The Truth About Cars » Vans The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Thu, 24 Jul 2014 17:47:59 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » Vans Cain’s Segments June 2014: Commercial Vans Wed, 11 Jun 2014 10:30:52 +0000 550x395x2014-RAM-ProMaster-Exterior-007-550x395.jpg.pagespeed.ic.mie78qN3ye

The only van not capable of improving its May 2013 U.S. sales figures in May 2014 possessed an in-showroom rival last month which didn’t exist a year ago. Ram Cargo Van sales fell 21%, or 209 units, in May 2014. But with the ProMaster making headway, total Ram commercial van sales jumped 84%.

FCA is not yet a major player in America’s commercial van category, but the ProMaster has, together with the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter and Nissan NV200, stirred up the traditional full-size van market.

Ignore the smaller Ford Transit Connect, Nissan NV200, and Ram C/V for a moment to focus on the full-size vans. 14.4% of the full-size commercial-oriented vans sold in the United States in May 2014 weren’t GM or Ford products, up from 10.9% in pre-ProMaster May 2013, and 3.5% in pre-NV May 2009.

This isn’t to suggest that Ford and General Motors are soon to lose control of the American commercial van industry. Indeed, in the coming months, Ford will combine two formulas: the new Transit will still wear a Blue Oval, the logo so many buyers associate with commercial van desirability, and it will also utilize all the European flexibility and diesel availability FedEx enjoys with its Sprinters.

Back in the here and now, Ford set a Transit Connect sales record in May with the model’s second consecutive year-over-year sales increase after a 29% first quarter drop. (Ford’s monthly sales releases don’t separate sales of the Transit Connect van from the minivan-fighting Wagon.) The Transit Connect sold more than twice as often as the Nissan NV200 and Ram C/V combined. Chevrolet’s NV200-based City Express should help form a viable Transit Connect opposition later this year.

Meanwhile, GM’s market share in the overall commercial van market slid only slightly from 30.6% during the first five months of 2013 to 30.5% year-to-date; rising to 35.6% in May 2014 compared with 33.5% in May 2013 and 27.5% in April 2014. Through the first five months of 2014, the Chevrolet Express and GMC Savana generated 43,314 U.S. sales.

Nissan commercial van sales more than doubled to 2678 units in May – the NV200 was only a two-month-old product at this time a year ago. Sprinter volume reached the second-highest level in the model’s U.S. history in 2013 and sales are up more than 23% in 2014. Year-over-year, Sprinter sales have improved in each of the last nine months, following four calendar years of improvement.

The overall category enjoyed a massive month in May 2014 as sales increased by 8524 units, a 28% boost. Sales are up 14% to 142,116 units so far this year, equal to 2.1% of the industry’s total output, up from 1.9% a year ago. It’s not a bad business in which to operate. The Volkswagen brand, for example, has sold 150,317 vehicles in 2014; Mazda has sold 130,223. Total pickup truck volume has risen 4% to more than 900,000 units through five months.

5 mos.
5 mos.
Chevrolet Express
9822 8353 +17.6% 31,378 31,734 -1.1%
Ford E-Series
14,269 12,571 +13.5% 55,115 52,783 +4.4%
Ford Transit Connect
4222 3709 +13.8% 15,226 16,914 -10.0%
GMC Savana
4124 1906 +116% 11,936 6320 +88.9%
Mercedes-Benz Sprinter
2264 1828 +23.9% 9282 7517 +23.5%
Nissan NV
1475 971 +51.9% 6231 5148 +21.0%
Nissan NV200
1203 341 +253% 4564 588 +676%
Ram Cargo Van
768 977 -21.4% 3808 3452 +10.3%
Ram ProMaster
1033 4576
30,656 +27.8% 142,116 124,456 +14.2%
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Mitsubishi Buys Laguna Ford Assembly Plant Tue, 01 Apr 2014 17:06:25 +0000 Mitsubishi_L300_front_20081009

In a push to expand Southeast Asia sales, Mitsubishi has purchased a Ford assembly plant in Laguna, Philippines for an undisclosed amount.

Automotive News reports the plant, which last saw production in 2012, will start back up in 2015 with an initial capacity of 50,000 units per year, expanding to 100,000 annually. The plant will produce both the Adventure and L300 vans.

