New Transit van helps Ford become the largest and the fastest-growing commercial van maker
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From the Kansas City Star
When U.S. Engineering Co. began replacing its vans earlier this year, fleet manager Mark Tanner didn’t know how its workers would accept Ford’s new Transit.
They had been driving Ford’s E-Series vans for so long they knew what to expect. The new van, well, had a different shape, handling and ergonomics. They weren’t thrilled with its tall and thin “Euro style” looks.
A month after driving six of the vans around Kansas City, Tanner took a poll.
“They said they tried to hate the van, but they couldn’t find anything to hate,” he said.
Ford launched the Transit in 2014 as a replacement for the E-Series van, America’s best-selling commercial van for 36 years. The Transit, which in North America is made only at Ford’s Kansas City Assembly Plant in Claycomo, appears to have taken over where the E-Series left off — and turned it up a few notches.
The van is outselling its closest competitor, the Chevrolet Express, 2-to-1, according to the website The Fast Lane Truck.
In August, Ford sold 10,263 Transits, bringing its total for the year to 75,931, the company said. June was its best month so far, with 12,134 sold.
This week, Ford announced that more than half of the commercial van customers in the U.S. in the first six months of this year bought a Ford van — a Transit, the smaller Transit Connect or an E-Series.
That makes the company both the largest and the fastest-growing maker of commercial vans in the U.S.
This comes at a time when overall commercial van sales are up about 11 percent from last year, said Erich Merkle, U.S. sales analyst for Ford.
“We have had just great success and it’s really driven by the big Transit, and to a certain extent the Transit Connect has been doing well for us too,” Merkle said.
Ford captured 56 percent of the U.S. commercial van market as of June, up from 48 percent for the same period last year, according to Ford’s analysis of commercial vehicle registration data.
“It doesn’t appear we will be missing a beat with the Transit. … It’s just incredibly popular and driving so much growth, not just for us, but the segment overall,” Merkle said.
The Wall Street Journal reported that sales of the high-top version of the Transit have been so strong that Ford reached a deal with three rail companies to raise the shelving on 400 rail cars so shipments of the taller models could keep up with demand.
Merkle said most U.S. customers don’t realize Ford has been making and selling Transit vans overseas for 50 years. It’s been called the backbone of the U.K. economy.
“It’s new to our market, but it’s been a really top sell globally for many years,” he said.
The Transits appeal to businesses because they get better fuel economy and they have 58 configurations that allow customers to optimize a van to meet their needs, Merkle said.
The commercial van market has been rebounding since sales dipped in late 2008, 2009 and 2010.
“We went through a very difficult time with the recession,” Merkle said. “Van sales have been rebounding nicely.”
The success of the Transit van is good news for the Claycomo plant. The plant, which also produces the best-selling F-150 truck, has about 7,500 employees, with about 3,100 on the Transit side.
“We’re going to produce to demand,” Merkle said.