DEARBORN, MI. A “renaissance” in custom van upfitting began in 2014 with the introduction of the Ford Transit to the North American market. And so the commercial vehicle leader celebrated the fast-growing work and recreational van segments Monday at its headquarters here by showcasing 35 of the hottest examples in an event dubbed “Vandemonium.”
Full-size van sales are up 23% since Ford introduced Transit in June 2014, with Transit driving 78% of that growth, according to Ford.
For the event Ford—working closely with third parties to drive this growth and to address new opportunities—gathered some of the country’s top custom fabricators and upfitters to showcase their wares. Vehicles ranging from ambulances and traveling billboards to delivery vehicles and luxurious conversion vans were on display.
“It’s not just, hey, we have a cool new van—it’s our entire approach which is really unique and can’t be copied overnight. The upfitter network we have has really helped us grow our commercial business,” said Tim Stoehr, general fleet marketing manager at Ford. “The market’s evolving, and it’s responding to the inherent benefits the new Transit brought to the North American market.”
The increasing popularity of vans is good business—not just for Ford and its dealers, but downstream as well. Indeed, upfitters and suppliers on hand agreed on the wide-ranging influence of the Transit.
“We’ve been working with the Transit ever since it launched. It’s really changed our industry,” said Jay Cowie, director of marketing for Ranger Design.
He noted that the majority of their van storage products go into medium and high roof Transits. “It’s changed how people—especially tradesmen—work in their vehicles,” Cowie said. “People are standing up, working. With so many options, everybody is customizing their vans and we’re able to help them find the right solutions. It’s less cookie cutter, more specific to every single tradesman.”
Stoehr likewise emphasized the importance of “staying close” to customers, and of understanding the variety of needs and end uses for modern vans.
“You don’t just sell a commercial vehicle,” he said. “You sell a platform into a specific vocation.”
Stoehr pointed to the the early success of the Ford Econoline, introduced in 1961, and how van customization grew the market through the 1980s, before the SUV market exploded in North America. The Transit represents the next wave.
“There’s a real renaissance going on with these upfitters and what they’re able to do with our platform,” Stoehr said.