The second plant in the automaker’s Philippine portfolio, Laguna is key to underpinning Mitsubishi’s strength in the Southeast Asia market, especially in the emerging local auto market where the automaker is second to Toyota in annual sales.

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Cain’s Segments: July 2013 – Commercial Vans Sat, 10 Aug 2013 17:06:35 +0000 TTAC_commercial-van-sales-chart-July-2013

After abnormally high GM commercial van sales results in the United States a year ago, it wasn’t surprising to see dramatic year-over-year sales declines reported by the Chevrolet Express and GMC Savana in July 2013.

As a result, and in part because of the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter’s 13% drop, overall commercial van volume slid 11% in the U.S. last month. Compared with June, van volume fell 27%.

Naturally, commercial van sales are prone to fluctuation. Although a handful of these vehicles are purchased for RV conversions, and a handful more are registered by families who wish to field a full football team, many are bought by businesses who aren’t interested in buying one at a time. Instead, they buy twelve at a time. Or 4000.

North America’s commercial van market is beginning a period of great transition. From the front-wheel-drive Ford Transit Connect’s arrival to Nissan’s decision to compete with the big boys, and then Nissan’s decision to compete with the Transit Connect, times have been changing. And while none of those three vans sell in the kinds of numbers achieved by the Express or Ford’s segment-leading Ford E-Series, the Transit Connect, NV, and NV200 – three vans that weren’t around five years ago – currently combine for a meaningful 18% of the vans sold in America.

Ford, with the leading big van and the leading small van, owns 55% of the market for non-minivan vans. Another 31% goes GM’s way. The Sprinter earned 6% market share in the first seven months of 2013.

Nissan is making headway, although there are slim pickings remaining. From 3.1% of the commercial van market in the first seven months of 2012, the NV’s share rose to 3.9% this year; 4.8% if you include the front-wheel-drive NV200, which only went on sale in late March. NV200 sales have grown each month since.

There’s much more transition to come, however, and Nissan’s commercial vehicle sales reps may not be pleased with the outcome when Chevrolet starts selling the City Express, an NV200 twin. But it won’t be the end of the world for Nissan HQ to sell large numbers of vans to General Motors, traditionally a successful purveyor of commercial products.

Ford will also be updating the Transit Connect and replacing the E-Series with a proper Transit. Chrysler won’t have to rely on the Ram C/V, as the Fiat Ducato will become Ram ProMaster. GM surely won’t let the Express and Savana linger forever.

All this is repeated here again as a means of saying that these numbers won’t look the same a year from now, and they certainly won’t bear any resemblance to 2015’s numbers, either.


7 mos.
7 mos.
Chevrolet Express
5569 9327 - 40.3% 46,171 47,144 - 2.1%
Ford E-Series
9724 8574 + 9.8% 75,687 75,839 - 0.2%
Ford Transit Connect
2885 2627 + 9.8% 23,331 19,581 + 19.2%
GMC Savana
1400 2653 - 47.2% 9610 14,709 - 34.7%
Mercedes-Benz Sprinter
1915 2203 - 13.1% 11,398 11,479 - 0.7%
Nissan NV
936 651 + 43.8% 7109 5536 + 28.4%
Nissan NV200
496 1577
Ram Cargo Van
764 555 + 37.7% 5507 3998 + 37.7%
26,590 - 10.9% 180,390 178,286 + 1.2%
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PSA, GM Discussing A Return For Peugeot And Citroen Products In The USA Wed, 10 Jul 2013 13:50:10 +0000 Citroën_Jumpy_Kombi_front_20110109

No, the headline is not just empty click-bait. According to La TribuneGM and PSA are looking at bringing some current Peugeot and Citroen products to America. The only catch is that they’d be commercial vans.

The Citroen Jumpy and Peugeot Expert, the two vans in question, are currently built in a joint venture with Fiat due to expire in 2017. PSA is looking for a replacement solution, and with GM currently buying vans from Nissan (their NV vans are going to be sold as Chevrolets), it would be advantageous for GM to take advantage of their alliance with PSA and get something out of the deal.

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800 Workers Walk Out At Sprinter Plant Wed, 02 May 2012 15:42:41 +0000

800 workers at a Daimler plant that builds Sprinter commercial vehicles downed their tools and walked off the job after wage talks collapsed.

