Henrik Nenzen, Director, commercial vehicles, Ford of Europe
Is Ford planning to launch a rival to the Citroën Nemo/Peugeot Bipper/Fiat Fiorino?
I've studied their specifications and I have to say that our existing short-wheelbase Transit Connect covers the segment pretty well in terms of both load space and payload capacity.
Connect is a solidly engineered vehicle and while that's fine if you're a construction company, it may be over-engineered if you're a florist. Might there be a role therefore for a more lightly constructed van based on a Fiesta platform — rather like the old Courier — to appeal to customers in less-demanding trades?
Remember that florists use their vans every day and can cover quite high mileages during the course of a week if they're out delivering to customers. So even if we decided to introduce another small van to the range, we'd still want to build it tough and reliable like Connect. We also know of many instances where customers have switched to Connect having previously bought less solidly constructed vans from rival manufacturers so we wouldn't want to abandon our current strategy.
How many Connects will you sell this year?
Nearly 80,000, up almost 4,000 on 2006's total; a five per cent improvement. Sales of all our commercial vehicles are up considerably compared with last year — by an anticipated 34,000-plus — and with Transit in particular we've had problems keeping up with the strong demand. The need to get vehicles to customers more quickly is my biggest headache at the moment.
We've been seeing 16-week lead times, but your move to increase capacity at your plant in Turkey and make changes at the Southampton factory — the former builds Transit and Connect, the latter Transit only — should help bring them down. You have expanded the Transit range with the introduction of 200hp 3.2-litre and 140hp 2.2-litre diesels, the addition of some heavier models and the imminent arrival of a 4x4. When will it go into production?
Production has started, but only 200 to 300 will be delivered to customers this year. Next year and in the following years we'll sell around 3,000 to 4,000 annually, but I have to say that this is quite a rough estimate.
The old Transit used to be available with an automated manual transmission called Durashift but the new one isn't. Will you be re-introducing one in future?
We're watching developments, but we have no immediate plans. Not having one hasn't been a big disadvantage because there's not a strong demand for it.
Do you think that more and more customers are moving down to 3.5 tonnes from 7.5 tonnes in response to all the rules and regulations that surround the operation of heavier vehicles?
I think one thing that is driving this trend is internet shopping. If you're delivering, say, books bought over the internet to 20 houses in an afternoon, you don't need a very large vehicle to do it. Remember too that some cities in Europe are either prohibiting trucks from entry or penalising operators who want to bring them in by charging entrance fees.
Several of your competitors allow their light commercials to be run on fuel containing up to 30 per cent biodiesel. What's your policy?
At present we don't recommend anything stronger than five per cent. If you go higher then you run the risk of compromising reliability and durability because of the effect biodiesel may have on the engine's components.