Volume 15 | Issue 1 | Year 2012

Ford Motor Company continually strives to make its commercial work truck products ever more attractive to customers – take reduced fuel consumption, for instance.

“One of the most important things we’re doing – and this relates to a major auto industry trend – is offering alternative fuel packages,” says Mike Levine, Ford’s truck communications manager, “whether this involves the electric Transit Connect model, the new gasoline version of our F-650, or the F-250 biofuel model. We realize that our customers have access to different fuels that enable them to lower their operating costs. So we work with third-party partners to offer the kinds of fuel options that make the most sense for these customers. In the process, we keep it ‘green.’”

One of the most significant introductions for 2012 is the medium-duty F-650 and F-750 trucks now available with the 6.8-liter V-10 Triton gasoline engine option, he says. This will increase the appeal for North American customers, who have specific needs. “We’re responding to customer requests for lower purchase price and lower operating costs,” he says. “After all, gasoline is cheaper than diesel fuel by about 30 cents per gallon.”

Indeed, the response relates to increasing price sensitivity about diesel engines. “Customers don’t want to pay the premium for a diesel engine, and they don’t want to pay the high costs for diesel fuel,” says Levine. “They know that a gas engine can better meet their fuel needs, in terms of price, and still capably serve their needs.”

The F-650 and F-750 models, introduced in 2011, were already attractive. These medium duty trucks possess remarkable power. Further, they feature PowerScope™ mirrors for better towing visibility. Also, these are the only Class 6 trucks that offer a SuperCab model. The SuperCab provides the convenience of easy access to four doors with a rear 60/40 flip-up cushion that provides passenger/cargo-carrying versatility. And speaking of versatility, Ford’s medium duty trucks provide customers choices: from power ratings, axles, exhaust and tank options to cab configurations, plus GVWRs available from 22,000 pounds to Class 8-capable 37,000 pounds. The F-650’s and F-750’ features are attractive and numerous, like the full power brakes with a four-piston system for responsive pedal feel and performance.

WHAT’S NEW
As far as for 2012, Levine points the Transit Connect, which the company describes as a vehicle that combines the comforts of a car with the utility of a truck. “Already, working with our partner in Zurich, Switzerland, we offer an electric version of the Transit Connect,” reports Levine. “Eventually we will have both cargo and wagon electric versions.”

The Transit’s comfort comes from its bucket seats, a floor shifter and sporty instrumentation, the company describes. This commercial van boasts 129 cubic feet of cargo space and a maximum payload capacity of 1,600 pounds (when properly equipped), yet it handles as easily as a car when drivers need to negotiate their way through heavy traffic or parallel park on busy city streets. Features include sliding side doors on both the driver and passenger sides, plus two swing-out rear doors with 180-degree or 255-degree swing angle. Also, owners can customize the Transit Connect by arranging the storage cabinets, ladder racks, dividers, drawers, etc. to meet their specific business needs.

Ford commercial work trucks lineup also include:

  • The E-Series Van – which provides considerable power when it comes to hauling and towing. Properly equipped, the van can pull up to 10,000 pounds, which reduces the number of necessary trips and, in turn, lowers the operating costs;
  • The E-Series Wagon – which offers power, strength, comfort, and abundant and versatile cargo capacity. From the E-150 XL regular length wagon to the E-350 Super Duty® XLT extended length Wagon, available seating configurations and packages enable the user to comfortably accommodate as many as 15 people. At the same time, the vehicle still provides ample cargo room. Ford has left nothing behind. Two trailer towing packages and other features make towing easier;
  • The E-Series Cutaway – These vans also offer considerable power for hauling and towing, while providing driver comfort. Like the E-Series van, this model – specifically the E-350 and E-450 – can pull up to 10,000 pounds. Purchasers benefit from innovative technologies integrated into the design, such as the trailer brake controller, which makes the vehicle a smart one.

But these aren’t all. Both the Ford Super Duty Pickup and the Chassis Cab boast a strong frame that withstands everyday rigors of heavy hauling and towing. As the company indicates, the frame is a truck’s foundation – indeed its backbone. Ford provides a strong spine.

PRODUCTION SHIFT
Just as Ford’s truck operation reinvents its models to meet customers’ needs, it reinvents itself. Big plans have been developed as the decade plays out. Ford will dramatically change production related to the F-650 and F-750 medium-duty trucks and introduce a new full-size van model that will eventually replace the E-Series.

Within the next three to four years, Ford will bring to an end a 10-year joint venture with Navistar International. “The collaboration is called Blue Diamond Truck LLC and it currently manufactures the medium duty F-650 and F-750 trucks in Escobedo, Mexico, for the North American market,” relates Levine. “We will shift the mid-size truck production to our plant in Avon Lake, Ohio, where we build our E-Series trucks. Over the next 10 years, the E-Series – which includes the Van, the Wagon, and the Cutaway models – will be gradually phased out.”

At the same time, the F53 motor home chassis and the F-59 commercial stripped chassis production will shift from Detroit to Avon Lake, he adds.

GOING TO KANSAS CITY
Further, the Ford Transit, a full-sized van – which is based on a global platform and currently built in Europe – will come to Ford’s Kansas City Assembly Plant in Kansas City, Mo. The van will eventually replace the E-Series in North America, though both will be offered side by side until the E-Series is finally phased out. “Ford is making a large investment in Kansas City,” says Levine, “with money going to a stamping plant and to start building the Transit here. It’s not like the Transit goes into production one day and the E-series suddenly stops. Rather, this will entail an E-Series variance that will be produced through most of the decade.”

Also, in Kansas City, Ford will build its next-generation F-150 model.

As Ford reports, these significant moves result in part from the labor agreement ratified near the end of 2011 between the company and 41,000 employees represented by the United Auto Workers (UAW) union. The new four-year contract means that Ford plans to add 12,000 hourly jobs in its US manufacturing facilities (including in-sourcing work from Mexico, China and Japan). The company adds that the contract also means $16 billion worth of investments in US product development and manufacturing operations – including $6.2 billion in plant-specific investments – by 2015.

Investments include:

  • $128 million in the Avon Lake facility
  • $1.1 billion in the Kansas City facility

These changes amount to tectonic shifts for a major auto manufacture, and Levine explains the reasoning: “We want to be smarter about how we use our resources.”

And, sure, these moves are self-serving: The company wants to reinforce, and then advance, its position in the US truck market. The shift to in-house production will enable it to streamline and, in turn, bolster its engineering and manufacturing of the next-generation medium-duty trucks. “Down the road, we will have some great new products coming out,” says Levine.

However, altruistic motives do come into play. The changes demonstrate Ford’s commitment to investing in and supporting US manufacturing. Above all, the company wants to provide customers with the best product. By increasing fuel efficiency while decreasing operating costs and cost of ownership, Ford’s trucks will help strengthen customers’ own businesses.

That’s the bottom line.

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