After years of wage freezes, workers are looking for a raise.

“Our patience is at an end, we want a 6.5 percent wage increase,” Oliver Burkhard, a regional union leader, said in a statement.

“If employers don’t get moving, then today’s warning strikes will be just the beginning. We’re ready for a fight,” he said.

The workers are part of the powerful Ig Metall trade union, which is seeking an identical raise for its 3.6 million members. More walkouts, affecting a further 100 companies, are also planned. Other unions in less prosperous have achieved favorable pay wages in recent years. German workers in unions, particular the public sector have achieved similar wage increases, which far outweigh the rate of inflation.

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Digging For Savings, Mazda Cuts Its Roots Fri, 23 Mar 2012 19:31:01 +0000

Mazda is not doing too well. Stuck with most of its production in high-yen Japan, woefully underrepresented in emerging markets and without the scale necessary for long term success, Mazda is expected to announce a 100 billion yen ($1.2 billion) loss for the fiscal year that ends this March. Mazda has three options for survival: Pray, bet on Skyactiv, and save wherever you can. In the save wherever you can department, Mazda says sayonara to commercial vehicles.

Mazda decided to end development and production of commercial vehicles, says The Nikkei [sub]. According to the report, development will end with current models, production will end in the second half of the decade. Mazda debuted its Bongo small van in 1966. It became a small hit in the travel and construction business, mostly in Japan. The Bongo was exported in small numbers, a rebadged Bongo was sold as a Ford Freda. In recent years, production was down to 20,000 units a year.

Scratching development will save Mazda the approximately $120 million a new generation Bongo would cost to develop. Mazda already sells trucks made by Isuzu, vans made by Nissan, and kei vans made by Suzuki.

On Thursday, Mazda had announced that it will drastically slash hirings.

To end own development of vans must not have come easy at Mazda. Mazda’s  first product was a three-wheeled trucklet, the Mazda-go, launched in 1931.

PS: The all-knowing Wikipedia killed the Bongo more than 10 years ago by writing:

“The Mazda Bongo, also known as Mazda E-Series and Mazda Access, was a van manufactured by Japanese automaker Mazda from 1978 to 2001.”

It isn’t dead yet.

]]> 63 Guess Where This American Ram Van Will Be Built Sat, 14 Jan 2012 16:56:58 +0000 Chrysler is dropping half a billion dollars into an expansion of one of its North American plants, Automotive News [sub] reports. This is where Chrysler will produce (to what degree remains open) its Fiat Ducato van, which will be sold as a Chrysler Ram Van.

Sergio Marchionne, CEO of Chrysler, told reporters in Detroit that this plant will be “the center for production of light-commercial vehicles in North America for us.” Red-white-and-blue blooded flag-wavers may object to the location of the plant.  It is about 180 miles southwest of Laredo, Texas. In Saltillo, Mexico.

The Ducato sells quite well in Europe, and is especially loved in the camper conversion crowd. Two out of three camper vans in Europe are revamped Ducatos. Fiat sells around half a million commercial vehicles each year world-wide. Just about everywhere, except in America.

In the U.S. , Ford alone sells more than 100,000 units of its Econoline and Transit Connect vans.  Chrysler has been van-less since Daimler kept the Sprinter after the divorce. Unless you count the commercialized Dodge Grand Caravan, that is. The Ram C/V sold a breathtaking 691 units in the U.S. in 2011.

Fiat had said they are looking into bringing the smaller Fiat Doblo and the larger Fiat Daily to the U.S. North America. Guess where those will go.

Come to think of it: Ram Van.

Has a nice ring to it. Could be popular amongst the camper conversion crowd.



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Volkswagen Goes Postal, Develops The Electric “Fridolin” Of The Future Fri, 18 Nov 2011 18:28:36 +0000 Are you familiar with the Fridolin? If so, hit the jump. If not, here’s the brief version of its history. Unhappy with its adorable but inadequate, two-cylinder Goggomobil Transporters, the German Postal Service approached Volkswagen and Westfalia in the early 60s, looking for a new interpretation of what it was looking for, namely “arbeitspsychologisch optimaler Ausstattung zu einem günstigen Anschaffungspreis.” This is a tough phrase to translate, but essentially it means “equipment optimized for the workplace psychology, at an affordable price,” and in 1963 that’s what the VW-Westalia team delivered. A mixture of Type 1 (Beetle), Type 2 (Bus) and Type 3 (Fastback/Squareback), the Type 147 was first shown to the German Post in 1963, and was quickly nicknamed “Fridolin” (an uncommon German boy’s name) apparently because workers said “it looks like a Fridolin.” Only 6,126 were built between 1964 and 1973, and they continue to enjoy a strong collector’s cachet (primarily as slammed campers, apparently). And now, Volkswagen wants to re-create the classic… for the future. 

