Ford Motor Co. unveiled its 2020 Transit cargo van Tuesday, adding major upgrades that include two new engine choices, a 10-speed automatic transmission and safety features such as automatic emergency braking.
About half of the components in the 2020 Transit van will be new compared with the current model, Ford said.
The automaker is working to keep the Transit – the best-selling cargo van in the U.S. – fresh as it faces competition from the redesigned Mercedes-Benz Sprinter van. Mercedes opened a factory to build the van domestically in North Charleston, S.C., late last year.
The Transit supports Ford’s presence in a wider commercial vehicle market, said Stephanie Brinley, an analyst with IHS Markit.
“Having a number of vans and pickup trucks to offer commercial customers makes it easier for those customers to maintain fleets with vehicles from the same company,” Brinley said.
Way out in front
Ford sold 137,794 Transits in 2018, an 8 percent gain from the prior year. That was almost triple the 46,600 sales of Ram’s ProMaster, the next best-seller in the Euro-style van segment. The Mercedes Sprinter van was third with sales of 30,884. Overall, Ford’s E-Series van is the second-best seller when looking at just large vans.
“We listened to our commercial and family customers and updated Transit with useful amenities like standard Wi-Fi so kids or crew can stay connected, and helpful driver-assist features like available adaptive cruise control to take the stress out of traffic,” said Mark Buzzell, Ford director of fleet, lease and remarketing operations
Many of the improvements Ford is making to the 2020 Transit are modified versions of components from the automaker’s vehicle line.
Three engine choices will be available. The first is a 3.5-liter V6 with port fuel and direct injection. It is new to the line and the standard engine. It replaces the 3.7-liter engine of the previous model.
The Transit also gets an optional, and new, 2-liter bi-turbo four-cylinder diesel. The final choice is a 3.5-liter turbocharged EcoBoost engine that is a carryover from the previous model but now has automatic start-stop. It is from Ford’s F-150 pickup truck with minor tuning differences.
“There’s no van in the world that can launch an all new powertrain that’s already been proven in a vehicle of over a million units,” said Tim Stoehr, Ford’s fleet marketing manager
Power ratings soon
Ford will release power ratings for the engines before the launch later this year.
The diesel engine is a version of one that Ford has previously offered to Transit buyers in Europe. The Transit gets other optional features, such as all-wheel-drive and upgraded seating. The combination of the diesel, all-wheel-drive and better seating for the driver and front passenger will help Ford defend is market share from the Mercedes Sprinter van.
The van from the German automaker is popular with outdoor enthusiasts and overlanders because it is available with a diesel engine and four-wheel-drive. But Mercedes has not been able to produce enough of its four-wheel-drive vans because of a supply bottleneck in Europe. The company said it believes its new U.S. plant will eventually iron out that bottleneck.
Stoehr told Trucks.com he believes the upgrades will make the Transit more attractive to consumers looking to customize the vehicles into so-called adventure vans to use for surfing, skiing, camping and other activities.
Step-in height unchanged
Ford was able to add the all-wheel-drive system without changing the step-in height of the vehicle, a factor important to commercial fleets.
“If loading stuff in and out of it, or stepping in and out of a van or if you’re shuttling passengers around, it is extremely important to have a low height,” Stoehr said.
It reduces the potential for mishaps and injuries.
“It’s really a big deal for our commercial drivers and passengers using a Transit as a shuttle. They get in and out of them hundreds of times a day,” he said.
Ford expects the EcoBoost engine to fare well with fleets. It can be configured with an optional compressed or liquid natural gas prep package to make the conversion to natural gas fuel easier.
The upgraded 2020 Transit chassis cab and cutaway models of the vehicle see a jump in their maximum gross vehicle weight rating to 11,000 pounds from 10,360, allowing customers to haul heavier loads.
Ford also is pushing more standard safety features into the new model. All configurations will get forward-collision alert with automatic emergency braking. There’s a post-crash braking system to reduce the chance of a secondary collision. The vans have pedestrian-detection alert, a lane-keeping system and auto high-beam headlamps.
“This is extremely valuable for fleet owners,” Stoehr said.
Avoiding just one collision can save a business a large sum of money and the loss of the use of the vehicle while repairs are made, he said.
Ford is improving the van at a time when sales in the segment are expected to contract along with the entire U.S. auto market over the next several years.
IHS Markit forecasts van sales volume will slip from 380,963 units last year to 356,000 by 2021.