DEARBORN, MI – High prices, poor fuel economy and a batch of products that have gotten too big for their own good have created an opening Ford says it thinks it can fill with a revamped Transit Connect Wagon that will hit the market in late 2013.
The new model, which will make its public debut at the Los Angeles auto show later this month, is based on the new C1 architecture that underpins a lineup of new global vehicles for the auto maker, including the Focus and C-Max.
Ford already offers a Transit Connect Wagon alongside the current Transit Connect commercial van in the U.S., but that model is much more Spartan in character and not as optimized for personal-use buyers.
In contrast, the new ’14 model that will bow next year in both short- and long-wheelbase form is decked out in full passenger-vehicle regalia.
It boasts better seats, a panoramic glass roof, available big-screen Sync/MyFord Touch infotainment system and second- and third-row side-curtain airbags, plus a number of other upscale options.
“Our buyers told us if we give them additional features, they would be happy to pay for them, Tim Stoehr, marketing manager-Ford Commercial Truck, says here at an unveiling of the new model to media.
Three trim levels will be offered, XL, XLT and top-of-the-line Titanium. Pricing won’t be announced until closer to launch, but Ford officials promise the vehicle will be “thousands of dollars less” than a Honda Odyssey or Toyota Sienna.
It also will be the most fuel-efficient 7-passenger vehicle on the market, Stoehr says, with a highway rating of 30 mpg-plus (7.8 L/100 km). Buyers will save $300 per year in gasoline costs compared with Odyssey owners and $400 vs. Sienna drivers, he says.
The vehicle’s shape is unlike conventional minivans, featuring a tall roof and plenty of interior headroom, though it does employ sliding side doors and a conventionally hinged rear hatch. Styling inside and out carries Ford’s global design theme, so the new model looks more at home in the auto maker’s passenger-vehicle lineup.
The short-wheelbase wagon measures 174 ins. (68.5 cm) in overall length, while the long-wheelbase version that is available with a 2-3-2 seating configuration is 190 ins. (74.8 cm) overall. Seats fold flat but not into the floor. Third-row seats can recline and slide forward to create more rear cargo room.
Power will come from a choice of two 4-cyl. engines, a base 2.5L naturally aspirated powerplant and Ford’s 1.6L direct-injected Ecoboost. Both will be mated to a 6-speed automatic, the only transmission option for the vehicle.
The Transit Connect also is available with a diesel in Europe, and because it shares its underpinnings with the C-Max and Focus, electric and hybrid powertrains would be a possibility as well. But officials won’t comment on whether they might offer those as options further down the road.
Ford has modified the rear suspension on the new Transit Connect to give it a better ride and Hau Thai-Tang, vice president engineering-product development, says the people-mover will boast driving dynamics that will set it apart from its minivan competition. Turning radius will be smaller than that of a Honda Accord, Stoehr says.
Unlike the current Transit Connect, which is not rated for towing, the new model will be able to pull 2,000 lbs. (907 kg). Payload, at 1,200 lbs.-plus (544 kg) will top a Dodge Caravan minivan and Toyota Tacoma pickup, Ford officials say.
The cargo-van version of the new model, not shown here today, will bow at the Detroit auto show in January. All Transit Connects now will come to the U.S. from Ford’s Valencia, Spain, plant that also builds C-Max and Grand C-Max vehicles for Europe.
Stoehr predicts up to 80% of Transit Connect Wagon buyers will opt for the long-wheelbase model, but adds the flexibility of the Valencia assembly plant means any demand mix could be met.
Ford officials say the revamped model is not a minivan but a minivan substitute that fills “white space” in the market others have ignored.
“The traditional minivan segment has peaked,” Stoehr says. “It’s not the growth opportunity it once was.”
He points to the overall U.S. market that is experiencing a shift from large SUVs to small and midsize models and from large and midsize sedans to smaller compacts and subcompacts, suggesting minivan buyers also will follow that trend.
“(Minivans) have become too big and too expensive,” Stoehr says. “This is a new kind of people-mover that is targeted at this white-space opportunity. We think we have an opportunity to meet new customer needs.”
Ford’s buyer-demographic target is wide-ranging, he adds. “These will be impassioned individuals. But that could be a 70-year-old who wants to go skiing…or a recent college graduate.”
Ford says it should sell about 35,000 of its current Transit Connect models this year, up from 31,914 in 2011 and 27,405 in 2010. That small growth trend, plus feedback from its buyer base, has it convinced it can move the needle further with the revamped wagon model, though it doesn’t forecast volume.
Currently about 30% of Transit Connect sales in the U.S. are wagon models, but Ford believes the mix will skew toward 50/50 wagon/van with the new models arriving next year.