Ford's Transit Van continues E-Series' success

Michael Martinez
The Detroit News
Its multiple configurations available on body length, wheelbases and roof heights has quickly made the Transit van popular for Ford.

Ford Motor Co.'s new Transit is wasting no time replacing the automaker's E-Series as the nation's best-selling full-size cargo van.

More than 4,800 Transits were purchased in November as the van outsold the venerable E-Series, the Chevrolet Express and all other competitors for the first time. Since its June launch, Ford has sold more than 10,000 Transits that have become everything from food trucks and mobile offices to medical service vehicles and party buses.

"We're really excited to see Transit take over in such a big way — and so quickly," said Yaro Hetman, Transit brand manager. "We had no plans at all to let down on our leadership in the van segment."

Ford's E-Series has been the best-selling commercial van in the U.S. for 34 straight years, but Ford is replacing it with a Transit — popular for years in Europe — that offers more engine, style and size choices.

"The vehicle is getting tremendous reviews," said Michelle Krebs, senior analyst with "The commercial van market has held up very well in the past few years and sales are pretty strong. If you come in with a really good contender, you're going to do well."

A stable economy, an improved unemployment rate and low gas prices have helped drive sales of commercial vans, which are often purchased by companies in construction, medical and other business sectors. Through November, the full-size van segment is up 14 percent, according to industry data. That sales rise is second only to the small utility segment, which is up about 20 percent.

The van segment has recently grown more crowded with entries like Chrysler's ProMaster and the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter. Ford last year introduced an all-new smaller Transit Connect van.

The full-size Transit comes with a standard 3.7-liter V-6 that Ford says gets 19 percent better gas mileage than the E-Series and its standard 4.6-liter V-8. The Transit has multiple configurations, including three body lengths, two wheelbases, three roof heights and van, wagon, chassis cab and cutaway variations.

Joe Celentino, sales representative at Village Ford in Dearborn, shows how the roominess inside a Transit van. Ford Motor Co. says sales of the new Transit, which replaced the E-Series, have been brisk, with nearly 5,000 sold in November alone.

The Transit in some iterations can have up to 75 percent more cargo room than the largest E-Series.

"Customers are embracing the flexibility, cargo capacity and fuel economy," Hetman said. "They can tailor it to any configuration that works for them."

Hetman also said Ford's internal data shows Transit maintenance costs are substantially lower than its competitors.

Transit sales are about 70 percent commercial and 30 percent retail, Hetman said. In August, Missouri-based cable operator Charter Communications placed the first big fleet order, buying more than 800 low-roof, regular-wheelbase vans.

Krebs called the Transit's success another example of the One Ford plan — bringing a successful global vehicle to North America.

"It's a continuation of the success we're seeing around the world," Hetman said. "We're using over 50 years of experience (globally) to make the best van in the segment."

The Transit van “is getting tremendous reviews,” an analyst says.

The Transit is made at Ford's Kansas City Assembly Plant, and the Dearborn automaker last month hired 1,200 workers to start a second shift to make the van. Ford previously added 2,800 workers to the 4.7 million-square-foot plant in 2013 and 2012 to support the Transit introduction and increased F-150 production, also made in Kansas City.

Ford didn't say how many Transits are produced per week, but said it will match production to meet customer demand.

"We're just looking at steadily increasing — 4,800 is just the beginning for sales," Hetman said.

(313) 222-2401