Based on a subcompact Polo-sized platform, VW’s eT Concept manages to offer nearly 144 cubic feet of storage. And because it’s aimed at the green-conscious postman of tomorrow (not to mention stop-start driving on fixed routes), it’s a purely electric concept with a 60-mile range and a 70 MPH top speed. Think of the performance as “optimized for the workplace psychology.” Speaking of which, one of the coolest features of the new concept is that it can actually be driven at speeds up to 6 km/h from the passenger seat, using something called the “drive stick.” The thing can even back itself up by remote control, using bumper-mounted sensors to avoid obstacles or stop itself. There’s no word on how soon this research vehicle will make its way into production, but because it was developed in partnership with the German Postal Service, some of its gizmology should filter into German postal vehicles. And with a very similar VW “Bulli” coming to market in 2015, not only could this actual vehicle be made, there may even be a civilian sliding-door version as well.

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The Fiesta-Van Cometh… Sun, 16 Oct 2011 18:06:47 +0000

Take one Ford Fiesta. Add four inches to the length, and pop up the roof for some extra headroom. Add a pair of small sliding rear doors, and you’ve got the forthcoming Fiesta B-Max. With Ford soft-pedaling its C-Max plans for the US market, don’t expect this tiny van to ever come to the US… at least unless gas prices go crazy.

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The Battle Of The Euro-Van: Ford And Ram To Take On Sprinter Fri, 07 Oct 2011 15:51:49 +0000 Daimler’s Sprinter Van has been available in the US for ten years now, but thanks to high prices, inconsistent brand strategy (it’s been marketed as a Freightliner, Dodge, and now Mercedes), and some curious marketing choices, it’s never made a huge impact on the market. And with Ram announcing that it will bring Sprinter-sized Ducato vans to the US, it seems like a good time to reflect on the words of Paul Niedermeyer, who wrote back in early 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?

According to C&D, Ford was just waiting for the new Escape to go into production in Louisville, in order to free up production of the Transit at Kansas City. Apparently Ford has even filed trademark applications for a number of “T-Series” names, so expect a full line of Transit vans to replace the decrepit Econolines. And with three offerings in the large commercial van segment instead of just one, expect more choices, more competition, more marketing, and a general van renaissance in the US. At a time when minivans have become so unloved they’ve given rise to the now-ubiquitous crossover, it’s nice to see that the van make something of a comeback.

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Ask The Best And Brightest: Could This Become The Littlest Ram? Wed, 31 Aug 2011 21:52:18 +0000 First of all, let’s not fool ourselves: this is quite the hypothetical question. For one thing, Fiat is unlikely to federalize the Doblo cargo van that this “Work Up” is based upon until a subsequent generation comes out. In the meantime, the only Fiat Professional vehicle the US market will be getting anytime soon (thanks to CKD production at Warren Truck, according to Allpar) is the Ducato van, which competes fairly directly with Daimler’s Sprinter.  But, hypothetically, could this Doblo “Work Up” find a market in the US? Let’s look at what it offers…

Its most powerful engine in the U.K. is the 1.6 liter, stop-start-equipped, Euro-5 compliant diesel with 105 HP and 213 ft-lbs … and that starts at £17,065 ($27,759 , in direct-conversion)… but there’s also a 2.0 oil-burner with 135 hp and 236 ft-lbs in the Fiat Professional quiver. Fiat Professional claims a 1,000 kg payload (about 2,200 lbs) and up to 1,450 kg (3,200 lbs) “load on rear axle,” so it’s no slouch. But between the vagaries of currency and efficiency (the 1.6 and 2.0 get 45.2 MPG and 42 MPG respectively on the European combined cycle, the latter being equivalent to the European Cruze 2.0 diesel MT), and the question of production siting, it’s difficult to put together a specific scenario for this coming to the US. But if it did, it would make even the most far-away CAFE standards look pretty mild (even though Chrysler’s once-questionable hybrid pickup drivetrain already does). On the other hand, it would also make the Ram Tradesman look like a screaming deal even though it offers “only” 1,860 lbs in maximum payload (it’s a much better towing machine). So don’t hold your breath… and if you need an efficient commercial vehicle in the meantime, well, there’s always the brand-new Caravan Cargo Van!

