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New Ford Transit is British at heart

14 May 2014 #Features & Interviews #News #Sales #Van

The all-new Ford Transit has big boots to fill. The Transit range is comfortably market leader in the UK and the customer-base expects the new model to deliver.

Transit 2T 5Getting the design, engineering, drive and capabilities just right is paramount to the success of any new vehicle and the UK can claim a huge chunk of the credit for the new van thanks to its strong British core. Transport News Brief finds out why the UK can be proud of the new Ford Transit.

If you set out to build a full-size clay model of the UK-designed, engineered and tested Ford Transit – the Custom’s bigger brother – you will be left with something that weighs a hefty 4.5 tonnes.

During new Transit’s development the design team at Ford’s vast Technical Centre at Dunton in Essex had not one, but five of these clay models created. That is in addition to getting on for 10 other scale models of the newcomer for use by the 800-plus highly skilled UK-based designers and engineers tasked with working on it.

The clay Transits were designed to be dimensionally stable, and not distort at all. Stability was a key requirement no matter whether they were being crafted by hand or subjected to a CAD-driven five-axis machining process.

Now on sale, new Transit spent over 1,000 hours in Dunton’s environmental test laboratory as part of a rigorous testing programme that saw every aspect of the vehicle subjected to an extensive work-out.

For example, the front doors were slammed no less than 250,000 times on a purpose-designed automated rig compared with the 84,000 slams that car doors are subjected to. That reflects the fact that vans typically lead a tougher life than cars.

UK van market leader Ford has even gone to the extent of observing and recording the speed and degree of force of real-life van door slams, from regular to – when the driver is having a really bad day – severe. The test replicates the fastest speeds used by 90% of drivers.

For the first time, a Transit has had to endure Ford’s ‘extreme strength test’ to ensure it will behave in a safe, predictable manner when subjected to the sort of impacts it could experience in real-world use. One test involved striking a 150mm kerb at 30mph.

In parallel with all the foregoing, Dunton conducted several focus groups in conjunction with independent research agencies to ensure neutrality. The aim was to capture the opinions of drivers in order to create a better product.

In addition, Transits fitted with data-logging equipment were discreetly placed with operators across Europe to obtain feedback. Real-world customers drove the new model over 310,000 miles prior to its launch as part of a testing programme that encompassed the equivalent of almost seven million miles; the same as driving around the world 275 times.

All of this serves only to underline that while the latest Transit is assembled in Turkey, it was created in Britain. And the Britishness doesn’t simply end with the work put in by the designers and engineers in the South East of England.

Pop open the bonnet and you will see a 2.2-litre Duratorq TDCi diesel built at Ford’s Dagenham engine plant. Examine the rear-wheel-drive model closely – Transit is produced in front-wheel-drive guise too and as a 4×4 – and you will soon identify a six-speed manual transmission produced at Halewood on Merseyside.

Grossing at from 2.9 to 4.7 tonnes, the models built in Turkey will be those destined for European customers. It is also being sold in North America too, which will see it being assembled in Kansas City, USA alongside the legendary F150 pick-up.

Available as a chassis cab, chassis crew cab, minibus, double cab and a straightforward van, Transit illustrates the level of sophistication that can now be seen across the light commercial market.

“Specifications are improving across the range and there is a lot more interest in safety devices such as Acceleration Control and Adaptive Cruise Control with Active Speed Limiter, not to mention air-conditioning,” says Product Manager, Dave Petts.

“We’re seeing a drift upwards in the amount of power customers want too on the basis that a more powerful engine may be less stressed on some types of work and offer better mpg figures as a result.

“On the other hand there are some fleets that want as much as they can stripped out of the vehicle to save on the purchase price although such an approach can affect residual values.”

Perhaps fleets that opt for the most basic specifications are hoping that they will save a bit of weight. While vans have improved hugely over the past 25 years in terms of driveability, interior equipment, safety, you name it, payload capacity has fallen at the same time.

“I talked to one fleet at the Commercial Vehicle Show that was saving 30kg by deleting the passenger seat,” Petts says. “Many firms are now saving 25kg by deleting the spare wheel and tool kit.”

While the Transit’s weight has not fallen when compared with its predecessor, it has not risen noticeably either says Ford. “We’ve made a lot of use of high-strength and ultra-high-strength boron steels,” says Christine Lund, Product Development Launch Manager.

Because they are so strong, less has to be used. “So we’ve been able to add more features to Transit without reducing the payload,” she says.

There is of course a counter-argument, which says that unless you are hauling gravel or sand around in a tipper, what matters these days is cargo space, not payload capacity.

A lot of vans are on parcels work, which is not payload-sensitive but requires the load area to have plenty of room, and many consumer goods – fridges and washing machines for instance – are far lighter than they were a quarter of a century back.

Recognising this need for more load space, the Transit’s designers have increased van load volume by around 10% across the range, with the Jumbo model boasting a 15.1cu m cargo box.

While stressing the big Transit’s green credentials – CO2 emissions from ECOnetic versions go down to 169g/km – Ford is showing little desire to get involved in the electric light commercial market again.

“Customers are certainly interested in electric vans, but they are rather less interested in parting with hard cash in order to pay for them,” Petts says. “Electric vans have their place but their time has not come yet, and is unlikely to come until they can achieve a range of 200 miles between recharges.”

British Gas however has decided to put an initial 100 electric Nissan e-NV200 vans into service as part of a plan to ensure that 10% of its 13,000-strong fleet of home service vans are battery-powered by 2017. The UK plays its part in the eNV200 too with the battery produced at Nissan’s site in Sunderland. With orders beginning to come in, perhaps fleet orders for electric light commercials will now start to rise; especially if big cities start turning their centres into ultra-low emission zones.

Nissan’s credentials add to the UK’s portfolio of commercial vehicle interests, adding to the new Luton-built Vauxhall Vivaro, unveiled last month at the CV Show. The new Transit’s UK roots are therefore in good company, demonstrating the UK’s capacity to design, develop and manufacture commercial vehicles for both the home and European markets.

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