Ford Transit Connect Now Will Come to the US
According to today’s Wall Street Journal, “people familiar with the company’s plans” have confirmed that Ford will, in fact, bring the Transit Connect European commercial van to the US. The move is expected to be announced at next week’s Chicago Auto Show, with Ford expecting to sell about 20,000 units toward the end of 2009.
The Transit Connect, although it looks similar to Dodge’s Sprinter (another European commercial van), is a smaller vehicle. In Europe, it is powered by a range of 1.8 liter common-rail turbo diesels, and the vans are actually assembled in Turkey.
The Transit Connect (or whatever name it has once its US sales begin) will be an interesting addition to Ford’s lineup. Many people in the US have been pining for some of Ford’s excellent European and Australian products, so this experiment will prove interesting to observers like me. Even more interesting, however, is the fact that Ford either really had a difficult time deciding whether to offer the Transit Connect in the US, or knew they were going to and just denied it to throw off journalists. Mark Fields, Ford’s President of the Americas, told Autosavant only last month that it would be a long time before the US saw the Transit Connect, if ever:
I asked Mark Fields, Ford’s President of the Americas, about the Transit Connect in the States, and his answer was that it would not happen anytime soon. Pressed for a timeline, he would not commit to the Transit Connect coming here soon, or for that matter, ever. One has to assume that the dollar’s devaluation has made the prospect of importing foreign-built vehicles somewhat ridiculous for Ford. It cannot make economic sense at this point. To his credit, Fields seemed very familiar with the Transit Connect and then turned the tables on me, asking me what I thought the market was for the van here in the States, and how that would break out between commercial and consumer buyers. I responded as above. Fields was very gracious and polite, but I got the feeling Ford doesn’t think there would be any consumer demand for the Transit Connect; that the vehicle would sink of swim solely on its commercial appeal.
So, was Fields being incredibly coy, or was the on again/off again Transit Connect program off in December and on again just a month later? It’s impossible to tell right now. On one hand, Ford’s product planning was in something of a state of disarray when the company came to the realization that some of their ideas weren’t likely to be met with success in the marketplace. On the other hand, has anything really fundamentally changed since December? CAFE fuel economy standards had already been increased by then, so Ford should have known that it would need more fuel efficient commercial vehicles. Regardless, the arrival of the Transit Connect in the US will likely be the first of many moves by Ford to better leverage its global assets and achieve better economies of scale.
At any rate, it will be interesting to see how Ford presents the Transit Connect to the US in Chicago, and even more interesting to see how well Americans take to it. Apparently, Ford will market the van primarily to commercial customers, such as caterers. But will they also sell versions configured as passenger haulers to the retail consumer? Will they only offer diesel power, or will a gasoline engine be added to the mix as well?