By on September 26, 2010

Yes, I can muster some appreciation of Econolines of yore. But the painful reality is that the current E-Series is an ugly, primitive and inefficient pig virtually unchanged since 1974.  The fact that the American light truck sector hasn’t had the same revolution that European design influences have had on passenger cars is a mystery. Case in point: Ford’s Transit (not Connect) vans are a (several, actually) giant development leap ahead of the Econoline, offering FWD, RWD and AWD variants in three wheelbase lengths, numerous configurations, and driven by the most advanced diesels that can get well over 20 mpg. The Transit outsells Mercedes Sprinter in Europe. What the hell is Ford waiting for?

The remarkable flexibility of the Transit platform is demonstrated above. For a more in-depth look at the Transit, head over to the UK site here. And of course, there are passenger van versions as well.

Perhaps the cleverest aspect is the Transit’s drive train options: FWD, RWD or AWD are available, depending on your need or mood. The FWD versions offer a lower load floor for easy package delivery. The heavier rated versions naturally come in RWD. And the DuraTorque direct injection engines come in four and five cylinder versions, up to 200 hp and 470 Nm of torque. Plenty of power for towing too.

The mini-buses come with up to 17 passenger capacity.

A stubby six-speed falls right to hand. Looks like the Transit offers a somewhat more engaging driving experience to boot! Of course, automatics are available too.

And why not just ditch the F-Series too, and switch it all over to the versatile Transit platform? Oh, the whole macho high-riding American cowboy image would suffer, and our male population’s collective testosterone level would fall to that of those sissy Europeans. Can’t have that. Is that a woman on that job site? That explains it all; this is a girly truck.

No, unless it has a hood at least an acre large and a grille the size and boldness of an old Kenworth, Americans aren’t going to touch these girly toy trucks. Oh well; I guess Ford figured that out a while back. We love our Econolines!

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59 Comments on “The Next Generation Econoline? (Hopefully Yes)...”


  • avatar
    tech98

    Americans keep buying the highly-profitable, cheap-to-make, dinosaur-tech Econoline, so Ford will keep milking it as long as possible until market demand clubs them over the head with the need for something better. They build what’s most short-term profitable, not what’s the best product.

    • 0 avatar
      holydonut

      +1 on this.  I can guarantee you Ford has put the Transit in focus group testing for their target market of “utility van” purchasers.  And the vast majority responded positively for the USA Dinoline (see what I did there?) in favor of the fancy Transit.

      GM bailed on developing the work-vans segment by offering … nothing A Savana/Express Passenger Van. When was the last time you saw one of these in real life? I guess the GM product is now available with all wheel drive. Awesome.

      The Sprinter is a negative NPV fail-fest that will not be continued in the future (as is evidenced by the current Dodge / Ram / Commercial-Vehicles website).

      If there is money to be made, people will try to make it. If there isn’t … well that usually explains why it’s not in the marketplace. This isn’t a case where the available technology is still being developed, and it isn’t a case where the manufacturing/supply dynamics make it difficult to provide a product.

      It’s simply a case of there being no business case at the margins demanded by commercial-volume buyers for a Ford Transit in USA showrooms. Ford has better things to spend its money on – like badge engineering.
       
       

    • 0 avatar
      joeaverage

      Can you put “Sprinter is a negative NPV fail-fest” into layman’s terms? Around here they are well liked. What is NPV?
      If there is any problem with the Sprinter it is the cost. Pretty rich to someone who just wants a cheap utility vehicle and who doesn’t care about efficiency or how it feels to drive. I know people who would buy a ’62 Yugo if they could for their employees b/c it is cheap.

  • avatar
    OldandSlow

    To get a six speed manual transmission’d, Transit for the US – you’ll really have to pull some teeth over at Ford’s marketing department.

  • avatar
    John Horner

    I’m with tech98. Ford has kept on with the Econoline thanks to the lack of any real competitive pressure to do better. Given that, the easy money is made by simply stamping out more E-series trucks using tooling and technology which was fully amortized before last year’s college graduates were born.
    There are really only two ways most companies are pushed to do a better job: Competitive pressures and legal requirements. Absent one, or both, of those forcing functions the vast majority of businesses just keep making what they have been making.