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Secret Service Buys Beastly Campaign Bus Mon, 15 Aug 2011 18:28:12 +0000 In the past, when a sitting president has hit the campaign trail, they’ve leased their own campaign bus which the Secret Service would then retrofit with all the latest security features. But no longer, as Talking Points Memo reports that the presidential bodyguards are buying their own bespoke campaign bus, reportedly from Hemphill Brothers Coach Company. Secret Service spokesman Jim Mackin explains

We’ve never been fully comfortable with the security provided by a bus we lease and then try to retro-fit. This would be just like other vehicles we’re adding to our fleet. We’d use them for the campaign, but they’re not for campaign purposes. They would be part of our fleet — just like our limos, just like our follow-ups, just like our emergency vehicles.

And this isn’t just for President Obama: one of the two new buses will be made available to the Republican candidate as well. And because the buses are government property, they won’t be allowed to have campaign logos and both campaigns will have to reimburse the Secret Service for their use. There’s no word on what retrofits the new buses will receive, but we’d be disappointed to find there’s not at least one minigun turret. Because you can never have enough miniguns on the campaign trail… [Hat Tip: Dan Licht]

Picture 438 Picture 434 Picture 433 Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail Picture 432 A president's precedent... Picture 435 Picture 436


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Electric Ford Transit Connect Struck By Killer Depreciation Wed, 27 Jul 2011 21:50:26 +0000

We have no wish to dampen enthusiasm for any new development in the light commercial vehicles sector but at this point the prospects for all-electric vans are fraught with difficulties, despite the clear operating advantages of using one for specific kinds of work

The Commercial Vehicle Monitor editor for the British residual value gurus at CAP, Tim Cattlin, tells Honest John that the new electric Azure Transit Connect has a few issues that fleet managers may want to look at before buying Britain’s first electric van. To wit:

The £39,999 van is expected to have a value of £8,000 after three years and 30,000 miles, with CAP explaining that uncertainty over the unproven technology and expensive batteries are the biggest issues.

That’s a 20% residual value after three years of driving 10,000 miles per year. Yikes! (Incidentally, if you drove the Transit for its entire 80 mile range every day for a year, you’d rack up about 30k miles in that year alone). The Azure Transit Connect is reportedly available in the US for $57,400, although Ford doesn’t list a price on its website and production is said to only be about 600-700 units this year. Meanwhile, Ford had better hope that the residual value issues aren’t linked to Azure’s technology (which uses Johnson Controls batteries), because it’s just announced a plug-in hybrid Super Duty Chassis Cab for 2013… with Azure as a partner and fleet businesses in mind. Better take a look at those projected residuals first, guys…

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What’s Wrong With This Picture: The Urban Electric Delivery Van Edition Fri, 22 Jul 2011 15:15:01 +0000

Would you be a little bit surprised if the man behind this tiny, funky little electric van was the man who styled the VW Passat CC and first-generation Mercedes SLK? Well, Murat Günak has been heavily into the electric car game since leaving Volkswagen, having designed one of my favorite EVs, the fresh-and-freaky Mindset. But even though the Mia and the Mindset seem a little more in the same vein, Günak has actually moved well past the Mindset’s super-high-end positioning, as this Mia is set to sell for the lowest price of any EV in the EU, starting at €19,500 ($28k). For comparison, Mitsubishi’s iMiEV (the cheapest EV in the US market) sells for €34,390, or nearly $50k… although its European price is set to drop to closer to €15k when production ramps up.

