Ford Transit: The Blue Oval’s True Working Horse

Okay technically speaking, Ford says the Transit is the “best-selling cargo van nameplate” on the planet, meaning they’ve been selling a ton of these capable little guys for awhile, but hey, why argue over details.

The Ford Transit van was literally a game changer when it first hit the street in Britain in the 60s. It was one of those, “why didn’t I think of that?” answers to a question that was overlooked.

Up until the Transit, most delivery vans; the vehicle used for ‘the last mile’ of service, were big hulking things, no smaller than what you see UPS or FedEx still using.

In America, there’s not much of a problem. But in Europe, especially in the tight confines of inner-city London or Paris or the like, “normal” delivery vans are a real pain to work with. Enter the Ford Transit. In a lot of ways, it was sort of the first minivan, only for things, not people. It seemed as if one day, Ford Transits had sprouted up like mushrooms, seemingly everywhere at once.

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Transit has been the best-selling van in its segment in the United Kingdom since 1984, according to IHS Markit registration data. In the past 25 months, Ford’s commercial vehicle market share has grow from 10.8 percent to 12.9 percent in Europe, according to IHS Markit. Photo: Ford Motor Company.

Unexpected Customers?

And, perhaps, once they were established, the Ford Transit’s greatest praise came from the, uh, secondary market.  You know who really loved these things in Britain? Thieves. The ‘Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels’ kind of gentlemen that had business to carry out, and needed something practical and dependable to do it with. And since Ford Transit vans were everywhere in London, they provided something else this certain van-using demographic highly prized: Anonymity.

“Constable! Constable! I saw the robbers drive off in that direction, down the Westway!”

“In what kind of vehicle madam?”

“Why it was a dark gray Ford Transit sir,” said the matronly lady, gesturing down a street that was, literally, 48.9% Ford Transit vans at that very moment.

And being windowless, who knows what was going on inside them. Pints heading down to the pub, fabric delivered to the tailors, Who records to music shops in Sheppard’s Bush, bank notes from The Great Train Robbery, dog food for the Queen’s corgis, could be anything.

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All 2016 Ford Transit vans and wagons will include a rearview camera and trailer hitch assist as standard. Trailer hitch assist activates when the vehicle is shifted into reverse, displaying a graphic that helps line up a hitch with a trailer. Photo: Ford Motor Company.

Making Bank

The bottom line, was, as always, the bottom line. Ford knew they had a hit on their hands big time. What worked in the crowded streets of London could work (would work) on the crowded streets of any large urban center. Ever since, Ford has been improving the design, upgrading the running gear, tweaking the bits and pieces for specific markets, and cranking out ‘this year’s model’ of the Transit and making serious bank.

It took a while for Ford to get the Transit into the United States market, but, unsurprisingly, it worked here too, and sales continue to climb. Transit momentum in the U.S. is strong, with sales up 31 percent year-to-date, making Transit the best-selling van in America.

The “best-selling van in America.” I’ll let that sink in for a moment while you realize the competition the Transit is up against here; think of all the other delivery and cargo vans: GMC Savana, Chevy City Express, Ram ProMaster, Mercedes-Benz Sprinter, but the Transit sits at the top of the mountain.

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More than 8 million Transit and Transit Custom vehicles have been built, as the range grew from a single model more than half a century ago to an entire family of commercial cargo vehicles. Lined up end-to-end, 50 years of Transit vans would circle the globe. A customer buys a new Transit every 180 seconds on average, based on Ford sales and production data. Pictured here are the Ford Transit vans of China. Photo: Ford Motor Company.

Global Vision

Back where this all started, the Transit checks all the right boxes. Ford is well recognized as Europe’s best-selling commercial vehicle brand, largely due to robust demand for the Transit. It is the number one nameplate in the medium commercial van segment there, according to data from IHS Markit.

And it’s not just the European market either. The Transit is the best-selling nameplate in the light bus and van segment in China. It is on track to become the best-selling nameplate there for 2016, based on data from China Insurance Information Technology Company. Which, if you’ve ever seen what driving on the streets of, say, Shanghai is like, makes complete sense.

So, today London, tomorrow America, and the day after that, everywhere else!

“We are focused on building on our clear global leadership in trucks, vans, and commercial vehicles,” says Raj Nair, Ford Executive Vice President, Global Product Development, and Chief Technical Officer. “While other manufacturers only offer their van lineups regionally, Ford has cracked the code on developing global van architecture that can be customized to regional needs.”

Very hard to argue with that last sentence. Ford has a money maker on their hands here in the truest sense of the word. Shoot, at this point, the mint should just give them a printing press. They can deliver it to them in a Transit.

Tony Borroz has spent his entire life around racing antique and sports cars. He means well, even if he has a bias towards lighter, agile cars rather than big engine muscle cars or family sedans.

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Photos & Source: Ford Motor Company

About The Author

Tony Borroz grew up in a sportscar oriented family, but sadly, it was British cars. His knuckles still show the marks of slipped Whitworth sockets, strains to reach rear upper shock bushings on Triumphs and slight burn marks from dealing with Lucas Electric "systems". He has written for a variety of car magazines and websites, Automoblog chief among them, as well as working on very popular driving games as a content expert. He has also worked for aerospace companies, software giants and as a movie stuntman. He currently lives in a secure, undisclosed location in the American southwestern desert.

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