Ford Showcases the Transit's Versatility With Vandemonium


When Ford first decided to replace the long-running E-Series van with the European-style Transit van, we were skeptical. Would Americans — and more importantly, American fleet customers — accept such a vastly different vehicle? Would a more expensive tall-roof van without a V-8 option find as many buyers as the aging, inefficient, yet perennially popular Econoline?

Several years into it the answer seems to be an unqualified "yes." The Ford Transit is the best-selling commercial van in the world, according to Ford, and the company decided to show off the van's versatility by showcasing the company's upfitters at Ford's world headquarters in Dearborn, Mich. Vandemonium, as Ford dubbed the event, brought together more than three dozen upfitters' vans ranging in scope from overlanding "adventure vans," the latest trend in personal recreational vehicles, to traditional cargo and utility trucks to luxuriously appointed family haulers that make an interesting alternative to a loaded Lincoln Navigator or Cadillac Escalade.

If you've never actually driven a new Transit, you're missing out. They're exceptionally well-balanced vehicles, easy to drive despite their size, and remarkably versatile inside and out. They're available in cargo or passenger wagon configurations, in multiple lengths, with three roof heights, a choice of three engines, six different axle configurations and three levels of beefiness that correspond to the degree of payload you're likely to need: 150, 250 or 350 models, just like an F-Series pickup truck. Suffice it to say, there's a Transit for pretty much any application most businesses have, short of towing super-heavy trailers, but Ford makes other trucks to handle those tasks.

We had a look around Vandemonium and picked out six of our favorites from the assembled offerings. Have a look at the possibilities available through a local Ford Commercial Vehicles dealer and their chosen upfitters to see what might fit your needs.

Outside Van

Started by a guy who customized his Transit and got tired of people offering to buy it, Outside Van is a custom coach builder that works with clients to build an adventure van exactly how they want it. The adventure van category is the latest thing, part of the new overlanding craze that is becoming increasingly popular with younger buyers eager to get off the grid and escape into the wilderness. The Cascade model seen here has a four-wheel-drive system, an exterior shower, a bed platform that can be raised or lowered and enough water onboard to stay off the grid for up to 30 days (provided you don't use the water for showering), according to the manufacturer. Solar panels on the roof provide power, and there's room onboard for four. A conversion like the Cascade costs about $85,000 to $95,000, not including the cost of the van itself, which will run about $50,000.


Thor Motor Coach

Class B motorhomes are increasing in popularity as well — these are RVs that use the same body as a van, with minimal size increase, and can be parked just about anywhere you'd put a large passenger van. This Gemini model from Thor Motor Coach sleeps four and even comes with a slide-out area for increased width, which is what Thor calls a Class B Plus size.


Explorer Van

Got a big family? Looking at a seven-passenger, truck-based SUV? Ready to shell out $80,000 for a loaded Chevrolet Suburban or Ford Expedition Max? Hold up — there's an alternative that might work even better. Check out the Explorer Van Transit, which has seating for seven to nine passengers in luxurious, leather-lined comfort, a tall "vista cruiser sport roof" for added sunlight and 36 percent more interior room than a full-size SUV. And the best part? The model on display stickered in the mid-$60,000 range, fully loaded, from a company that's been doing conversion vans for the better part of three decades.


Havis Prisoner Transport Vehicle

Here's the one vehicle from the event that you don't want a ride in. The Havis Prisoner Transport vehicle is what in olden times you'd call a paddy wagon — designed to transport incarcerated individuals in three separate compartments in safety, if not luxury. The entire prisoner transport module is an insert that slides into the cargo van; it's made out of white powder-coated aluminum, so it doesn't weigh all that much at a little more than 1,200 pounds. And because the system is a module, law enforcement agencies can remove it and use it in a new van, if need be, saving some money on an upgraded vehicle.


Midway Specialty Vehicles Golf Showroom

Vans can be used for all kinds of creative ventures. We found trucks that were being used as utility cargo vans, a mobile shoe shine stand and this, a mobile golf equipment showroom built for Footjoy brand shoes by Midway Specialty Vehicles. The van allows a regional sales representative to travel from pro shop to pro shop with samples of merchandise or items for sale, hawking their wares much more effectively than trying to guide prospective customers to a showroom, store or online catalog.


XL Hybrid Transit

Last but not least, one of our favorite models on display was an offering from XL Hybrid Vehicles. Using the common driveshaft-mounted motor tied to the onboard battery and control systems, the XL Hybrid Transit reportedly gets 25 percent better fuel economy than the standard Transit with either the 3.7-liter V-6 or the turbocharged 3.5-liter EcoBoost V-6 engine. We sampled an  last year and found its advertised fuel economy benefits to be readily achievable. The system costs a tick less than $10,000, which makes it an interesting sell in California, where under some conditions, a $9,000 rebate can be had from the state for electrified commercial vehicles, making it a fairly inexpensive 25 percent boost to fuel economy for fleet buyers. photos by Aaron Bragman; manufacturers



Photo of Aaron Bragman
Detroit Bureau Chief Aaron Bragman has had over 25 years of experience in the auto industry as a journalist, analyst, purchasing agent and program manager. Bragman grew up around his father’s classic Triumph sports cars (which were all sold and gone when he turned 16, much to his frustration) and comes from a Detroit family where cars put food on tables as much as smiles on faces. Today, he’s a member of the Automotive Press Association and the Midwest Automotive Media Association. His pronouns are he/him, but his adjectives are fat/sassy. Email Aaron Bragman

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