But the Mia isn’t just (relatively) inexpensive… it’s downright cool. Built by the French firm Heuliez in either 9.4 or 10.5 foot lengths (the latter with 53 cubic feet of cargo space), it comes with a McLaren F1-style central driver’s seat and doors designed to operate in tight urban conditions. With a range of only 60 miles and a top speed of only slightly more than 60 MPH, it’s strictly an urban runabout, but as a small business delivery vehicle it seems to hit a lot of the right buttons… especially the three-hour charging time (an 80-mile-range battery is optional but takes five hours to charge). Production hits 10,000 units next year, when sales to private customers begin. [via Autobild]

miaelectric5 miaelectric miaelectric1 miaelectric2 miaelectric4 miaelectric3 You talking to Mia? mia8 Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail miaelectric7 ]]> 12
Review: 2012 Mazda5 Wed, 01 Jun 2011 19:57:12 +0000

In the United States, unlike elsewhere in the world, there aren’t many choices for those who need seating for more than five people but who don’t want to give up the maneuverability of a compact car. Kia gave the segment a go, but withdrew the Rondo from the U.S. market a couple of years ago. Chevrolet has opted to not even test the waters with the Orlando. So Mazda currently has the segment to itself. But the Ford C-Max arrives in less than a year. Does the revised 2012 Mazda5 have what it takes to fend off the challenger?

The revised Mazda5 retains its 9/10-scale minivan shape and dimensions, but the previously clean, simple surfacing is gone. A more bulbous nose sports a big grin and fender arches similar to those on the related Mazda3 sedan and hatchback. The sides now have waves stamped into them, the first (and possibly also the last) production embodiment of Mazda’s “Nagare” design language. These waves flow along the tracks for the sliding doors into taillights that are now horizontal and conventionally located rather than vertical and located in the D-pillars. Blacked-out glass resides in the taillights’ former location. To my eye the previous Mazda5 and the C-Max are both more attractive, but the 2012 Mazda5′s exterior styling is gutsier and certainly the most likely to get noticed.

The revised Mazda5 also includes a more highly styled interior, though with more restraint than in the current Mazda3. This is partly a good thing: only the hood over the instruments, which rises to form a point, seems overdone. The instruments’ nacelles shield them from glare, so this hood isn’t only pointlessly pointy—it’s also unnecessary. One appealing upscale detail: red piping and stitching on the Grand Touring’s black leather seats. But the eye of a designer remains needed elsewhere. The door panels remain too flat and too plain and the center console looks like a cheap aftermarket accessory rather than a factory part. Some hard black plastic manages to not look cheap, but not the stuff that covers much of the 2012 Mazda5’s interior. On the whole, the C-Max’s interior is more attractive and better appointed, if perhaps overly styled [Ed: see images in gallery to judge for yourself].

In terms of functionality, the Mazda5 wins back some points—with one major exception. Both vehicles have sliding doors, so no need to worry about the kids dinging neighboring cars in parking lots. Power openers aren’t available, but the doors open and close so easily that these are hardly necessary. From the driver’s seat both seem more like a car than a crossover, but the Mazda’s driving position is better than the C-Max’s, with a more open view over a less imposing instrument panel. The front seats are comfortable in both vehicles, though the Mazda’s are better bolstered. The Mazda’s second-row buckets would be almost as comfortable as those up front if they weren’t a little too low to the floor. The Ford’s are flatter and have unusually low seatbacks—their headrests must be raised about a foot for adult use.

The third-row seats in both microvans are tiny and very low to the floor. In the Mazda, adults up to about 5’10” will fit in a literal pinch, knees against the second-row seatback and head brushing the headliner. Some knee room can be opened up by shifting the second-row seats forward an inch or two, and there is enough room to do this—Mazda claims 39.4 inches of second-row legroom, magically up 4.2 inches from the seemingly similar 2010 and nearly as much as in the first row. The Ford’s third row is even more rudimentary, to the point where Ford is billing it as a 5+2-seater rather than a 7-seater. The difference is just an inch or two, but when you’re near the minimum an extra inch or two can mean the difference between people fitting and not fitting. Pre-teen kids? They’ll fit fine in either.

In the Mazda, rear ventilation is handled a two-speed fan blowing through vents in the rear face of the center console. The air through these vents isn’t as cold as that through the front vents, and the location is less effective than a complete rear HVAC system with vents in the ceiling, but it’s better than nothing.