    Speaking of which, GM and Fiat also build Transit class vehicles in Europe, so what are they waiting for?

    • 0 avatar
      th009

      We may get some competition forcing Ford’s hand yet, as Fiat has indicated that they will bring over the Ducato as a Ram van, probably as a CKD to be assembled in the US (or Mexico) and avoid the dreaded chicken tax.
       
      Sadly, the current Ducato appears to have been styled by the same team that designed the original Fiat Multipla.  Original, yes, quirky, yes, ugly, definitely.

    • 0 avatar

      Hello John and th009.

      Maybe not this year, but a Ducato van is most certainly coming your way. Since the launch of the Ducato line in the mid 90s, the Sprinter is going down, down, down. Competitors in Brazil include the Renault vam, the Ford, the Mercedes, the Iveco and the Fiat, with now a myriad of Chinese vans tryi9ng to enter the market. Oh we also have a Citroen and a Paugeot modles, but they are built by Fiat and are Ducatos in French dressing.

      The current leader at about 60% pf the market is the Ducato. It offers the smae utility as the Sprinter for 70% or so of the price. Not to mention th 2.3 diesel which is a gem. Parts are cheaper and fleet buyers and individuals care less and less for the 3 pointed star.

      Th009, I don’t think its that weird. However the design is not an in-house Fiat creation. If I’m not mistaken, it was penned by Pinninfarina
      Frond Transit got off to a good atart. It has passed Renault’s Master, but is behind the Iveco Daily and the Sprinter.

      So my predictio is that it’ll take a while, but Fiat will own the commercial van market in America. And that’ll be ironic, ’cause Americans will be driving around in their Ram man vans, not realizing thy’re driving a sissy, fix-it-again-tony product. Much like they do now with the leader in its marlet sector, the Renault CLio, err – Nissan Versa.

    • 0 avatar
      carve

      Are you sure the Ducato will be offered here?  If so, that would really shake things up.  I rented an old Ducato camper van for a one month road trip around New Zealand, and wanted to take the damn thing home with me!

      Except for the vaguest feeling shifter I’ve ever laid a hand on (and my left hand, at that, which didn’t help), it was remarkably easy to drive for such a big vehicle, the little 4 had so much torque that keep ing up with traffic was easy, even on hills (although speeds seldom exceed 60 or so in NZ), was relatively easy to drive in traffic, and got an amazing 22-25 mpg the whole time.  This was fully equipped, too- kitchen, dining area, shower, toilet, water heater, bed, fridge.  It was a perfect compromise between a full-featured RV, and something small, nimble, and efficient enough that we had no problem using it to drive around town like a commuter car.

      Anyway, hopefully this will shake things up and we’ll get some real competition going.

    • 0 avatar

      @carve

      Yes I’m pretty sure Fiat will launch it in America. THey know they have a very competitive product and as Americans are warming up to this kind of van, they are pretty sure they can carve out a nice piece of the American market. Even if using the “Ram” or “Dodge” logo and not the Fiat one.

    • 0 avatar
      joeaverage

      I put 400 miles on a Dodge 3500 over the weekend. 80K miles and the front end is worn out. Mind you this van is operated on good roads never more than half the seats full (state regs for schools). Tires were cupped, balljoints worn, rust setting in when this area doesn’t get that much salt, and the engine needed a tuneup badly.
      All I could think of was my friends’ 188K miles VW Eurovan that drove so well despite the neglect it received, my ’78 VW Westfalia that once it got a decent set of tires drives so nicely, the Fiat Ducatos I drove all over Italy that were so nice to drive, the 80′s Mercedes passenger vans that I drove all over the Italian peninsula. And then there was this POS Dodge that threatened to kill us all the whole trip should my attention wander like the steering. Admittedly the Ford E-350 I drove last year on a similar trip was MUCH better and I also pulled a trailer on that trip.
      If these Rest of the World vans reach the USA market then I think the American style vans have a doomed short life ahead of them because they are not even in the same game. Sure the American type is stronger in some cases, and tougher but that doesn’t always translate into better.

  • avatar
    Dimwit

    I’ve never understood how any of the domestics can make such winners but never sell them in their home markets. It’s weird.

