Ford Transit Connect in Los Angeles -- click above image for high-res gallery

Things that don't surprise us Late August, 2009 Edition: Brett Favre acting like a spoiled seven-year-old, devastating fires threatening huge chunks of drought-plagued Los Angeles and the fact that Ford sold over 2,000 Transit Connect vans in its first month here in the States. Why? Because Ford's little van is not only a smart product, but it fills a much needed and until now empty niche.

For more than a decade, Ford has been selling smart but small little panel vans (starting with the Escort Van) all over Europe. Small businesses in need of a right-sized, practical work truck flock to them and are rewarded with a low initial cost, low total cost and good mileage. Especially the diesels. But here in the U.S., no such vehicle existed. Until last month.

To quote Ford, "Around the country, small business operators and fleet customers are quickly adding Ford Transit Connect vehicles as an efficient mobility solution for their respective enterprises." Sure, these same businesses and fleets could have chosen something like a Chevy HHR Panel, but those were designed first and foremost as passenger cars and the lack of cargo space proves it. Whereas the Transit Connect was a work vehicle from the start, featuring useful items like dual-sliding rear doors and a low load-in height.

What types of businesses are buying the Transit Connects? "Laundry mats, caterers, door and lock companies, painters, electricians, restaurant suppliers, satellite dish installers, carpet installers and commercial carpet cleaners." Again, companies that have traditionally been underserved by large platforms like F-150s or Econolines. Full press release below the fold.


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Press Release

FIRST FULL MONTH OF TRANSIT CONNECT SALES TOP 2,000; FORD VAN HITS AS SMALL BUSINESS OUTLOOK IMPROVES
  • Ford's new Transit Connect compact van enters the market with a strong first full month of sales, topping 2,000 units
  • Vehicles are selling under 10 days of arrival on dealer lots, significantly quicker than current industry norms
  • Optimism among small business owners is up nearly 7 percent in the second quarter of 2009; the number of owners who say now is the time to expand is up 3 percent over the last quarter
  • Reflecting market optimism, 9 percent of small business owners plan to hire additional staff within the next three months

Dearborn, Mich., Aug. 31, 2009 –The first full month of sales for the 2010 Ford Transit Connect tops 2,000 units. Vehicles are selling in fewer than 10 days of arriving on dealer lots, significantly quicker than industry norms.

Around the country, small business operators and fleet customers are quickly adding Ford Transit Connect vehicles as an efficient mobility solution for their respective enterprises. In Charlotte, N.C., seven Transit Connect vehicles were sold to Neil Medical Group, a firm that delivers medical supplies to nursing homes and convalescent centers.
Entrepreneurs recognize a smart business solution when they see it. And they are acting quickly, to put Transit Connect to work on their behalf. "Anxious Transit Connect customers are buying up vehicles in stock, regardless of trim level or equipment," said Butch Gosline, commercial business manager for Ford's Mid-Atlantic region. "They want a Transit Connect, and they want it working for them right away."

With heavy traffic, urban hustle and bustle, tight parking, retail commerce, tourism and hospitality, it's no surprise that Chicago businesses large and small have taken Ford's versatile new Transit Connect to heart. According to Jody Slucker, commercial business manager in Ford's North Central region, the Chicago market leads the nation in Transit Connect fleet and business sales. "A customer called a Chicago dealer, asking about Transit Connect," Slucker offered. "When the salesperson responded that the first two units had just arrived, the caller promised to be there in 15 minutes. He took both vehicles."

Early Transit Connect buyers represent a cross section of the small business landscape, including laundry mats, caterers, door and lock companies, painters, electricians, restaurant suppliers, satellite dish installers, carpet installers and commercial carpet cleaners.

Meanwhile, three recent surveys of small business owners show entrepreneurs are seeing positive marketplace signals. With cautious optimism, business owners continue to judiciously evaluate costs and seek viable, efficient solutions for their businesses. "We see rising optimism among small business owners and strong demand for arriving Transit Connect vehicles among this group as reflections of an encouraging economic uptick," said Len Deluca, director, Ford Commercial Truck Sales and Marketing.

The Quarterly Indicators newsletter (http://www.sba.gov/advo/research/sbqei0902.pdf ), released by the Small Business Administration's Office of Advocacy on Aug. 12, 2009, reports that small business owners are seeing some economic light at the end of the tunnel. For the second quarter of 2009, small business owners and the public were increasingly optimistic.

In separate reports, the National Federation of Independent Business's (NFIB) optimism index and the University of Michigan's consumer sentiment survey both show positive trending. The NFIB optimism index is up by 6.9 percent, and the number of entrepreneurs responding that "now is a good time to expand" is up by 3 percent. As expansion objectives are somewhat tempered by bleak retail sales across business categories, small business owners continue to seek smart solutions to improve efficiency and control costs.

A demonstration of this gathering optimism is the NFIB finding of 9 percent of small business owners planning to add staff within the next three months. Rising consumer optimism is up 13.5 percent in the latest University of Michigan findings.

With Transit Connect vehicles arriving at Ford dealerships nationwide, small business owners are reacting positively and decisively to this versatile and fuel-efficient business tool. The Southern California region is leading the retail market for Transit Connect sales to nonbusiness users. Dealers report sales to a diverse range of hobbyists needing extra space to efficiently haul everything from show dogs to motor scooters.

An EPA rating of 22 mpg city/25 highway – combined with the payload capacity of a full-size half-ton pickup truck – positions Transit Connect as a compelling alternative for busy, cost-conscious proprietors and retail buyers alike.

"Dealers in my region are telling me Transit Connect is generating incremental sales," said Gosline. "The unique combination of payload, compact overall dimensions and fuel economy is bringing in customers they've never seen before."