In the Mazda, there’s just enough space behind the third row to fit a single row of grocery bags. In the Ford, there’s less cargo volume (the specs claim only three cubic feet, vs. 11.3 in the Mazda) and the load floor is higher. Grocery bags will have to be turned to run across the width of the vehicle, so only about half as many will fit. In both vehicles the headrests must be lowered before folding the seats—this doesn’t happen automatically. In neither does the front passenger seat fold to extend cargo space all the way to the instrument panel. While this would have been a useful feature, the way the second row seats fold precludes it.

So, you’re more likely to be able to put kids in both rows AND make a grocery run in the Mazda. But hit the road for a trip and the third seat will have to be folded to make way for luggage in either. Here the C-Max has an advantage for families with three kids. Tucked within the right second-row bucket is a center seat, so it’s possible to seat three kids in the second row. Mazda offers a similar seat in the Mazda5 overseas, but in the United States there’s only a fold-out tray table. So if you want to seat seven people sometimes and five plus luggage at others, the C-Max is the only option.

I have not yet driven the C-Max, but I have driven the 2012 Focus on which it is based. Even if the C-Max drives as well as the Focus, and the microvan’s additional weight and height will likely take their toll, the Mazda5 has some clear driving advantages.

Both microvans are powered by 2.5-liter four-cylinder engines, good for 157 horsepower in the Mazda and 168 in the C-Max. (A 168-horsepower turbocharged 1.6-liter four will also be offered as a more efficient option in the Ford.) Torque differs less, 163 vs. 167 foot-pounds. The Ford’s power advantage should more than be canceled out by its additional curb weight, 3,743 vs. 3,457 pounds. Though the Mazda5’s power-to-weight ratio isn’t promising, around town its acceleration is easily adequate with the five-speed automatic. It helps that the automatic almost always selects the appropriate gear. It’s possible to manually shift the transmission, but this is rarely necessary, even in spirited driving. A six-speed manual is available only in the Mazda, if only in its base trim. When it’s time to stop, the Mazda’s brakes feel reassuringly firm and linear.

The Mazda’s trip computer reported low twenties in suburban driving and high twenties on the highway—cracking 30 requires a healthy tail wind. The EPA reports 21 city, 28 highway. The new Honda Odyssey, a much larger vehicle, matches the latter figure. In Mazda’s defense, it does have a new family of much more efficient engines on the way. The C-Max will likely do about the same with its base engine, a sixth gear in its conventional automatic compensating for its additional mass, while Ford is aiming for 30 on the highway with the turbo.

The Mazda carves out its largest advantage when the road curves. Feedback through its steering and the seat of one’s pants is just about as good as in the Mazda3, and so quite a bit better than in the great majority of cars sold today, including the 2012 Ford Focus. You can distinctly feel the front tires carving their line. The Mazda5 similarly feels more agile and responsive than most compact hatches despite its roughly 3,500-pound curb weight. Lean and body motions are well-controlled, and precisely placing the vehicle quickly becomes second nature. Of the three-row vehicles offered in the U.S., it’s easily the most engaging and most fun-to-drive on a twisty road. At 70+ on the highway, though, the steering can feel twitchy and the tall bodysides are sensitive to crosswinds–the Mazda5 is more in its element at lower speeds. The ride is firm and at times a touch busy, but still generally comfortable. Noise levels are moderate.

Judging from the Focus, the C-Max will feel larger, heavier, and less agile. It will likely handle well, but won’t be nearly as engaging or as fun. On the other hand, it will probably ride more quietly and cushily than the Mazda.

It’s too soon to discuss reliability for either 2012. But the first generation Mazda5 suffered from quite a few suspension problems, based on responses to TrueDelta’s Car Reliability Survey. Perhaps parts based on those for the Mazda3 were not sufficiently upgraded to handle the 5’s extra pounds? Rust is also a common problem with Mazda’s where the roads are salted, and the Mazda5 has been no exception.

The Mazda5’s pricing is up about $900 with the redesign, but remains low for a three-row vehicle. The base trim lists for $19,990, while the leather-trimmed Grand Touring lists for $24,670. A Honda Odyssey EX-L is over $7,000 more even after a $3,000 adjustment for its additional features (using car price comparison tool). Compact SUVs with third row seats are closer in price, but still quite a big higher. The least expensive of these, the Mitsubishi Outlander SE, lists for about $1,000 more, while the Toyota RAV4 is about $2,800 higher before adjusting for feature differences and about $4,100 higher afterwards (chiefly because leather isn’t available with the optional third row). The real competitor will of course be the C-Max. Pricing hasn’t been announced, but judging from that of the related Focus it should be within $500 of the Mazda5’s.

