After 45 years, Transit shrugs off mid-life crisis

Sir Henry pictured with some bananas and an original Ford Transit.

ON its 45th birthday, the Ford Transit is shrugging off any mid-life crisis and recreating itself with two new Leader models.
Named to reflect the Transit dominance of the light and medium sized van market in Britain since its launch in 1965, the new Leader models undercut the previous entry level versions of Transit and smaller Transit Connect by about £2,000.
Transit Leader 260 swb with 85ps engine is now available from £11,995 while the Transit Connect Leader 200 swb 75ps model is £9,995. It means the cheapest Connect now comes in below the very popular Fiesta van costing £11,150.
The price cut on this Leader duo has been made possible by Ford’s 220-strong CV dealer network agreeing to adopt the “Blue tag pricing” realignment successfully introduced across the car range this year which has helped keep Ford sales motoring.
Under this scheme, both the manufacturer and dealer agree to reduce their margins on selected models.
At the same time as the Leader duo has been announced, a new 14-seat 3.5 tonne Transit Minibus is launched from £25,400 with a choice of three 2.4 litre powertrains from 100ps and it is weighted so it can be driven on a category B car licence and joins the 9 and 12-seat Minibuses while the 17-seat Transit Minibus has been approved with an additional 150kg payload to maximum 4.25 tonnes.
From September, all Transit rear wheel drive versions up to 200ps will get standard 6sp gearboxes and the AWD layout is being extended to the one tonne platform on the 300S at £24,900.
The highly popular front wheel drive,140ps TDCi Duratorq 6sp Transit SportVan gets Colorado Red paint with white stripes, 18-inch graphite alloys, twin pipes and spoilers and the will have standard DAB radio when it goes on sale in October for £22,630, but only 100 will be built.  From their launch in 2006, the five previous SportVan colour editions have been sold out and the latest is expected to be highly prized as well.
The final model coming to Transit’s 45th birthday celebration is a new Tipper with additional payload, lower load bed, body lock-down and intuitive control, and it has been re-engineered to cut maintenance costs. It is available now from £26,726.
It is the first major reworking of the Transit Tipper since it was launched 12 years ago and it has undergone 35 changes, many in response to customer comments and it is the only model of its type approved by the independent TUV Rheinland Group of safety engineers. Increasing the payload has been possible by reducing the body weight for the single and double cab designs.
Transit models use diesel engines produced in Dagenham and gearboxes from Halewood, and are built at Southampton which has produced over 2.1 million.  It assembles 125 Transits a day with over half exported and future plans will see chassis manufacturing continuing at Southampton along with R&D work in the UK.
Ford CV director Steve Clarey said that the Transit’s success over 45 years had made it an icon of the industry and even in the first six months of this year it had sold 23,000 units and accounted for a third of all sales in the 1 and 2 tonne segments of the market.
Turning recent sales, Mr Clarey said dealers had reported a noticeable rise in sales through the Flexilease programmes due to economic uncertainty, the emergency Budget and forthcoming spending review but his personal belief was that there would not be a double-dip recession and that sales would lift next year.
“We are well placed to respond to whatever the market can throw at us,” he said. “Transit has a 30pc market share and outsells our next four competitors.”
Looking ahead, he would not be drawn on when a completely new Transit would be launched but said that a plug-in hybrid would be seen in 2011.
He added that the demand driven sales in the commercial sector favoured diesel engines and unless there were disincentives to diesels through fuel costs or legislation he expected these to dominate the market for many years.

FIRST IMPRESSIONS
It’s 45 years young and undergone a make-over.
The newest Transit Leader models are now more competitively priced, which is good news for buyers but bad for competitors, and they combine car-like comfort with carrying capacity to please any commercial operator.
The baby of the family, the Transit Connect Leader swb, is a 75ps 1.8 diesel with five-speed box and twin rear doors which open to reveal a 2.8 m2 interior and 634kg loadbed.  Its equipment includes ESP, hill launch assist, shift indicator light and powered windows for £9,995.
It picks up well, drives smoothly and we achieved about 44mpg over a short test route with a modest payload inside.
With 12 bags of sand in the back we also drove the Transit Leader swb with a 85ps 2.2 diesel, a five-speed box, 901kg payload and holds up to 6.55m2 accessed through twin back doors or nearside-slider.
For ease of acceleration the first gear is low to pull away but once on the move it purred along and was in its element on twisting and switchback roads with a good clutch and gearchange as well as a flexible engine. There was no opportunity to evaluate fuel consumption but Ford state it is close to 35mpg.
Ride quality was good in both models and visibility reasonable but I would have welcomed an adjustable column in the Transit, contrasting with the rake facility in the smaller Connect.
Robin Roberts

Spanning the generations, the Ford Transit today is as popular as it ever has been.

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