The delayed arrival of the all-new Transit has done little to suggest Ford Australia is even remotely interested in light commercials.
The launch of a totally new product into the Australian market is usually accompanied by advertising teaser programmes that release details in advance of the actual on-sale date.
As the time grows nearer to the launch date there are usually previews and an early introduction to the product with factory visits to determine build quality and interview opportunities with senior engineers from the research and development group responsible for its design. The next step is what the media refers to as a long lead launch, where specialist magazines get an early drive to determine the strengths and weaknesses of the product before it hits the dealership showroom floor.
That was certainly the case when Ford released details of its new Kuga, Mondeo, Focus ST, Everest and Mustang. But in a classic example of total indifference to the more workmanlike range of light commercials, the all-new Transit limped onto the Australian market without so much as a quietly suppressed hoorah.
As the Ford executive responsible for light commercial indifference, Graeme Whickman holds the title of Vice President Marketing, Sales and Service. After repeated requests to interview Mr. Whickman through the past 12 months have failed to generate a response, Delivery Magazine did manage to catch up with Mr. Whickman at a media preview of the car division upgrades for 2015.
Up for discussion was why the current specifications of the light commercial range for the Australian market are not ideal, in some cases being somewhat lacklustre by comparison with other markets.
Mr. Whickman’s response to Delivery’s questions was worthy of one of Tony Abbots denials of broken election promises. Filled with rhetoric that relied on unpublished surveys and supposed historical data to substantiate a second tier level of vehicle specifications, he appeared uncomfortable when asked to discuss light commercials, stating that the entire marketing programme for the van range was classified as being “below the line” and would be handled directly by dealerships rather than attracting any effort on the part of the manufacturer.
So, given that the Vice President of Indifference was not prepared to discuss how to make the best possible result out of the opportunities presented by the all-new Transit, here is the Delivery Magazine view of how something that is quite good, could have been made into a world beater.
With a great history of producing innovative and game-changing light commercial vehicles through the years, Ford moved the entire motor industry forward in focus when it released the first Transit back in 1965. Since that debut of the Transit, Ford has since celebrated sales exceeding over seven million vehicles globally.
How the Transit and its derivatives perform in the Australian market will provide an interesting scenario, as it now seems that all the effort and responsibility has been placed on the shoulders of local dealership personnel.
In Europe the all-new Transit is called the Transit Cargo, differentiating the new model from the smaller, medium-sized Transit Custom and the again smaller Transit Connect. In the Australian market it loses the Cargo addition, creating the opportunity for confusion as to the difference between a Transit Custom and a Transit, rather than a Transit Cargo.
For those starting from a blank canvas, the Transit Custom is a medium-sized van available as a short and long-wheelbase model with a payload of 1,032 kg (SWB) and 1,360 kg (LWB). Powered by a 2.2-litre diesel from the Puma family, the maximum power output is 92 kW at 3,500 rpm, and peak torque is rated at 350 Nm from 1,450 to 2,000 rpm.
As mentioned when Delivery drove it’s first Transit Custom, performance off the mark from stationary is sluggish, even with only a 400 kg load, leaving the driver prone to engine stalling at low revs. When a driver needs to take something out of the cargo area there is no optional right-hand sliding door, meaning that because of a full-height and full-width bulkhead, cargo access is only by a kerbside sliding door or the rear barn doors.
On the New Zealand market the Kiwis have selected optional sliding side doors on the driver’s side, in addition to a standard kerbside slider. They have also moved to a higher output version of the engine, and consequently gained an increase in power to 114 kW at 3,500 rpm and peak torque of 385 Nm rated from 1,600 to 2,300 rpm.
Someone in New Zealand obviously did their homework, because when moving up to the Transit Van, which we would suggest should be called the Transit Cargo if only to remove confusion, the Kiwis also gain optional sliding driver’s side doors throughout the range on the larger vehicle. The clever Kiwis also standardise on the same engine ratings fitted to the Transit Custom, thereby reducing engine component complexity.
For the Australian market, the Vice President of Indifference has selected the same power and torque ratings for the Transit (Cargo) as New Zealand, but deleted the option of a driver’s side sliding cargo door. This simply reproduces the same power and torque ratings as the previous VM rear-wheel-driver Transit.
A regular van driver can already see annoying trends in the specification of both the Transit Custom and Transit (Cargo). What you see is very much what you get.
From a safety perspective the list of inclusions is impressive. MacPherson strut front suspension gives positive steering control, good road feel and good ride comfort. Dynamic stability control, emergency brake assist, trailer sway control, load adaptive control, rollover mitigation and hill launch assist are all valuable safety features. But what you would expect, especially in a vehicle used by couriers and delivery drivers, is a large screen Sat/Nav that also displays blind spots and safe reversing manoeuvres. This does not exist.
Front and rear parking sensors are available as part of a pack, and this includes a reverse camera, but the display is miniscule and portrayed on the end of the central interior mirror. This means a driver’s eyes have to flit from wing mirrors on either side up to the top of the windscreen to view the central mirror. A dashboard large screen display would be the most sensible alternative, but the design of the dash lacks the space for it to be fitted. This is presumably a case of looks being more important than functionality.
The Aussie Transit (Cargo) comes with rear-wheel-drive in mid-roof and high-roof on the long-wheelbase platform, as a jumbo van in two derivatives and as a single-cab/chassis. Additional derivatives including a double-cab/chassis and 12-seat bus are claimed to be joining the range in 2015.
All the gross vehicle weights of the different models are under 4,500 kg, keeping the licence category purely car oriented. Payloads vary from 1,295 kg to 2,547 kg and the cargo volume varies from 11 cubic metres to 15.1 cubic metres. Floor length dimensions extend from 3,494 mm out to 4,217 mm with a width of 1,784 narrowing to 1,392 mm on single rear wheels, and 1,154 mm when fitted with dual rear wheels. The dimensions of the sliding side door are (width) 1,300 mm and (height) 1,600 mm.
What we can see in the Transit range is the potential for good sales volumes if the product planners at Ford Australia get their act together and determine the correct specification for business use.
This current ambivalence is also displayed in the available choice of colours being restricted to either Frozen White or Moondust Silver. Not exactly a riveting selection of the palette, and guaranteeing perhaps that the new Transit will remain relatively invisible when it comes to high street presence. Warranty support is five years/200,000 km.
Despite the unforgivable lack of an automatic transmission anywhere in the world markets, the niggling problems identified can be avoided if someone, somewhere, in the hallowed halls of Ford at Campbellfield actually drives a Transit. Take one home and commute each day for at least one month, take it to Woolworths and the local Macca’s car park. Live with it, find out its strong points and weaknesses and choose the spec’ that works.
Above all, put pressure on Ford of Europe to identify an automatic transmission that can work with all versions in all weight categories. Until the company shows that functionality and fit for purpose rank in the decision making, it will be the likes of Renault, IVECO, Hyundai, Fiat, Mercedes-Benz and Volkswagen that top the sales figures.