Q&A: Ford Transit Custom designer

CommercialMotor.com speaks to Paul Campbell, Ford of Europe chief designer, about his work developing the next generation of the iconic Ford Transit van.

CM: How important was it for the new Transit to incorporate the Kinetic Design principles of the passenger car range? And, which car does it most closely resemble and why?

Kinetic Design is the face of Ford. Unifying Ford products globally so for me it was essential to follow the kinetic principles. There is no one car that influenced the Transit Custom, we are a global organisation and we share our work very regularly and take notice of new developments continually. I would say that Iosis X was an initial influence and we developed and borrowed elements from Focus, Fiesta as well as our own input.

CM: How long has the design of the new Transit taken?

From start to surface release, 22 months. We have a development process where at the start of the project we have several proposals which are funnelled down to two. After some development and market research we settle on one design to develop.

CM: Transits have a familiar yet distinctive look. What defines this as a Transit van, and were there any problems to overcome in the design?

This is a short and medium wheelbase low roof Transit as far as the rational, pragmatic dimensional descriptions go. We went to great pains to ensure existing Transit owners would experience improvement on all aspects of their last Transit. I believe I can still see Transit in the robust stance – the way it sits on the road. For me, repositioning the SWB/MWB low roof to be universally perceived as a one-tonne vehicle (rather than something larger) was the main challenge.

CM: The new Transit will be a global vehicle. How did that affect the design of the interior and exterior?

Good appearance is a global constant. The differences arise in the legal or environmental requirements, so we embraced the most stringent dimensional and regional constraints. We designed the interior to be loved by the owner/driver hence the car-like and driver focussed cockpit. Obviously Transit is a hard working vehicle and although the materials used have a car-like appearance they are built to commercial vehicle specifications for durability.

CM: Transit Custom will be roughly the same dimensions as the current Transit, which struggles against some vehicles in its class on loadspace and payload. Have any changes been made to the cargo area?

We improved the functionality of the cargo area, we lifted the tie-downs from the floor – protecting cargo as it is slid in and out of the van. We improved the shape of the bulkhead to enable us to package three [rather than two] euro pallets. We also have included a floor level hatch in the bulkhead that opens to expose additional stowage under the passenger dual seats enabling the carrying of long items like lengths of copper pipe.

Read the full exclusive interview with Paul Campbell in the print edition of Commercial Motor 19 April.

CAP: outlook for the used light CV market

Tim Cattlin, Editor at CAP Monitor Commercial Vehicle, writes:

It goes without saying that 2011 has been an interesting year in the used light commercials market. Of course, the story really begins in 2008 when new registrations faltered, before going into freefall. That inevitably created a shortfall in the usual levels of used stock three years down the line, which we saw this year, albeit with not as severe an impact as we might have expected.

The first unexpected supply story this year was the increase in supply in the early months, following a series of significant businesses exiting the market including Rok group, Leaseway, Newtown, Connaught and TLS. Prices then inevitably softened in response to the increased volume in the open marketplace. This situation was only reversed in the summer when volume dried up to a large extent, leading to stronger values. But in the autumn there was a strong sense in the trade that higher trade values were not sustainable due to weakness on the retail side and buyers were increasingly prepared to walk away from damaged vehicles or move on if their initial bids were not accepted.

Weakening prices

Our research data indicated that overall prices being realised peaked in the closing days of October and early November and since then have been weakening slightly. Vendors are reporting that conversion rates have slipped. Traders are suggesting that, although restricted for choice, retail buyers are crying ‘enough is enough’ and prices have reached a point which they are unwilling to pay and stock is staying on the forecourt.

We’re also seeing evidence that the quantity of entries at auction is fluctuating. The reduction in the quantity of vehicles being offered we saw in the first few weeks of autumn is no longer uniform across the country and in some weeks the level of entries has been quite buoyant. The thought is that maybe as conversion rates have slipped, the same vehicles are being re-entered into the following week’s sale, or at an alternative centre.

Uneasy balance

Having set the scene, what does the immediate future hold? The view of CAP Monitor is that next year will see an uneasy balance of supply and demand. With the potential bonus of an Olympic-related feel good factor, provided there are no more unforeseen shocks, we anticipate used LCV values to remain broadly in line with those measured in late 2011.

After that we are expecting the situation to continue improving in 2013. Cautious optimism about the economy should by then be on the rise and the used market will be stimulated by businesses unable to postpone vehicle replacement any longer. With more buyers chasing stock which is still scarce, values should remain above the long-term trend. It will be in 2014 that prices begin to stabilise and return to the more familiar pattern because supply will be starting to increase by this point.

In summary, we are anticipating some difficult times ahead but the choke on supply will prevent any kind of values meltdown. It is only to be hoped that the supply picture will not change dramatically due to further business failures because that would threaten the fragile balance of supply and demand that we currently foresee.