Ford Transit Is America's Best-Selling Van, Minivans Included

ford transit is americas best selling van minivans included

The Ford Transit was America’s best-selling van in March 2016 and the first-quarter of 2016, full stop.

Not just the best-selling full-size commercial van. Not just the best-selling commercial van overall. The Ford Transit was America’s best-selling van, besting all of its direct rivals as well as each and every minivan.

Much has been made of the all-American Ford Mustang’s one-month stand in Germany. Even if the Mustang’s “Best-Selling Sports Car In Germany” status is only temporarily grasped, it certainly was a noteworthy turn of events. Meanwhile, Ford of Europe’s long-running commercial van, now Americanized, is dominating on our side of the Atlantic.

Ford accomplished this feat on the strength of the Transit’s ever-increasing volume, not because of particularly poor minivan sales. Year-over-year, U.S. sales of seven people carriers (Town & Country, Grand Caravan, Odyssey, Sedona, Mazda5, Quest, Sienna) jumped 30 percent to 143,482 units in the first-quarter of 2016. Compared with the first-quarter of 2014, sales are up 14 percent. Compared with the first-quarter of 2013, minivan sales are up 20 percent.

By the standards of recent history, minivan sales are healthy. Fiat Chrysler Automobiles is clearing out Town & Countrys and Grand Caravans in the lead-up to the Pacifica’s launch. Kia Sedona volume continues to grow faster than the minivan sector. Honda Odyssey sales are up, albeit modestly. The Nissan Quest remains uncommon, but year-over-year sales more than doubled in the first-quarter.

Meanwhile, sales of the Toyota Sienna, America’s top-selling individual minivan nameplate in early 2016, are up 6 percent to 34,529 units. Sienna sales are on track to rise to a 10-year high in 2016.

But by overcoming a number of minivans which are steadily improving, the Ford Transit is doing what no commercial van has done on an annual basis since 2011. At that time, the Ford E-Series narrowly outsold the Sienna, Odyssey, Grand Caravan, Odyssey, and Town & Country as the top-selling vans bickered amongst themselves in a hard-fought minivan sales race. (Keep in mind, Ford continues to market the E-Series, largely in cutaway form, while the Transit chassis cab/cutaway is, as of yet, not a huge part of the Transit equation.)

There are reasons Ford can flex the Transit’s muscles to produce 36,022 first-quarter U.S. sales. There are cargo and passenger variants, three roof heights, three wheelbases, and three engines – 58 combinations in total.

Toyota USA sells the Sienna with front or all-wheel-drive, seven or eight-passenger seating, one powerplant, and five trim levels.

The point is not merely that Ford can sell more Transits than Toyota can sell Siennas. Surely that wasn’t one of the goals for Ford’s product development team when it determined to bring the next-gen Transit to North America. The two categories in which vans compete aren’t even targeting the same buyer. There are plumbers and painters on the one hand, Pamelas and Peters on the other.

The Transit is, however, emblematic of a booming commercial van market. And the fact that Ford can sell more commercial vans than Toyota can minivans helps to make the point.

Sales of full-size commercial vans are up 26 percent so far this year, a gain of nearly 18,000 units in an overall new vehicle market that has expanded by slightly more than 3 percent. Ford, with the Transit and E-Series – which is down 9 percent this year but still outsells the Ram ProMaster, Mercedes-Benz Sprinter, Nissan NV, and GMC Savana – command 57 percent of the full-size market.

Small commercial van growth, at 17 percent year-over-year, is impressive, but the smaller Ford Transit Connect’s 11-percent year-to-date drop (including a 26-percent dive in March) has come about with increasing strength from a handful of competitors. Just four years ago, the Transit Connect was left to its own devices, essentially fending off the odd Ram Cargo Van microaggression. Now, the Transit Connect’s potential rivals include the Nissan NV200, the Nissan’s Chevrolet City Express twin, the Ram ProMaster City, and the Mercedes-Benz Metris. Together, those rivals claim 58 percent of a small commercial van market that recently belonged exclusively to Ford.

Combined, a dozen commercial-oriented vans attracted 109,000 new owners in the first three months of 2016. Minivan sales rose 30 percent to 143,482 units during the same period, as the Chrysler Town & Country and its Dodge Grand Caravan twin produced a Sienna-besting 65,328 sales, 6,590 more sales than Ford’s three-pronged van/chassis cab lineup.

