When Dodge replaced the big ol' Ram Van with a rebranded Mercedes-Benz Sprinter, I wondered who would ever buy an expensive, tall, Diesel-powered van that looked like an office building on wheels.
Everybody, as it turned out.
Huge interior room, terrific flexibility, amazing performance and economy from the turbocharged oil burner - it seems every commercial application in the world could be handled by this thing.
You could even outfit it as a family bus or a camper.
One drawback, other than the price - it was SO tall, it wouldn't fit in many parking garages.
I don't know if Ford had this in mind when they decided to import the Transit Connect, a smaller Turkey-built commercial van that has been a big hit in Europe since its launch a couple of years ago.
These two are parked outside a high-end picture framing shop in Beverly Hills California, among a series of urban locales Ford laid on to show the media just how the Transit Connect will fit into the North American cityscape.
The shop is owned and operated by brother and sister Nita Casar and John Pohle, who so far have been making do with Ms Casar's Honda minivan.
"We have to take the seats out to pick up or deliver the artwork," Ms Casar told me during a visit this past Thursday, "then put them back in for our weekend family outings. With this Transit Connect, we will have a dedicated vehicle for our business which is small enough to be economical and manoeuverable for our urban location".
Hansen's Cakes is literally a centuries-old family business - they were bakers in Scandinavia in the 1500s. The first North America location opened in the 1930s; they've been in Beverly Hills since 1952, baking cakes of all shapes and sizes - and I do mean ALL shapes and sizes; propriety and various legal limitations prevent me from showing you some of their wares.
Here, Suzi Finer, Hansen's marketing director, displays one I can show you, along with one of the virtually infinite permutations of racks and shelving customers can order for Transit Connect from aftermarket upfitters through their local Ford dealer.
Ms Finer says the Transit Connect will supplement their current fleet of minivans and one big Econoline. She'd love to have nothing but Transits some day, again the combination of big-on-the-inside / small-on-the-outside space and fuel economy being the big draws.
In Europe, the Transit is powered by a four cylinder Diesel engine. But when the thought crossed Ford's corporate mind to adapt it for North America, Diesel fuel was about a dollar US more per US gallon than gasoline, and future emissions standards gave them pause about trying to make it work over here.
Never mind that Chrysler and Mercedes made the Sprinter Diesel work.
So they stuffed the 2.0 litre four cylinder gasoline engine from the Focus into Transit. Fitted with a four-speed automatic transmission, it provides reasonable performance in urban use, and yields fuel consumption figures of 22 US per gallon City, and 25 Highway. Those convert approximately into 10.7 and 9.4 litres per 100 km respectively, although Ford lists the Transport Canada numbers at 9.5 and 7.9 respectively. The discrepancy is probably due to the US EPA revising their protocol and calculations last year to make the numbers reflect reality more closely. Transport Canada has yet to follow suit.
An electric version is scheduled for next year. Transit Connect is an addition, not a replacement, in Ford's truck line. The big E-Van continues.
A payload of up to 1600 pounds (725 kg), 135 cubic feet of volume, sliding doors on both sides, rear doors that open 180 degrees (or, optionally, 225 degrees) and a floor load height load of less than 60 cm (two feet) combine to give Transit vastly better utility than most available alternatives, such as converted minivans or Chevrolet's HHR.
It's another European idea, adapted for North America. Sort of Sprinter-Writ-Small.
Transit Connect (where did they come up with that moniker?) will also be available with what Ford calls their "Work Solutions" package, as seen in Ford's new F-Series pick-up.
It includes SatNav, and a fully-functional in-dash computer with Bluetooth keyboard and (optional) printer which enables connectivity to the head office computer. Not only can the driver find the job site, he can also print an invoice on the spot.
The SatNav can also track the location of all vehicles in the fleet.
The Tool Link feature developed in conjunction with the DEWALT power tool company, keeps track of various tools and inventory, to make sure nothing is left behind - or 'grows legs', as they say.
Transit Connect pricing starts at $26,799 for the cargo van in XLT trim, which includes air, cruise, power locks and windows, remote keyless entry, and ABS brakes. Rear window glass is another $500.
The XLT wagon model with a second row of seats starts at $28,299, and brings the desirable Electronic Stability Control system. Hard to understand why it isn't standard on the van too - it is an option.
(The US offers a stripper XL van which doesn't appear to be part of our program.)
Transit Connect is shown on Ford's website ( www.ford.ca/app/commercial/en/vehicles/transit_connect.do , and as soon as I can figure out or remember how to make that a hot link, I'll fix that...) and I'm told they are already on dealer lots.
While destined initially for commercial use only, it isn't hard to imagine a Transit Connect outfitted as a two-person RV either. Ford admits they have imagined it, so watch for that in about a year's time.