American roadways might look a little more like their European counterparts in the near future. That is, if Ford’s Transit vans become as popular in the United States as they are around the world.

Ford began sales of the light commercial vehicles this summer, replacing its popular E-Series vehicles with the Transit commercial vans. Transits debuted in Europe in 1965. By the late 20th Century, Ford began selling Transit vans in non-European markets. The Transit has been the best-selling light commercial vehicle in Europe for 40 years with more than 7 million vehicles sold. Now, the Transit is sold by Ford in 118 markets around the globe.

Ford is looking to blend its successes with the E-Series domestically and the Transit worldwide when it began sales of Transit commercial vans this year.

“Commercial vehicles have traditionally been very important to Ford,” said Minyang Jiang, brand manager for the Transit, Transit Connect and E-Series. “They’re often overlooked, though. But these are the vehicles that bring packages to your door. When we call people to come fix things come to your house and they’re driving these commercial vehicles. In fact, today’s commercial vehicle segment is 20 percent of global auto industry sales. This is the segment that is also growing. It’s got great potential in that commercial vehicle sales are forecast to grow 13 percent globally by 2013.”

For people who use vans on the job, several characteristics make up the ideal vehicle. Interior space is one of those, essential for making one trip to job sites.

The Transit comes in larger sizes than its E series counterparts with the largest Transit being 75 percent bigger than the largest E-Series van.

“On the inside of our medium roof, someone who is about 6 feet tall can walk around without hunching over, so if you’ve got your guys on the inside doing work, they’re really going to appreciate the added height on the inside,” said Jimmy Varlesi, product specialist for the Transit. “The big story with the Transit is its versatility. Compared to our E-Series, it’s more versatile with our three different heights and our three different lengths.”

Ford is leveraging that additional space for customization. The Transit is built in Kansas City at a plant that used to produce Ford Escapes. The company spent $1.1 billion to retool the facility, one at which 5,000 workers now make Transits.

A dozen upfit shops have moved to within 10 miles of the Kansas City plant, businesses that customize the interior of Transits with shelving, racks, bins and seating. Previewing options can be done online at

“We’ve made it extremely easy to upfit,” said Varlesi.

Jiang walked through the Transit test-drive setup at the Ford Test Track in Dearborn, Michigan, passing by more than a dozen variations of the van parked with doors open to roam inside. The display was for a media day and showed off different heights and lengths of Transits with all sorts of different shelving and customized interiors.

The majority of the media members walked past the display and were on the track taking test drives.

“It’s funny,” said Jiang. “When we have people who use the vans for work here, this is where everyone is. They’re all inside the vans, looking at the size of them and how they can upfit them for their needs.”

Transit test drives will be held in Denver, Houston, Seattle, Dallas, Phoenix, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Atlanta this year. Check for dates and availability.

Payload for the Transit van maxes out at 4,650 pounds. The Transit can tow up to 7,500 pounds and has a gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of 10,360 pounds.

The Transit has a 3.7-liter V6 base engine and a 3.5-liter turbocharged EcoBoost engine and a 3.2-liter diesel engine as options. Each option offers better fuel economy … up to 46 percent better … than the E-Series whose most popular engine was a 5.4-liter V8. With three roof heights, two wheelbases and three body lengths to go along with the three engines, there are 58 Transit variations.

Starting price for the Transit is comparable to the E-Series at around $30,000. That goes up to nearly $50,000 for the biggest of the Transit vans.

There is seating for eight, 10, 12 or 15 passengers. The Transit also features the first side-curtain airbag that protects five rows of passengers.

“The Transit wagon’s five-row side-curtain airbag is a great technological innovation that allows us to provide a high level of protection to multiple passengers in one of Ford’s largest vehicles,” said Sean West, Ford restraints manager. “We are proud ot build on our safety leadership.”

The airbag measures close to 15 feet long and 3 feet tall with a volume of 120 liters. By comparison, a side-curtain airbag for a sedan like the Ford Fusion is approximately 6.8 feet long and 2 feet tall with a volume of 42 liters. The single-bag design keeps the curtain supported when deployed.

Bruce MacLeod is editor of POB. He can be reached at