Here’s a fun bit of trivia: the current Ford Econoline, body-on-frame and all, has been in production since Gerald Ford was dodging bullets in Sacramento. Ford has been half-heartedly facelifting it since 2003, and adding minor interior goodies like SYNC. But other than that, it’s been chugging along perfectly fine off the creaking lines of sunny Lorain, Ohio. Did you know the 1992 Chateau Club Wagon edition of the Ford Econoline won Motor Trend‘s Truck Of The Year? We didn’t either. Like the Abe Vigoda of the automotive world, we sometimes have to ask ourselves about the Ford Econoline: wait, it’s still alive?
Well, not for long, says Ford—because soon it’ll be replaced with a shiny new transplant from Europe, in line with the company’s “One Ford” global strategy. Here, then, is what will be pulling up in front of your house the next time the kitchen sink explodes. Here’s what will be taking you to LAX. Here’s the next church van, the next hotel shuttle, the next bachelor party van, the next bank heist getaway vehicle: Ford commands a healthy 56 percent of the full-size van market with the E-Series, and with the new Transit it doesn’t expect to lose a single point.
Everything. “It’s like going from a StarTAC to an iPhone,” said Ford.
The new Transit will have three roof heights, mimicking the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter and Nissan NV; on the highest model, Ford says a 6-foot 2-inch adult can stand up comfortably inside. There will be two wheelbases as well and an additional stretch on the longest wheelbase. As with the Econoline, we expect that there will be both passenger versions and cargo-only models, likely to eclipse the current van’s 278 cubic feet of carrying volume. Expect to reenact the Battle of Antietam between the first and third rows.
One of the reasons Ford can make such drastic changes is because of how it makes the Transit. While the old E-Series was built off an ancient body-on-frame truck chassis, the Transit’s all-new construction uses a unibody type construction that’s more common to cars than heavy-duty work vehicles. This may prove to be a point of contention among the fleet operators that are the Transit’s primary market since unibody vehicles are perceived as being less durable than the older body-on-frame types. However, Ford claims that the unibody construction on the Transit, with liberal applications of high-strength and boron steel, will be at least 300 pounds lighter than the E-Series. That means more fuel efficiency and less operating costs for you, dear customer.
Engines and Drivetrains
European models will get front-wheel and all-wheel variants in addition to rear-wheel drive, but Americans will live with only the rear wheels driving the Transit. U.S. engine options will include a 3.5-liter Ecoboost V-6, with what we assume will be horsepower figures similar to the 365 found in the F-150 pickup truck, and an additional V-6. Ford only makes so many different kinds of engines for its trucks, so we’ll let you draw your conclusions for what it’s going to be. Also, a yet-unspecified diesel engine will also be available, all-new for the North American market.
Much as the case with Ford’s other trucks, we expect its interior to host gobs automotive technology. With the ubiquitous SYNC already in the Econoline, we expect it will make an appearance in the Transit, too, so you can play all the Foghat you can throw at it.
Production will begin in 2013 in Kansas City, Missouri. Ford is throwing $1.1 billion at Kansas City Assembly, which currently produces the Ford Escape and F-150. And just in time, too. Ford anticipates that as the economy is coming back, vans will be huge news—as people will once again be able to afford replacements for their dying workhorses. ”Pricing and cost of ownership will be key,” said Ford.
From initial owner responses to the unibody conundrum, Ford ran into little resistance: “Our customers are excited about this. How soon can we get this van?”
Hopefully soon. Because for the curmudgeonly fleet operators more resistant to change than Rick Santorum’s vision of Moses, Ford reassures them that the 2014 Ford Transit will be more efficient, more flexible, tougher, easier to drive, and ultimately more reliable than the Econoline—which will save any van owner money. And people tend to like money.
We do, too. We like the new Transit.
The E-Series will still kick around for a while, well into the decade—but expect cargo and passenger variants to go away over the next two years. Requiescat in pace, noble Econoline. You served us well, but it’s out with the old and all that. Remember: even Gerald Ford had to take a knee.