Ford Transit missing a game-changer opportunity

Sections: Powertrain

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Ford Transit Rear Quarter press photo

(Photo courtesy Ford Motor Company)

The Ford Transit is coming to Ford dealers soon, but it’s missing an opportunity to change the way Ford’s fleet and commercial buyers think about vans.

Several weeks ago, I had the opportunity to spend a week driving a Ram 1500 ProMaster. Unlike Ram Vans of the past, the Ram 1500 ProMaster is front-wheel drive. As I outlined during that review, it changed the way I thought about work vans. The ProMaster offered a cargo capacity in excess of 4,000 lbs that would be impressive in any van, regardless of drivetrain configuration.

Much like the ProMaster did for Ram’s old vans, the Ford Transit eventually will replace Ford’s E-Series vans. Overseas, where the level of refinement possible in vans has been known much longer than it has here, the Ford Transit comes in three options: front-wheel drive, all-wheel drive, or rear-wheel drive. However, according to Ford’s most recent press release about the van’s future in America, it will only be offered in rear-wheel drive here in the States.

By sticking to the traditional rear-wheel drive model with the Ford Transit, Ford is missing an opportunity to carve out the most unique niche in the van market. I said when I tested the Ram 1500 ProMaster I was certain that, for most of the van-buying public, front-wheel drive was the better way to go. But where Ram has only front-wheel drive in its ProMaster series all the way up to the 3500, Ford could have set itself apart by giving buyers that option of powertrains. Do a lot of towing with your van? You could go rear-wheel drive. But if you wanted predictable handling and carried your cargo exclusively within the van itself, you could have opted for front-wheel drive. Or if you needed to venture off-road, you could go all-wheel drive.

For the time being, we’ll just have to hold out hope that Ford sees the vast possibilities in front of it and one day decides to bring us the front- and all-wheel drive options for the Ford Transit. Perhaps they’ll do it after they finally kill the E-Series, which will soldier on for a time especially in cutaway chassis configurations commonly used in ambulances and buses.

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  • John Mead

    I think you are wrong on front wheel drive being the way to go on LARGE CAPACITY vans. Ford has more experience than anyone on heavy weight hauling. Their SuperDuty trucks are still the king when it come to hauling heavy loads and there is no reason that the large Transit will be any different.

    • Lyndon Johnson

      I think it depends on your usage of the van’s cargo-carrying capabilities.

      If you carry a lot of equipment on a permanent basis — I’m thinking of things like the oil tanks and product racks my dad used to keep in the van he used in a mobile auto service business — then rear-wheel drive may be the way to go. Same if you tow heavy trailers frequently. But for those who use a van for temporary loads and/or seldom pack a van to its maximum GVWR, I think front-wheel drive provides a more predictable, stable driving experience.

      My point was, Ford had the chance to capture folks who might like front-wheel drive for that very reason, but they’re missing that opportunity.

      To be fair, Ram is missing the opportunity to sell a passenger version of its ProMaster. You can’t get a window van at all unless you go up to a 2500 or 3500, and even then, they don’t stock it with passenger seats from the factory. Ford has no such silliness — they will gladly sell your church or shuttle service a passenger Transit. So I guess it’s tit-for-tat at this point.