For certain car owners, fuel efficiency matters. For entrepreneurs, specifically, fuel costs affect the bottom line.
Seeking to tap a niche of customers with distinct commercial uses for a vehicle and a desire for fuel efficiency, Ford has brought the Transit Connect, its compact commercial van already available in Europe, to the United States.
More than 600,000 Ford Transit Connects have been sold since 2003 to customers in 58 countries and on four continents.
For the U.S. market, the powertrain was upgraded to include a Duratec 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine and a four-speed automatic overdrive transmission. The Transit Connect delivers an EPA estimated fuel economy of 22 miles per gallon (mpg) in the city and 25 mpg on the highway.
As a commercial vehicle, however, the Transit Connect must excel at versatility. Its configurability begins with being built on a dedicated front-wheel-drive commercial vehicle platform. It has 135 cubic feet of cargo volume, split rear cargo doors that open at a standard 180 degrees, or an optionally available 255 degrees. When open, these doors provide access to 52.1 inches of available load height. Dual sliding rear side doors provide wide access to the generous cargo space as well.
Once inside, the cargo area opens up to 59.1 inches of floor-to-ceiling load height and a generous load length of 72.6 inches, and a cargo payload of 1,600 pounds.
Bulkheads, racks, bins and other upfits can be mixed, matched, and configured to suit many specific commercial applications and needs, similar to the Ford E-Series commercial vehicles.
But that’s not all. The Transit Connect is available as a cargo van with no windows in the sliding side doors combined with rear cargo door privacy glass. A panel van version is offered with no side or rear cargo area windows. It can be configured with side and rear door privacy glass for maximum driver visibility, plus, a wagon version of Transit Connect is available with a folding second-row bench seat, in either two- or three-passenger configurations.
On the regional launch of the Transit Connect held in Dallas, three different entrepreneurs were given a chance to test the Transit Connect, including a semi-celebrity and former Austinite, Bronwen Weber, owner of Frosted Art Bakery & Studio and competitive chef on the Food Network. She and driver Ruben Espitia testified to the Transit Connect’s usefulness and the appeal of its size. According to Espitia, the lower load height and interior shelving with sliding trays substantially facilitated loading and unloading of precarious and delicate cargo, like five-tier cakes. For Weber, the cost savings with fuel, an estimated $200-$300 per month, most intrigued her.
Freesia Florist owner, Peter Ullrich, enjoyed the Transit Connect but expressed concern over switching from an alternative fuel powered vehicle, like the diesel-powered Dodge Sprinter, to the Transit Connect. Good point, considering the Transit Connect’s origins—it’s manufactured in Spain and assembled in Turkey—and that diesel versions do exist in Europe. There are no plans to introduce a diesel version but an electric-powered version is coming in late 2010.
A smaller stature doesn’t just help save gas, it makes the Transit Connect more maneuverable in city traffic. Power-assisted rack and pinion steering allows a 39-foot curb-to-curb turning circle.
A work vehicle need not be technologically disadvantaged. Ford has developed an onboard computer system specifically for commercial purposes called Ford Work Solutions. Like the van itself, the technology can be configured to the business’s unique needs. An in-dash computer provides Internet access, productivity software and optional printing capabilities. Tracking tools, like Tool Link. give the ability to organize, scan and track tools, inventory and other cargo items and Crew Chief, a tailored telematics service, helps monitor and manage small or large fleets. On the downside, the system is not Macintosh compatible.
Safety features include front and side air bags, four-wheel anti-lock brakes and a tire pressure monitoring system. A locking exterior hood release helps keep things secure up front and Lock-in-Latch shielded door locks protect against break-ins.
Built for work, creature comforts are limited. Standard features include air-conditioning and an AM/FM Stereo receiver with two speakers. An optional audio unit adds a single disc CD player and an audio input jack.
With models starting at $21,475, including destination, the 2010 Ford Transit Connect gives businesses an affordable, downsized commercial vehicle with large-scale versatility and appreciable fuel efficiency. Plus, there’s a plug-in on the horizon.