Ford Hopes 2019 Transit Connect Will Energize Small Vans

February 27, 2018 by Ryan ZumMallen, @Zoomy575M

The redesigned 2019 Ford Transit Connect Wagon aims to attract buyers with its versatility, and Ford Motor Co. thinks that will resonate with the baby boomer generation.

The automaker debuted the Euro-style compact van at the 2018 Chicago Auto Show with refreshed looks, new safety equipment and a diesel engine option. Ford hopes the improvements will reverse a 20.3 percent sales slide in 2017 compared with 2016, according to industry research firm Autodata Corp.

Tim Stoehr

Tim Stoehr

There’s reason to believe the 2019 Transit Connect Wagon will fend off competitors like the Nissan NV200 and Ram ProMaster City to receive a warm reception, Tim Stoehr, commercial fleet marketing manager at Ford, told during an interview on the show floor.

Here is an edited version of the conversation.

Why has Ford made a big deal of targeting the boomer market with the 2019 Transit Connect Wagon?

The baby boomer market has been a big portion of selling wagons. They love the value, some are on fixed incomes at that time, they love the lower floor height and ingress and egress, they love the functionality where they can haul their grandkids, haul three couples to dinner or have enough space to do something that they like to do in their off time, or a side business. It’s a unique package with a tremendous amount of capability that allows people to live their life the way they want.

  • 2019 Transit Connect Wagon. (All photos: Ford)

Does the boomer market make up a large percentage of Transit Connect sales?

It’s increasing as the awareness has increased. The reasons it’s such a smart market to target are they’re already interested in a vehicle with those unique propositions and in an industry of over 17 million sales every year, boomers are buying 6 million vehicles. That’s been pretty consistent the last few years. It’s a large market with specific needs and Transit Connect wagon meets those needs.

When you say small businesses to me that brings to mind younger people starting businesses.

Boomers are living longer, they’re more active, and there’s more people changing careers past 50 now than there ever has been. They stopped with their initial career and they’ve started to do something else. The world’s changing, and we’re providing a vehicle that meets the changing needs we’re seeing out there.

What makes now the right time for a diesel?

The diesel is leveraging our global powertrain investments. The EcoBlue efficient lineup of diesels was lined up a little more than a year ago through the U.K. with the 2-liter engine — now it’s being followed up with this 1.5-liter with the new Transit Connect. For those customers, commercial or retail, that are looking for the most fuel-efficient compact van or wagon, that is the engine.

Could it expand your customer base?

Going back to 2009 we had customers saying, “Where’s the diesel? You have it in Europe — why not here?” We wanted to see if the vehicle classification could first succeed here, and now we’re bringing it here for maximum choice. We think it will do quite well with people looking for maximum efficiency and long-term durability.

Sales were down 20 percent last year and the segment was down — do you see a path for growth?

The segment was down more than Transit Connect was. It’s still delivering about 50 percent of the entire segment. Any time there’s growth in a segment it’s usually driven by new choice, new features, new offerings. I think the improved efficiency in 2019, along with the advanced, is going to drive some business into the segment. Long term, I think the demand will fluctuate based on fuel prices.

[Editor’s note: According to Autodata, the compact van segment fell by 9.3 percent in 2017 and the Transit Connect accounts for 42 percent of sales.]

Are low fuel prices driving people to the larger vans?

In some cases. I think the compact van segment is kind of leveled out right now at around 90,000. But I think the new choice we’re bringing into the market is going to bring additional customers.

Was any part of last year’s sales decline planned because the new van was coming out?

No, we constantly monitor demand and adjust our production accordingly. There’s been a lot of innovation in the big vans segment the last couple years so that’s maybe given some customers reason to move to that size. We love our Transit Connect. It’s so important to be able to offer something in every segment of the commercial area. Customers don’t want to buy a Class 1 [commercial vehicle] from one person, a Class 2 from another and a Class 7 from someone else. They want to go to one dealership network, they want to get parts from one area and they want to go with someone they can trust. A lot of our success has been based on continually listening to customers for decades. We’re on our 33rd year of commercial leadership in the U.S. That doesn’t just happen because we got lucky 33 years in a row.

Are there a lot of bulk buyers for the Transit Connect or is it more single buyers?

Both. We have customers with 10,000 vehicles in their fleet. The mix versus the big Transit is a little bit lower on the major fleets. The growth is in a lot of these small, mixed-use commercial customers.

The segment’s evolved. You go back to 2009 and it was a much more crude van and wagon. In 2014 it had much sleeker design and many more retail amenities, and now we’re taking it even further. But a lot of the features on the Transit Connect passenger wagon will also benefit large fleet customers, whether they buy a wagon or a van. Automatic emergency braking, for example, is probably the No. 1 want from our large fleet customers. The largest fleet customers are almost all self-insured, so if you can minimize front-end accidents or rear-end accidents, that’s all money to the bottom line. Gives you another reason to buy a new van.

Is it unique to Transit Connect that so many people use it for work during the week and then for recreation on the weekend?

I think it’s unique in that it’s the only compact wagon in the industry that has three rows. There’s other vehicles that have three rows, but there aren’t anywhere the vehicle folds as flat as that so it’s transitioned from a people mover to almost a work van is very unique. But people use a crew cab Super Duty for their construction company and they might tow their boat on the weekend. So mixed use is not new to us, but I think this vehicle proposal is relatively new to the U.S. market. And it’s really carving out its own little niche.

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