By Greg Basich

Ford announced that it plans to begin production of the all-new Transit commercial van (not to be confused with the smaller Transit Connect) in 2013 late last year. Automotive Fleet (the sister publication to Business Fleet) contacted Ford to get a recap of all the information that’s currently available about the all-new van and to clarify a few points about the vehicle for readers. We spoke with Mike Levine, Ford’s truck communications manager, about the van.

To start, Automotive Fleet asked about the van itself. Levine emphasized that the all-new Transit is not just a homologized European van that Ford is bringing to the U.S. It is in fact an entirely new platform, not only for the U.S. but also globally for Ford. The all-new version of the Transit van that starts production in 2013 in Kansas City is not yet driving on European roads or on roads anywhere else in the world.

So what else do we know about the Transit van so far? First, the all-new Transit will come in a rear-wheel drive version. Levine said drivers and operators of the E-Series in the U.S. are used to rear-wheel drive, hence that design choice for the U.S. marketplace.

For the powertrain, Ford has announced two choices so far for the Transit, a version of the twin-turbo EcoBoost 3.5L V-6 that’s currently in the F-150 and a diesel engine option, though Ford and Levine haven’t yet announced any details about performance, fuel economy, or other information about the diesel engine. For the diesel, Levine did say it will be a new engine for the U.S. market.

For the sake of future comparison (Levine was careful to emphasize that the diesel engine specs mentioned here are only for the European version of the Transit), the European Transit currently comes with a new 2.2L diesel engine. That engine is a clean diesel model, meets emissions requirements for Europe, and includes auto start-stop technology.

Levine said the Transit will offer at least a 25% improvement over the current generation of the E-Series. Will this work for customers who are used to a V-8? He provided the F-150 as an example. When Ford first introduced this engine on the F-150, customers were skeptical. Today, sales of the twin-turbo V-6 version of the F-150 make up approximately 43% of models sold. Levine added that as many fleet managers are concerned with total cost of ownership (TCO), the Transit is expected to provide a notable improvement in TCO over the E-Series.

Another benefit to fleets in the U.S. that the all-new Transit will provide is versatility, as Ford plans to offer the Transit in more configurations than it can offer for its E-Series.

“It is a thoroughly advanced van platform,” he said. “In the U.S. there will be multiple roof heights and wheel base configurations. It will take us places we were never able to go with E-Series.”

With Transit production slated to begin at Ford’s Kansas City Assembly plant, what will happen to the venerable E-Series, a workhorse that’s been the best-selling commercial van in the U.S. for the past 33 years and is in its fifth generation? Although Ford mentioned its plan to discontinue the E-Series last year, Levine outlined more details about the E-Series’ future, saying specifically that Ford will produce E-Series passenger and cargo vans up through 2014.

“We start production on Transit in 2013 in Kansas City," he said. "There is a period of time, into 2014, when we will be making and selling E-Series and Transit vans, and you’ll be able to get them side-by-side at a dealer.”

Levine added that although Ford is discontinuing production of the cargo and passenger models of the E-Series, the automaker will continue to produce cutaway models for most of the rest of this decade.

Fleet customer reception to the news about the Transit replacing the E-Series has been positive, according to Levine. Ford gave eight current Transit models to select fleets across the U.S. to test-drive the vehicle and provide feedback that will help Ford further improve the all-new van before production begins. As an example of this feedback, Levine told Automotive Fleet a story about the experiences drivers have had with the new vehicle.

“Some of the drivers were of the mindset that they were never going to give up their E-Series van,” he said. “They didn’t want a ‘funny-looking Transit,’ they wanted an E-Series. What happened was these drivers would get into the Transit and realize it was a comfortable van. It rode better, and with its roof height, they could stand up in the back and get to their equipment. That’s a huge benefit with these vans, the drivers are comfortable. And a comfortable driver is a better driver.”

Ford is betting big on its new van, but what the automaker has released so far has many in the fleet industry at least interested in what the vehicle will have to offer. Levine said Ford sees a bright future for the Transit in the U.S, and he mentioned the vehicle’s history in Europe, likening the level of competition in the European marketplace to that of the full-size truck market in the U.S.

“We think this will build on the success of E-Series,” Levine said. “We think this will build on the success of Transit and let us do things with a van that we’ve never done before and get better fuel economy than we’ve ever gotten before with our full-size vans. Keep in mind that the E-Series has been the best-selling van in the U.S. for 33 years, so we know we have a tremendous legacy to live up to. But we think this new van, with its new features, new configurations, new powertrains, lower operating costs, and great fuel economy, will be a game changer.”