The Mustang is clearly Ford’s headline maker. But the Transit, F-Series, and Blue Oval utilities are proof Ford knows how to shake its money-maker.

[Images: Ford & Toyota]

Timothy Cain is the founder of GoodCarBadCar.net, which obsesses over the free and frequent publication of U.S. and Canadian auto sales figures. Follow on Twitter @goodcarbadcar and on Facebook.

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  • Zip89123 Zip89123 on Apr 30, 2016

    Congratulations Ford. Myself, I thought they wouldn't sell well, but as a stockholder I'm glad I was way wrong!

    • See 1 previous
    • Zip89123 Zip89123 on Apr 30, 2016

      @JimZ I saw the Transit as too small, unpowered, and with poor outward visibility. Obviously I've mixed it up with the Transit Connect. But delivery companies and local government are using a lot of both models, with the majority being the Connect version. I am happy I was wrong as I always thought the full-sized van models with the box attached to the frame was the better way to go.

  • Scott25 Scott25 on Apr 30, 2016

    Barely see any transits on the road in Ontario, where Sprinters still seem to dominate the van market. The only transit connects I see are run by Canada post. We've had multiple Transits and Connects on the lot at the Ford dealer I work at and the only time they ever leave is if they're dealer traded. And we sold a used one once in the past 6 months..

  • MaintenanceCosts A bit after that experience, my family ended up owning an '88 Accord and an '87 Taurus--Detroit's big triumph--at the same time. The win for the Accord wasn't total; the Taurus's engine was better and it was quieter. But the difference in build quality and refinement can't be overstated.There were no rattles in the Accord, the materials are to this day some of the best in any car I've ever owned, every control operated with precision and just the right feel, and the ergonomics were perfect. By contrast, the Taurus was full of rattles from the day we got it, had hard plastic and slapdash fits all over the interior, had mouse-fur upholstery that showed wear by 60k miles, some parts of the control layout were nonsensical, and my car had a number of obvious assembly defects (including silver front bumper paint that all peeled off within five years). The cars' records in service also contrasted dramatically; the Taurus's lower purchase price (as a used car with similar mileage) was totally offset within a few years by higher repair costs.The thing that really puts an exclamation point on the contrast between the two cars is just how much better the Taurus was than its Fox-based predecessors.
  • Art Vandelay I am sure somewhere, somebody is saddened by this.
  • Dukeisduke It's becoming the norm for cats to be moved out of state for sale, and even out of the country. The thieves are looking for the easiest places to get rid of them, as laws tighten down in some places. Here in Texas, catalytic converter theft became a felony last September 1, so the stakes are going up.A couple months back, an off-duty Harris County (Houston) sheriff's deputy leaving a grocery store was murdered in the parking lot by a thief that was in the process of stealing the cat from his truck. As far as I know, they're still looking for the suspect, who would be charged with capital murder, and subject to the death penalty.
  • Dukeisduke Here's a real horror story: A friend of mine that's a commercial wallpaper installer owned an '09 Tundra, and had his cat stolen while he was working on a job in Dallas. He would normally have driven his work truck (an '03 Silverado with a zillion miles on it, and one engine replacement), but it was out of commission that day.At the end of the day when he got in the truck and started it, he noticed the noise, *and* saw smoke and flames. The thief had somehow cut or nicked the fuel line, causing gas to spray out. The truck burned to the ground in just a few minutes.He replaced it with a '19 Tundra, and the dealer installed a steel plate attached to the frame rails below the cats, and it's riveted (or maybe security bolts?) to the rails (I only saw it after dark, so I didn't get a really good look). He said the plate cost $750 to install. He says he'll never take the new one to work.
  • Dukeisduke I'll probably own some kind of EV someday, but I don't see it happening in the near future. Any kind of really large scale production is going to be hindered by the availability of rare earth minerals, so I don't see EVs taking over anytime soon, despite the wishful thinking of some folks. Instead, people in urban areas will be "encouraged" (shamed) into riding public transportation, and for people that live further out, or in the country, will still mainly drive ICE vehicles.I don't have anything against EVs, I just think the hype is overblown.Speaking of Dodge, I was watching the "Roadkill Nights" stream on Motortrend+ on Saturday, and Tim Kuniskis was interviewed live, and said there was a huge announce coming about the future of Dodge muscle, at the Woodward Cruise this weekend. I assume it'll be something about EVs. By the way, it was mentioned after the interview that Kuniskis started his career working as a service technician at a Dodge dealership. I'd never heard that before.
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