Ford Transit Takes On New York

June 2, 2009
With a GVW of just over 5,000 lbs, the Ford Transit Connect brings a new “small commercial” truck segment to the U.S. that combines good fuel economy and maneuverability with flexible interior space

With a GVW of just over 5,000 lbs, the Ford Transit Connect brings a new “small commercial” truck segment to the U.S. that combines good fuel economy and maneuverability with flexible interior space, easy cargo access and maximum cargo capacity for its overall size, according to Ford officials.

Scheduled to be on dealer showroom floors by the end of this month, the truck is squarely aimed at urban businesses currently forced to compromise with compact vans built for consumer use or larger trucks that are difficult to navigate through crowded city streets, they say.

Over 600,000 Transits have been sold in Europe since its introduction there in 2003, according to Doug Scott, Ford Truck marketing director, where it has proven “urban durable” with high-strength steel rails and crossmembers, a solid rear axle with anti-roll bars, a double-skinned body and security systems. The U.S. version has been modified for this market with a 2-liter Duratec gasoline engine and 4-speed automatic transmission that will deliver 22 MPG in city driving and 25 MPG on the highway. Payload capacity for the U.S. version is 1,600 lbs. The interior, with a cargo volume of 135 cu. ft., can be accessed from two sliding side doors and two swing-out rear doors that can be opened 255 deg.

To prove its point, Ford Truck is taking the Transit to six cities to demonstrate its flexibility and value in a variety of actual small business applications. In New York, it chose a hardware and lumber store on the residential Upper West Side of Manhattan, a gourmet food retailer in the congested Chelsea neighborhood, and a home décor and floral designer with a storefront on the narrow streets of Greenwich Village.

Located in a small street level storefront of an apartment building, Mike’s Lumber & Hardware currently has three medium-duty conventional trucks with 20-ft. van bodies. “We use them to deliver unpainted furniture and renovation materials,” says Manoli Papagiannakis, the store manager. The company’s installers and their tools either travel in the trucks or take their own cars to the work sites.

“Parking (the trucks) is a problem,” Papagiannakis says. “With the Transit, my trucks can make the deliveries and my guys can take (the Transit). It’s easier to park and it’s secure so they can keep the all the tools they need with them.”

He particularly likes the optional Ford Work Solution, an integrated onboard computer that’s available in all Ford Trucks, and Tool Links, an RFID system tied to the OBC that monitors tools put in and taken out of the truck. “It tells them before they leave the store if they’ve forgotten something they’ll need, and that’s a big time saver,” he says.

Sixty blocks south at the Garden of Eden gourmet market, CEO Mustafa Coskun sees the Transit as a way to help expand into e-commerce. The business currently has two mid-range cabovers with 16-ft. bodies and three larger trucks with 26-ft. van bodies for bringing produce and other fresh foods from the city’s markets. But the compact size and maneuverability of the Transit would be perfect for delivering e-commerce orders to customers in Manhattan, he says.

The OBC is also an important element for the business. Built on the Windows CE operating platform, it has wireless internet access and a web browser, allowing drivers for that new e-commerce business to remotely access and modify customer orders, check inventories and otherwise provide Garden of Eden’s “white-glove service,” Coskun says.

Grove, the third stop on the Transit tour, is two-person operation providing interior and floral design services out of a 700 sq. ft. storefront on the west side of Greenwich Village. Opened last year by Sarah Tallman, who describes herself as “a corporate-management refugee,” it currently relies on delivery services to get its large floral arrangements to events throughout the New York area, supplemented by Tallman’s Jeep Grand Cherokee.

The hired carriers are expensive and the Jeep is both fuel hungry and can only carry relatively short arrangements, she says. Measuring 59 in. from floor to roof, the Transit can swallow the tallest flower designs. Combined with good fuel economy and a small size that works well in narrow neighborhood streets, it’s a good fit for her new business, she says. The integrated OBC is also useful to Grove for it’s communications capability, with hands-free voice and texting communications as well as remote access to the store’s computer system, she adds.

The next stop for the Transit small business tour is Atlanta, with future stops planned for Chicago, Dallas, Kansas City and Los Angeles. Ford says it also plans to bring Transit test drives to retail locations frequented by small business owners and to give away one of the new “small commercial” trucks during the tour