Friday, July 17, 2009

From Edmonds Daily...

Ford Transit Connect Takes the Cake ... and Flowers and Cones

2010 Ford Transit Connect

We don't cover commercial vehicles very often, as model changes are so infrequent they operate based on Jupiter years. There are rocks younger than the Econoline. But the 2010 Ford Transit Connect is a radically different vehicle that could revolutionize the way businesses (small and big alike) go about their transportation needs.

I was invited by Ford to travel around Beverly Hills yesterday in a Transit Connect, paying visits to three small business with different transport needs -- West Hollywood Picture Framing, Treefrogs florists and event planning, and Hansen's Cakes. The new Ford Work Solutions technologies were also showcased, and I must say, they are impressive and seem useful. Fun pictures and fascinating information to follow.

James Riswick, Automotive Editor

Ford Transit Connect Variations -- Photo by James Riswick,

Above are some of the "upfitting" that can be done with the Turkish-made Ford Transit Connect. They can be dealer-installed or port-installed, the latter of which will save you a bit of money. Each of these shelving options is permanently installed, or perhaps more accurate, not easily removable. According to Fred Gibbons, the owner of Treefrogs, this would mean he'd opt against the shelves since they would limit the versatility to hold bigger arrangements even though it would make shipping smaller items safer. Ford said they are looking into removable solutions.

On the other hand, the folks at Hansen's Cakes beamed about the Katarack sliding shelves designed specifically for catering companies such as Hansen's. They're marketing manager looked like a kid on Christmas morning as she easily lifted the heavy Transit Connect cake they made for the event out of the real Transit Connect. The van's low height made lifting that much easier as well. Presently, they are using two old Windstars and an '87 E-150 on engine No. 5 with 600,000 miles. Patrick Hansen (the seventh-generation owner and baker) said he plans on using Cash for Clunkers to replace part of his fleet with Transit Connects -- one of the few commercial vehicles with good enough gas mileage to comply.

Ford Transit Connect keyboard -- Edmunds.comAlthough the business owners were enticed into participating by a raffle that could result in a new Transit Connect in their garage, each were quite genuine in their praise for the van and how it would benefit their business better than their current vehicles do. First and foremost, the Transit Connect and its Focus-derived 2.0-liter four-cylinder gets substantially better gas mileage than the big V8-powered Econoline-sized vans and even minivans these businesses currently use. Second, its smaller footprint makes maneuvering tights city streets and finding street parking spots easier -- ever try finding a parallel parking spot big enough for a Chevy Express? Surprisingly, all were pleased with Transit Connect's "something different" styling and the large space on its side that could be used for advertisement.

Ford Work Solutions Tool Link by DeWalt tag -- Edmunds.comAs for Ford Work Solutions, here are the highlights available in the Transit Connect and Ford's other work-oriented vehicles.

It all starts with the in-dash computer, which from afar looks like Ford's standard navigation unit. It is a touchscreen, though it has a built-in stylus should your fingers be grimy. The computer runs on a Microsoft operating system and features full Internet access (through a $50 Sprint data plan), a wireless keyboard and touchpad mouse (top right), a separate hard drive, remote computer access, and a Garmin navigation system. You can even get a wireless printer.

Ford Work Solutions Tool Link by DeWalt transmitter box - Edmunds.comTool Link by DeWalt allows you to electronically keep track of the valuable items in your truck or van. It works by placing little tags (above right) on whatever items you want to keep track of, then naming them in the in-van computer (unless you want to memorize code numbers). A black box (right) mounted in the interior searches for all those tags and transmits the data to the in-van computer, providing a tally of items. If something is missing, it'll let you know. Sadly, it can't tell you where it wondered off to, therefore eliminated the possibility of using Tool Link to keep track of your children.

Crew Chief is basically big brother, keeping freakishly precise data about the driver's habits behind the wheel. Not only does it keep track of the up-to-the-minute whereabouts of your business' fleet, it can also tell how long the van is idling, what the driver's acceleration tendencies are and the routes they are taking. Basically, 3-hour lunches at Fuddruckers have become a thing of the past. The boss will love it, the employee .. not so much.

I walked away very impressed with the Ford Transit Connect. It brings fresh ideas to a stale segment, much like the Dodge Sprinter did, but does so at a very low price and at a Goldilocks size unmatched in the American market. There is also a "wagon" version with a three- or two-person bench seat that would be ideal for taxi companies.

Ford Transit Connect Handling -

And finally, to show you how maneuverable it is, here is a video of the Transit Connect zipping around a roof-top maneuverability course piloted by Car and Driver's Steve Siler, who was only too happy to oblige my request for another go-around. For the record, I didn't hit any cones.

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