Ford ramps up Transit production and green-lights 4x4

Date: Friday, October 19, 2007

Ford's long-awaited 4x4 Transit will appear in Britain during the first quarter of next year says Stephen Kimber, UK director of commercial vehicles. “It's based on the rear-wheel drive platform using the 140hp 2.4-litre Duratorq with a six-speed manual transmission and is only 50kg heavier than the standard model,” he says.

The four-wheel drive system fitted engages automatically whenever it is required. A low-height 4x4, the newcomer should be able to cope with muddy or icy surfaces, but will not have the ground clearance to tackle deeply rutted, boulder-strewn, tracks.

Prices start from £23,495 for the short-wheelbase 330 panel van and orders are being taken now.

In the meantime Ford has been battling to fill orders for its existing models.

“There's a strong demand for Transit across Europe and we've been seeing 16-week lead times; less with some models, but more with others,” Kimber admits. “However we've been protecting production destined for the UK so that British customers don't lose out and lead times are coming down all the time.

“Back in August we increased capacity at our plant in Turkey — we assemble Transit and Transit Connect there — by adding another production line,” he says. “That means we'll be able to make another 30,000 vehicles a year; maybe more.”

Ford assembles Transits in Southampton too, but the site doesn't have space for an extra line. “So we're looking at upping capacity by increasing the speed of the existing line and we believe we'll be able to build more vehicles there in 2008,” says Kimber. The factory constructs short- and medium-wheelbase models in both front- and rear-wheel drive guise.

Lead times may of course become less of an issue in 2008 if Kimber's predictions are fulfilled. “I believe the van market will be flat next year,” he states. “I don't think we'll see a lot of growth.”

Kimber and his colleagues are apparently in no rush to produce a rival to the newly introduced Fiat Fiorino/Citroën Nemo/Peugeot Bipper family of compact light vans. “It's certainly something we'll look at, but we have to ask ourselves if the sales volume will justify the investment required,” he comments.

While the possible sales impact of these new products doesn't appear to concern him unduly, what he is worried about is the prospect of a varied approach to congestion charging and low emission zones as the two concepts spread out from London to other big UK cities over the next few years. Some places may have different emission requirements from others he fears and that's a recipe for chaos.

“We can't produce one van for London and a different one for, say, Manchester,” he says. “Unfortunately there doesn't appear to be any consistency of thinking from one authority to another when the fact is that there should be a common policy; not just in the UK, but right across Europe.”


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