    On of the biggest problems that Ford has with the E-line is that it supports a massive rebody industry that doesn’t like a lot of change. From RV’s to Ambulances to cubevans it’s a class that’s almost invisible except to the bottomline.

  • avatar
    NulloModo

    I’d hardly say that the E-series commercial conversions are invisible – they are just hiding in plain site.  The next time you drive to work keep your eyes open and you will see a ton of E-series vans, cutaways, and conversions.
     
    I think that the full size transit will eventually make its way over here, but for now the biggest barrier is cost.  The E-series was always considerably less expensive than the Sprinter, especially with fleet discounts, and 90%+ of E-series sales are to fleets.  The Transit Connect has had some success pulling customers away from the E-series for those who didn’t need the size or capability, and for whom fuel economy was important.  I wouldn’t expect to see the full size transit make any major headway however until gas prices are high enough to make the switch to the platform make economic sense.

    • 0 avatar
      th009

      The Sprinter is a much bigger van than (the normal) Transit.  In Europe, the Transit mostly competes with the VW Transporter; one size up from the transporter is the VW Crafter — which shares its platform with the Sprinter.  (A lot of platform-sharing goes on in commercial vans in Europe.)
       
      The smaller Transit versions really should be price-competitive, especially if built in North America.  And they not only drive incredibly better than the current Ford or GM full-size vans, but they are also more space-efficient for carrying cargo.
       
      As I said in my other posts, hopefully the Ducato can push Ford into building the Transit for the US/Canadian market.

    • 0 avatar
      NulloModo

      I haven’t ever seen a normal Transit in person, so I will defer to you on the size issue.
       
      As far as cost goes though, with fleet and corporate rebates, the E series sells a good bit below what the sticker suggests, but it can still be profitable because the plant and tooling has been paid off for years.  As it is, the E – series is pretty space efficient inside, although a lower load floor in the FWD variants of the Transit would certainly one up it.
       
      Engines will be an issue for the US market.  Those fuel efficient diesels are going to be expensive here, and with all of the regulation that will be required to make them ready for CA emissions states, it might not be worth it.  Perhaps the EcoBoost 2.0 liter could fill in pretty well though.

    • 0 avatar
      th009

      Here are the overall lengths (and interior lengths) — plus widths for the Ford models:
       
      E-150 216.7 x 95.7 (120.6 x 50.1)
      E-350 extended 236.7 x 95.7 (140.6 x 50.1)
       
      Transit SWB 191.5 x 93.5 (101.7 x 54.7)
      Transit MWB 205.9 x 93.5 (116.1 x 54.7)
      Transit LWB 223.5 x 93.5 (133.7 x 54.7)
       
      Sprinter SWB 232.5 (128.5)
      Sprinter LWB 273.4 (169.3)
      Sprinter LWB-X 289.2 (185.0)
       
      You can see the largest Transit is about the size of the smallest Sprinter.  All but the smallest Sprinter are also substantially bigger than any E-series.
       
      Now compare the E-150 to the Transit MWB: the Transit is 10 inches shorter and 2 inches narrower, yet still provides more cargo area (4″ shorter but also 4″ wider).
       

    • 0 avatar
      NulloModo

      Where are those measurements taken from on the interior of the E-series?  They lose some space due to the wheel wells, and they are narrower there, but it flares out considerably on either side.  I can’t see where they would lose that much width exterior to interior.

    • 0 avatar
      Brian P

      Those widths are almost certainly between the wheel wells (a 4 foot wide sheet of plywood will go flat on the floor – an inch or so on either side sounds about right).
      The height of the cargo area is another important factor that the table above doesn’t address. The Econoline has one roof height and a high floor. The Transit has a choice of three different roof heights and two floor heights (front-drove models have a lower floor).
      Sprinters, Transits, Ducatos, etc all have bodysides that are more vertical than Econolines. The body doesn’t get much narrower as it approaches the roofline. This adds some useful space inside, too.
      I think that in terms of real world practicality, a medium-wheelbase Transit, whether front or rear drive, will have more useful space inside than an Econoline.

    • 0 avatar
      th009

      @NulloModo, @Brian, Yes, the measurements were between the wheelwells.  The overall inside width is variable, the measurement between wheelwells is a good indicator of usable interior space.
       
