The automobile industry faces the future with caution.
The car companies must passionately pursue tomorrow, but they cannot be reckless in that pursuit.
They must remain concerned about and aware of the current needs, wants, biases and favored fantasies of their customers.
It is a tense dance in which each step can lead to success or failure. It is made more difficult by a singular reality: There are no more “home” markets, not really.
Getting it wrong in one place might spell doom for a product somewhere else in the world and lead to the loss of billions in the regional currency. Getting it right, perhaps with only a few modifications for global production and sales, will spell success.
Witness the 2017 Ford Transit van, both the full-size cargo model and the compact Connect Titanium Wagon passenger model, the latter driven for this column.
They are European concepts — engineered and sold in Britain in the 1960s and then taken by Ford to Europe and Asia. They are very European in demeanor — “full size” yet compact in presentation, deliberately multipurpose, designed to be driven on congested streets and parked in small garages.
For years, I saw Transits on European streets, used as commercial vans for family businesses and other small companies. They were the best-selling light commercial vans in Europe for 40 years.
Ford brought the Transit to North America, primarily the United States, as 2016 models. Here, in the Land of Minivans and SUVs, they underwent more changes. Small businesses, of course, loved the high roof and overhead stowage shelves of the larger models, features thankfully retained on the Connect Wagon passenger types.
But those small-business owners also had families and social lives. Ford offered them the Transit Connect Wagon XLT (also marketed as the Titanium Long Wheelbase in some regions).
It is smaller than the larger Transit van yet still can comfortably seat up to seven people. It has a smaller engine — a 2.5-liter inline four-cylinder gasoline model (169 horsepower, 171 pound-feet of torque) vs. the standard 3.7-liter V-6 (275 horsepower, 260 pound-feet of torque) in the larger van. It also is less expensive, by about $10,000.
But hints of the future are there in the Transit Connect Titanium wagon — Ford’s Sync 3 infotainment system with a 6.5-inch screen, advanced electronic safety systems (with items such as blind-side monitoring and lane-departure alerts).
Ford needs to look at Tesla and take a hint to increase the Transit Connect’s electronics and offer a larger screen. What is offered here are baby steps toward tomorrow, but the Transit Connect Wagon with Titanium trim certainly advances the notion of “minivan.” I expect to see more of them around American streets, perhaps even as gas-electric or all-electric models.
Bottom line: The Transit Connect Wagon is a good, economical vehicle for families and family enterprises and perfect for small businesses in congested areas.
Ride, acceleration and handling: C’mon. Most of us just want to get to where we want to go and haul what we need to haul — and park without incurring fines. The Connect Wagon does that quite well.
Head-turning quotients: It is ugly, or cute, depending on who is looking, or their mood.
Body style/layout: The Connect Wagon is a smaller version of the Ford Transit van. It is front-engine, front-wheel-drive. There are three trim levels, X, XL and Titanium (marketed by Ford as “wagon only”).
Engines/Transmissions: The Transit Connect Wagon comes with a 2.5-liter, 16-valve, inline four-cylinder engine with variable valve timing (169 horsepower, 171 pound-feet of torque). The engine is connected to a six-speed automatic transmission that also can be operated manually.
Capacities: It can seat up to seven people in passenger mode or be reduced to a two-seater for a small commercial hauler. Passenger cargo capacity with all seats up is 15.7 cubic feet. Total cargo capacity is 128.6 cubic feet.
Mileage: I averaged 26 miles per gallon on the highway with one passenger and no cargo. Regular-grade gasoline is okay.
Safety: Standard equipment includes front and rear ventilated disc brakes; four-wheel anti-lock brake protection; emergency braking assistance; stability and traction control; electronic anti-theft protection; and side and head air bags.
Prices: The base price for the Transit Connect Wagon is $30,325. The price as driven is $34,105, including $2,785 for options and a $995 factory-to-dealer shipment charge.