Dearly beloved. We have gathered here today to mourn the American-market small commercial van. After losing the Nissan NV200, Chevrolet City Express, Mercedes-Benz Metris, and Ram Promaster City, we’ve received official confirmation via Automotive News that the angels are coming for the Ford Transit Connect. By the end of this year, the entire small commercial van genre will be dead in America.
They say a candle that burns twice as bright lasts half as long. Ford first brought the Transit Connect to America for 2010 as part of the One Ford program, and it was exactly the sort of vehicle small businesses needed. It was small enough to fit down narrow city alleyways, cheap to run thanks to its four-cylinder engine, and offered secure cargo storage. For those holding on to aging Chevrolet Astro and GMC Safari vans, the Transit Connect was a godsend, offering a brand new vehicle with cheaper running costs in the same reasonably compact form factor. What’s more, the Transit Connect appealed to more than just small businesses. Canada Post replaced its Grumann LLVs with Transit Connects, police forces with bicycle units used them because of how many bicycles they fit, some taxi operators switches parts of their fleets to Transit Connects after the Crown Victoria was discontinued. It really was a versatile little van.
[Editor’s Note: I always liked the first-generation Transit Connect. The second generation was cool, too, but I prefer the corrugated, vaguely Citroën H-van look of the original. Both of these were built outside of the US (first gen in Turkey, second in Spain) and Ford did some sneaky shenanigans to get around the Chicken Tax, building them as “passenger cars” with back seats and side window, which were then yanked when they came to America. Sure, Ford got in trouble for it, but I like that they tried. – JT]
Not long after the Transit Connect arrived to market, other manufacturers cooked up their own small vans. Nissan brought the NV200 to America for the 2013 model year and secured a deal to supply New York City with NV200 cabs. Chevrolet took note and instead of building its own small van, rebadged the Nissan NV200 as the Chevrolet City Express. Ram rebadged the Fiat Doblo as the Promaster City for the 2015 model year, importing them to America as passenger vans before taking the windows and seats out to get around the Chicken Tax. Even Mercedes-Benz got in on the action with the slightly larger Metris.
Mid-way through the onslaught of competition, Ford rolled out the second-generation Transit Connect in North America. With two wheelbases, choice of two, five, or seven seats, and multiple powertrains on deck, the segment pioneer continued its reign as small van king by offering a ton of choice. You could even buy one that was ready for conversion to run on compressed natural gas or liquefied petroleum gas. Not only did businesses like the extra choice, families seeking an alternative to bulky modern minivans could buy seven-seat Transit Connect with available overhead storage bins.
Unfortunately, the Transit Connect wasn’t free of controversy. In 2018, Ford announced plans to bring a diesel variant to America, plans that were quickly abandoned, disappointing oil-burner fans across the country. In addition, Ford built Transit Connects in Europe and used U.S. passenger-to-cargo conversions to sidestep the Chicken Tax. While this seemed okay for a few years, U.S. regulators weren’t happy, taking Ford to court for alleged circumvention of some very outdated tariffs. Unsurprisingly, the crushing force of bureaucracy is poised to come out on top, with the Detroit Free Press reporting that Ford may have to pay more than a billion dollars in fines.
As it stands, the tides have turned for the Transit Connect. The next-generation model is a reworked Volkswagen Caddy made in Poland, and as such, likely isn’t a candidate for local manufacture. What’s more, Ford cites decreased demand for small vans in America as part of the reason for discontinuing the Transit Connect. It really is a shame that aside from commercial applications, the small van thing never caught on in America. If you really want one, you best hurry up. The Transit Connect only has the rest of the 2023 model year to live, after which point it’s done. It’s not every day that an entire automotive segment disappears, but that’s what’s about to happen to small vans.
(Photo credits: Ford)
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That sounds like an excellent van. Any pics of it online?
I wonder if a well funded company could be successful filling empty segments on the market? No R&D just buy old plant and equipment from small markets. You know old 2 seater convertables were considered passe until Miata. So build a basic small van from the parts bins of whoever will let you. You aren’t setting the world on fire but everything is paid for. Coupes, single people and husbands need a 2 door sedan what was the last popular one? Something quirky for the young crowd maybe a smart with a better motor? How about a real small pickup built on a car frame that doesnt need to be tested because it already was previous? Hey can you build a prior year model register it as a prior year model and only need to pass that year model tests? Cmon I cant be the only one drinking and thinking here. Hey chicken tax 20 years old allowed to import how about remanufacture?
Unfortunately, such an endeavor would require a significant investment, and the kinds of people who make significant investments prefer a large return on said investment, in relatively short order.
I know several of the companies that use vans like that around me have been adding Mavericks to their fleets. The full Transit still exists and the Mavericks can’t be made fast enough for personal or professional use. I don’t think Ford’s going to miss it much.