      And agree on that choice of roof heights.  The Sprinter offers similar (though somewhat more restricted) choices.

  • avatar

    E-150 Econolines are the core of our fleet. Simple, dead-on reliable, 250K miles of hard use without major repairs. Just what our market wants. No need to mess with success.
     
    (By comparison, the Gov’t Motors Express vans we’ve tried have gone to pieces before going out of warranty.)
     
    Kudos to Ford for not messing with what works (and not wasting our money to do it.)
     
     

  • avatar
    benders

    Seems like Ford can’t win with you guys. Last week you were extolling the virtues of keeping a platform largely unchanged for decades. Now you’re faulting them for keeping ‘obsolete’ vehicles in production without updates for decades.

  • avatar
    forraymond

    Progressive good, Conservative bad

  • avatar
    Mercennarius

    EWWWWWWW

    Much rather have one of Nissans new NV commercial vans…

    • 0 avatar
      th009

      If you actually want to do work with a van, you want maximum capacity in the minimum exterior dimensions.  The Transit MWB is 35 inches (!) shorter than the Nissan NV, but still has a cargo area eight inches longer.  Not to mention that Transit can have a split bench for 1+2 seating, and has a much lower cargo floor.
       
      The NV is a quick hack Nissan came up with to try to keep their struggling Titan production line going.  The Transit is a properly-designed modern cargo van.

    • 0 avatar
      charly

      I find the NV butt ugly and why does it have 2 seats upfront and not 3

  • avatar
    Jseis

    Well, it is The Truth About Cars.. Which means, WTF would staff know about trucks? Most of the writing bemoans the past while drooling over exotics of the future and fears the convergence of appliances and transportation. Entertainment value.

    • 0 avatar
      Robert.Walter

      @Jseis:  Some of us here are or have been intimitely acquainted with trucks too … and in particular the Econoline …. At two times in my career I was responsible for body electrical (VN58 launch) and chassis components (VN58 and its successor).

      Even though I am particular to the old girl, the Transist is a superior vehicle …

      One reason Ford has been milking the E-series is because of the investment costs associated with tooling and plant conversion … the E-series is still selling respectibly, and the investment dollars have been used for rebuilding the car-side of the business … after that is under control, the Transit will come…

    • 0 avatar
      John Horner

      Has Jseis been reading the same TTAC I have?
       

    • 0 avatar
      Jseis

      OK, I was a bit harsh, truth be known, I prefer TTAC over the “others”. The fascination of our citizens with 1/2, 3/4, 1 ton trucks as SOVs (SOTs?) reveals a disconnect from reality, as if a vehicle becomes an ultimate never ending road trip at any cost. I succumbed for a while before I realized that I’m not farming any more..why do I need that big ass thing?
      I was fully expecting houses and trucks to merge into some transmorgified HUV that was always on the move (not an RV or Class 5), just pure homobility. The truth about a car as a home. That would make an interesting piece. What makes the best home on wheels to those that can’t afford homes on foundations?
      I suppose my various Type II VW’s were trucks in the eyes of gnomes, but I never really considered them trucks. Just like vans, panels, etc. A truck is what I used to try to pass (with a Type I) on US 101 in southwest Washington state. 40+ tons of steel and logs, no turbos, load jake brakes and rolling like a house afire.

  • avatar
    jaje

    To alter demand you must…alter demand (not change supply).  People will buy what is cheap and guzzles gas b/c gas is cheap.  Make gas at least more prohibitively expensive at all times and people will change their gas guzzler buying habits (case in point the summer of $4-$5 gasoline – gas guzzlers were abandoned in droves and D3 leasing residuals failed as resale value plummeted – and a used Geo Metro went for $10k!).

  • avatar

    Here’s what you can do with a Transit. I know, only limited anecdotal data, but still.

    I take my ’88 Transit Westfalia Nugget (embarassing name, you don’t have to tell me) on vacation every year, from Germany to Spain or where ever the road takes us. A cheapo ride that can handle literally days of full throttle without compaints.

    A while ago (2007) I also rented a new Transit camper, just for the pleasure of wasting the money. (No actually, I just wanted to do a quick spring break on the Mediterranean, and see what a newer Transit can do).

