'Backbone of Britain’ celebrations put on hold as Ford puts Transit to work

By Jim McGill
Thursday, 30th April 2020, 10:00 am
Updated Thursday, 30th April 2020, 10:01 am

The good old Ford Transit, that ubiquitous workhorse spotted every day on roads across the length and breadth of Britain, is celebrating its 55th birthday and sales of more than three million across the UK.

Normally, that would be reason enough for Ford to through a big party. But these, as we know, are not normal times and the Transit, first produced at Ford’s Langley Plant in 1965 and understandably labelled the ‘Backbone of Britain’, is now doing its best for the NHS.

While the birthday celebrations should have been going on at the Commercial Vehicle Show 2020 this week, instead Ford’s own Transit fleet has been redeployed to assist the NHS and other organisations in the battle against the Coronavirus pandemic.

Aside from Ford vehicles already in operation with the emergency services, more than 200 Ford of Britain demonstrator, pool and press vehicles have been deployed to 40 different organisations — including 10 NHS ambulance service trusts — in support of their community-focused work. This vehicle total includes 131 Transit vans.

Ford's own Transit fleet has been redeployed to assist organisations across the UK (Photo: Ford)

“Throughout this unprecedented crisis, the van economy has made an unrelenting and continued contribution to the well-being of this country,” Mandy Dean, director, Commercial Vehicles, Ford of Britain, said.

“As soon as we saw the huge rise in demand for vehicles to support everything from home deliveries to providing transport for care homes, we took action and pressed into urgent service every available Transit and other vehicle in our fleet.”

So, there’s a lot of Ford’s own Transits out there?

Yup. Currently 38 Transits, 12 Transit Connects, eight Transit Customs, three Transit Couriers and two Ranger pick-ups are on duty with fleets, more than half of which represent NHS ambulance service trusts and other “blue light” services.

Around a quarter of the vehicles are on loan to food retailers, with others supporting other delivery services, all coping with higher than normal demand. Pre-Covid crisis the UK was already leading Europe in internet shopping, with around 85 per cent of Brits purchasing online last year.

The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) says around one in 10 British workers are dependent on a van to carry out their work; that equates to around 3.4 million people. It also contributes to why the UK is becoming increasingly reliant on commercial vehicles, as evidenced by the growth in van sales in recent years.

Does that mean there will be more pollution?

Far from it. Long gone are the days when a smelly, polluting diesel-powered van was the first choice for delivery drivers. Now greener, more fuel efficient plug-in hybrids (PHEVs) are the choice of many amid increasing regulatory pressure to reduce emissions and improve local air quality.

Just over a year ago, London’s Ultra Low Emission Zone was introduced. Ford immediately used the initiative to trial its Transit Custom PHEV, and so successful were the tests that today the model is on-sale at Ford dealerships across the UK. Plus it’s been approved for the Plug-in Van Grant by the Office for Low Emission Vehicles (OLEV), making it eligible for up to £8,000 off its list price.

Plug-in hybrid Transits are already on sale (Photo: Ford)

Any more techie developments?

Oh yes. From later this year, the Transit Custom PHEV will benefit from geofencing technology. This clever system enables the vehicle to automatically switch to zero-emission driving on “EV Now” mode when entering a low-emission zone, or a user-specified geofenced area.

In addition, FordPass Connect modems will feature as standard on all Ford commercial vehicles, including Fiesta Van, all Transit and Tourneo family models and Ranger pick-up. Plus as an aftermarket option for Courier. This technology will help ensure businesses comply with emissions zone requirements and reduce the likelihood of charges or penalties.

Also later this year, the Fiesta Van will be available with mild-hybrid (mHEV) technology on 125PS variants of the 1.0-litre EcoBoost, targeting CO2 emissions of 96g/km and fuel economy of 56mpg.

What about an all-electric battery Transit?

You’re one step ahead of me. The Transit will soon enter a new electrification phase in Europe with an all-electric Battery Electric Vehicle (BEV). The model will also be sold in the US.

That’s great; but how is Ford helping struggling customers?

For anyone wanting to purchase a new commercial vehicle, Ford has introduced what it calls its a “Peace of Mind” programme.

In collaboration with Ford Credit, Ford’s in-house bank, Ford is providing cashback to help cover three monthly payments, or a reduction to the same value on the amount borrowed. With the option to also defer finance payments for the first three months, customers are eligible for up to six months of payment-free vehicle ownership from delivery.

“We like to think of our strong commercial vehicle range and our market leadership as being the ‘Backbone of Britain’, and this has never been more applicable than during this current crisis,” Dean continued.

“It’s also true that operators of vans of all makes and sizes have all played their part in helping to keep goods and people moving and the economy running through the pandemic. Together, we all truly are, the ‘Backbone of Britain’.”

Around a quarter of the vehicles are on loan to food retailers (Photo: Ford)