News Column

Ford Re-enters Minivan Market

Nov. 14, 2012

By Chris Woodyard

Ford is getting back into the minivan market it abandoned in 2006 with a smaller family hauler based on the redesign of its Transit Connect commercial vehicle.

Ford is portraying the 2014 Transit Connect Wagon -- Ford avoided using the "m" word, considered by some as frumpy -- as an alternative to the traditional minivans still made by Chrysler, Volkswagen (built by Chrysler), Toyota, Honda, Nissan and Kia. It says the new van will go on sale in the fourth quarter of 2013.

"Minivans have gotten too big, too expensive and consume too much fuel," says Ford spokesman Mike Levine. "People are leaving the segment" as a result, he says, but will be attracted to a vehicle that "will have more space inside than (a Ford) Escape or Edge."

While Ford left the minivan segment in the U.S. with the discontinuation of the Freestar in 2006, it has continued to sell vans in Europe and elsewhere. General Motors left the U.S. market in 2009, but also has continued to sell vans elsewhere.

The new Fords are versions for the U.S. of "people mover" models in its coming redesigned Transit Connect global van line. They'll be built for the U.S. in Valencia, Spain.

The Transit Connect Wagon will come in seven- and five-passenger models, and will have the minivan-required sliding side doors. The larger version will compete with the traditional minivans, such as the Toyota Sienna, but will be 10.5 inches shorter than a Sienna and narrower.

The smaller Transit Connect Wagon will be more than 2 feet shorter than a Sienna, but will be about the size of -- and compete directly with -- the compact Mazda5 van.

Ford says the large version will not only be a bit smaller, but lighter, cheaper and more fuel-efficient than a traditional minivan. It did not disclose prices, though, and said only that it expects the Transit Connect Wagon to have a city mileage rating at least 2 miles per gallon better than the Sienna's 18 mpg, or at least 20, and a highway rating at least 5 mpg higher than Sienna, or at least 30.

The vans will offer only four-cylinder engines, a 2.5-liter four and a 1.6-liter turbocharged four. Its traditional full-size minivan rivals offer V-6s.

Ford brought the current Transit Connect to the U.S. about three years ago, and it has had success as a small, fuel-efficient commercial van alternative.

There's a small, five-passenger version sold through Ford's commercial dealers, as well, with many seeing service as taxicabs. It's rather spartan by minivan standards.

With the redesign, fully fitted interior and seven-seat version, however, Ford now is going full-tilt into the retail minivan market.

Other selling points Ford cited in its announcement are that the Transit Connect Wagon offers more space for its size, about 100 cubic feet, than larger rivals such as the Nissan Quest minivan or Chevrolet Tahoe SUV. It will carry up to 1,200 pounds of people and cargo.

Source: Copyright USA TODAY 2012

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