    Picture this with an Econoline: 12 hours of driving @ average speed 90 mph, got 27 MPG (Diesel), listened to podcasts and Piazzolla and Primal Scream and Prince Buster, and arrived tired but un-tense. You get the picture, no?

    • 0 avatar
      OldandSlow

      To average 90 mph over 12 hours meant going a bit slower than 90 some of the time. Then doing a bit more to make up for stops and what not.
       
      Brings to mind Sabine Schmitz doing the Nurburgring in Transit for Top Gear.

    • 0 avatar
      0menu0

      Hardly econolines for family use though. They are tradesmens vans, and are expected to last >10 years and >200k miles and to be fixed in someones driveway if need be with the same tools used on the jobsite damn near. This should not be difficult to understand.

    • 0 avatar
      OldandSlow

      @0menu0 – you totally missed the part of the narrative that includes 27 MPG in a camperized Westfalia van – which is not exactly lightweight.

    • 0 avatar
      joeaverage

      On my 400 mile trip this weekend driving the Dodge. Our results were 10 white knuckles and a puckered backside for the entire trip. 15 mpg at just about 62-65 mph. 9 passengers and luggage for one night (9 changes of clothes). 15 mpg. At under 65 mph. Did I mention that? yes – that was better mileage than three compact cars with 3-4 passengers each doing the convoy thing. Barely.
      Yeah – I’d be interested in a small turbo diesel delivering 27 mpg loaded.

      I’m seriously going to offer to ride everyone in my ’78 VW Camper next time we do this trip. At my expense. Even collecting gas money it would be cheaper than the rental we used. We’d be one seating position short. I guess the Honda Accord that followed us could have carried the extra person. If you are counting seats in a Westfalia – mine has an extra rear facing bench seat.

  • avatar

    The  Transit looks cheap!  The current Econoline has a bold, strong look to it.

    • 0 avatar
      charly

      The Transit looks like money wasn’t spend on frivolous things, that is good in a van. It is also the right attribute for a tradesman company to express, and they are the target market for these van’s

    • 0 avatar
      Robert.Walter

      I didn’t check the newer vehicles, but just a couple of years ago, Ford saved money by stamping the holes in the sheet metal of the two rear doors where the (2 independent, rt and lh side) wipers are mounted.  For the customers that didn^’t “take” the rr wiper option, the holes were covered with a painted piece of tape.  (no lie.)

  • avatar
    scottcom36

    Those cab chassis trucks look great. The relatively flat nose reminds me a bit of the first gen Econoline.

    • 0 avatar
      joeaverage

      I agree. Much prefer the looks of the Transit and truck conversions. Besides both the domestic version and the Transit are just painted steel and plastic trim. Real cost differential for the exterior is likely very little.

  • avatar
    Dynamic88

    Does the Transit come in a “mini van” flavor in Europe?

    I ask because I’m recalling my uncle’s E-series club van of the late ’60s (or was it very early 70s? )    It had 3 or 4 rows of seats and was an ideal vehicle for a large family -idea given the tech of the times. The same platform served the needs of tradesmen and was (almost) one of the first domestic minivans.

    I don’t know if plumbers and electricians would drive the same platform as soccer moms, or vice versa, but one way to amortize costs is to sell the platform in multiple configurations.  FWD and a low floor would make a great people schlepper.

    • 0 avatar
      Brian P

      It’s available in a minibus configuration, with as few as 9 seats (3 rows of 3). The body is the same dimensions as the short-wheelbase Transit (i.e. 101″ wheelbase, 191.5″ long, 77.7″ wide excluding the mirrors). This is not a whole lot different from an extended Chrysler minivan – the Transit is a little wider and taller.

    • 0 avatar
      Robert Schwartz

      The long mini-vans are 200′ long.

  • avatar
    John Horner

    BTW, 15 passenger versions of the Transit are probably much less likely to roll over and kill people than the infamous 15 passenger E-wagons are.
    http://www.safetyresearch.net/2010/09/21/15-passenger-vans-still-dangerous-after-all-these-years/
    The Transit Minibus might be a fine replacement:
    http://www.fordtransitdirect.co.uk/newsales/newvans/transitminibus/minibus.aspx
     
     

  • avatar
    obbop

    “The long mini-vans are 200′ long.”
     