Both the Mazda5 and (soon) the Ford C-Max provide viable solutions for people who need three rows of seating, but who don’t want the bulk (and higher price) that usually comes with them. The Ford has less controversial styling, higher grade materials, and (probably) a smoother, quieter ride. Families with three kids will also appreciate the stowable seventh seat. The Mazda includes a little more room for rear seat passengers and cargo and should retain its title as the best handling three-row people hauler. It’s also the only such vehicle still offered with a manual transmission in the U.S. So while the C-Max will be more likely to win over mainstream car buyers, the Mazda5 should remain the choice for enthusiasts.

Mazda provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of gas for this review.

Michael Karesh operates TrueDelta, an online source of automotive pricing and reliability data.

Mazda5 interior C-Max instrument panel C-Max second row C-Max cargo area Mazda5 front Mazda5 instrument panel Mazda5 both rows folded C-Max side C-Max seat stowed Mazda5 engine Mazda5 second row Mazda5-thumb Mazda5 rear quarter Mazda5 cargo Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail Mazda5 front quarter Mazda5 front quarter 2 ]]> 66
Are You Ready For: A Smaller Sprinter? Tue, 24 May 2011 02:50:51 +0000

Ford sold 8,834 Transit Connects in 2009, with sales of the small, Euro-style panel and passenger vans hitting 27,405 units last year. With 9,852 already sold in the first third of 2011, it seems the original German delivery van-slingers in the US market, Mercedes, are taking notice of the segment. The Dodge-branded Sprinter, a larger vehicle, saw peak sales of 21,961 back in 2006 has seen sales fall dramatically in recent years, and in 2010 Mercedes wrestled the vans back to its brand, only to sell a meager 8,599 (a nearly 1,500 unit improvement over Dodge’s last year with the product). In other words, the lesson of recent US-market Euro-style delivery vans seems to be that bigger (i.e. more direct competition with American BOF offerings) is not better.

In any case, that’s the lesson Mercedes seems to have moved, as Autoblog‘s Chris Paukert hears that Mercedes is studying the possibility of bringing its smaller Vito van to the US. And they won’t have to bring it far, as the Vito is built in Mexico (among other parts globalized). And if a $35k base-price Sprinter costs about $50k in Mexico, the $30k-ish base-price Vito (with 150 HP diesel, the only option in Mexico) could end up priced fairly close the Transit’s $22k+ range.

Will more space, a three-pointed star on the hood (did we mention the RWD?), possible diesel engines (a 3.5 liter, 250 HP gas V6 is also a likely candidate) and (Daimler willing) a sane price tempt the unexpectedly-strong smaller Euro-van market away from Ford dealers? Would you be ready to look at a Vito?

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Nissan NV200 Wins NYC “Taxi Of Tomorrow” Contract Tue, 03 May 2011 15:40:11 +0000

Nissan’s NV200-based entrant into New York City’s Taxi of Tomorrow contest has won the contract (reportedly worth over a billion dollars), reports Reuters, beating out two other finalists, one based on Ford’s Transit Connect, the other from Turkey’s Karsan Otomotiv. The decision may be taking a few New Yorkers by surprise, as Reuters reports that the Turkish entrant’s clear glass ceiling made it a crowd favorite, and that

Karsan also hoped to gain favour with city officials by promising to assemble the cars in Brooklyn, vowing to use union labour. The plant would have marked a return of auto-making to the city for first time in about a century.

Though New Yorkers may have preferred a locally-built model to take over from the 16 vehicles currently serving as NYC Taxis, the NV200 seems like a sweet little van. So congratulations, Nissan… now, are we ready to start talking about a civilian version?

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The Next Generation Econoline? (Hopefully Yes) Sun, 26 Sep 2010 17:05:53 +0000

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!

]]> 59 May Sales Analysis: Vans Fri, 04 Jun 2010 17:52:21 +0000

Minivans, microvans, cargo vans. If it has rolling rear doors, you’ll find it here.

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