors all the tools.
The high-tech equipment goes even further. A fleet operator can keep track of individual vehicles via a computer back at the office. Is one of your employees speeding or using the brakes really hard? The Transit Connect can let you know. It will also keep track of accumulated mileage, so maintenance can be easily scheduled.
Ford’s new little van starts at $21,475 before options are added on. Even with some of the extras, it would be pretty easy to get one of these for under $25,000. Ford says the Transit Connect is very durable (there are over 600,000 in use worldwide already), and maintenance costs should be low.
The Transit Connect is a look at the future. A future where vehicles are more fuel efficient, and businesses don’t have to buy a vehicle that’s bigger than what they really need.
I’ll see you down the road.
Dave Kunz is the automotive reporter at KABC-TV Channel 7. He’s also a car enthusiast and owns several classics. Dave can be reached at TVCarz @ pacbell.net.