    That would be fun to parallel park!!!!!!!!  :)

  • avatar
    skor

    There’s no compelling business case for bringing this thing to America — not yet anyway.  The E Series is purchased almost entirely by businesses of one type or another.  The E Series meets all their needs, it’s tried and true, without surprises.  Business hates the unknown.  Ford paid the bill for this thing decades ago.  It easy profit for Ford.  Why would they give that up?

    • 0 avatar
      John Horner

      Let me flip the question on its head. Why doesn’t Ford successfully sell the E Series outside North America?

    • 0 avatar
      Chicago Dude

      Outside of North America, you generally have one of two situations (perhaps sometimes both) – high import taxes or high fuel prices.  This is a problem for exporting much of anything from North America to the rest of the world.

  • avatar
    MM

    @John, good thought.  E-series wouldn’t work in Europe (or much of Asia) due to its size and economy, or lack thereof.  In Europe and most of Asia, gas has been the equivalent of $4-6+/gal for about a decade, and 10-12 mpg city just wouldn’t cut it.  In Asia, size is the enemy — parallel parking or pulling into 90% of parking garages wouldn’t work.
    Have driven the Transit and its Opel competitor (Vivero) in Spain on both city/highway.  Both are competent, versatile vans with excellent mileage and reasonable power (Tdi).  Compared to the Econoline E-350 I drove throughout the SE U.S. in the mid ’90s (and hasn’t changed much since), it’s a night-and-day comparison.
    It’s an economics argument for Ford… when gas hits $4 or 5 again, and large fleet buyers (think FedEx/UPS/Gov’t) need space, the question is who will be first to the U.S. market with a reasonably-priced, reliable, high-MPG cargo van.

  • avatar

    Now you’ve written something about Econolines worth commenting on. Time to bury this platform. I guess I’ve never experienced the joys of E-series’ maintenance-free, reliable ownership, but from my experience renting cargo vans, the Econolines were anything but economical. GM has way better fuel mileage. Vis-a-vis Ford’s Transit, Americans should be livid at Ford for selling such a capable and versatile van anywhere but North America.
    Being a Canadian, maybe I’m not so enthralled by the macho nostalgia conveyed by today’s poser trucks. Paul: like you and your old F100, I’d rather have something functional, easy to reach over into the bed, and a low step height. The Ford Transit would be a perfect (and cost efficient) replacement for both the Econoline and the Ranger.

  • avatar
    Zykotec

    It’s really hard to understand why there is so little cooperation worldwide inside car manufacturers . You americans have been missing out on some really great cars throughout the last 30-40 years. Ford and GM being the worst sinners. The Transit has been a great car with more loading capacity than the Econoline since the mid 80′s. (even if the passenger versions of the E-line is quite popular over here) And I should mention, we had a really good competitor to the Panther over here, in the Ford Scorpio (sold as Merkur Scorpio over there) With quite decent handling, performance (from 105 hp Pinto 2.0 to 215hp 24valve 2,9, and only 3000lbs )and economy to boot. Not too mention rear seat leg room to make an S-class or 7-series owner jealous. (it may have been quite ‘weird’ looking for it’s time though, and reliability in Fords is not so much better in Europe than in the US, even if mine has 340.000 kilometers on the meter)

    • 0 avatar
      joeaverage

      I think that is why the market-share of the Detroit cousins has shrunk. People have found alternatives to the domestic products. Some mix nationalism and patriotism with their car buying habits too. Won’t consider something not made in the USA.
      Yes we have missed alot of good products here in the USA – the land of the so-called-FREE (but not free choice in vehicles).

  • avatar

    The case of Sprinter is really something to be studied here, I think. It was nowhere near tough for the conditions when it arrived in America and it took a substantial redesign to bring it into shape (mostly under the skin). And after all said it was too expensive throughout.

    • 0 avatar
      joeaverage

      And I’d still own one of those before the domestic vans I’ve driven long distances here. I’ll pay a little more for the quality. Any idea of whether the chicken tax is applied to the Sprinter vans? Couldn’t costs be cut by actually producing them here? (if they aren’t)

  • avatar

    I like the look of the crew cab version!


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