Behind the Wheel

Your Amazon delivery driver has a secret - she's actually quite comfortable

The Ford Transit offers more comfort than it looks like it should.

Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company

Amazon delivery drivers are all over the map. Chances are if you're out and about you'll pass at least one during the day if you live in a major metropolitan area or its suburbs - their fleet was made up of at least 30,000 in December 2019 and has expanded since then. Most of that driving is done behind the wheel of three different vans: Ram ProMaster, Mercedes-Benz Sprinter, and Ford Transit.

The vast majority of Americans has never driven any of those. When they think of the word van, their minds inevitably go to the Honda Odyssey, Chrysler Pacifica, and Toyota Sienna before it gets anywhere close to those models. In the U.S., the ProMaster, Sprinter, and Transit are primarily designated for hauling tools and equipment to and from jobs, moving students to and from after school activities, and making deliveries.

2021 Ford Transit The Transit has gotten some new package options for the 2021 model year.Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company

2021 Ford Transit

In an economy that has gone increasingly toward online shopping, Amazon vans are the ants of the roadway. They start in storage lots each day (nowadays that's often unused off-site airport parking lots or at empty office buildings) then spend their days making their way across a small subsection of your town.

That to-and-from is done in surprising comfort if they're in a Ford Transit. Ford recently lent a Transit for review and the there was one major takeaway - it's not a bad place to spend your day (unless there's a driving rain storm - more on that later).

The steel unibody of the Transit stretches to a maximum 148-inch wheelbase. That's about the same as your average Ford Super Duty. What is essentially a large box on wheels with a pinched front end is powered by either a 3.5-liter V6 or a turbocharged 3.5-liter V6. The tester had the turbo, which delivered 310 horsepower and 400 pound-feet of torque, which was brilliant off the line when the cargo area wasn't brimming with packages. It got up to speed better than some of the small SUVs regularly making their way through the test drive fleet.

The rear portion of the Transit is printed for aftermarket rack installation - something that Amazon's fleet is equipped with.Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company

Driving the Transit is surprisingly easy. There are pickups that are harder to park. Navigating a crowded parking lot and busy city street in the Transit was easy thanks to its connected and accurate steering, which makes it move more like a Fusion than an F-150, and plenty of forward visibility and large mirrors. The Transit just barely fits into modern parking lot spaces, not unlike it's heavy-duty truck counterparts.

It's not particularly high-tech, but it doesn't need to be. The infotainment screen is straight out of the modern Ford passenger car lineup, meaning it has plenty of connectivity options, and all its climate controls are straightforward in operation. Abundant small item storage makes up the bulk of the lower center console space.

The Transit is big on space. The rear three-quarters of an empty one is large enough to hold a socially distance dance party for a group of three-year olds, or a shift's worth of Amazon packages. When empty, the body of the van is more like a tin can than a typical family hauler. A light rainfall is as pleasing as a drip, drop on a steel roof. A downpour becomes loud enough to require sound-deadening headphones - something not permitted in most states - to allow oneself to think.

The interior of the Transit is plenty spacious for one or two people.Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company

For the 2021 model year, Ford has updated the Transit offerings to include recreational vehicle and parcel delivery option packages. For 2022, there are big changes ahead. That's when the E-Transit is introduced, giving a new all-electric commercial option to companies. It will start under $45,000 and have a 126-mile range.

Ford instructed the E-Transit earlier this year and showed off similar styling to the current model, but with a fresh interior that brings high-tech components of its traditional passenger cars forward. Whether or not it will be as comfortable or easy to drive as the 2020 Transit has yet to be seen.

The E-Transit will likely be added to Amazon's lineup in the coming years, along with Rivian's customized electric van, which is currently being tested.

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Research and development

Ford names site for battery development facility

Ford's new facility will house battery research and development.

Ford

Ford is in the news again for its electrification efforts, this time with the confirmation of a Michigan location for a new battery research and development facility in Romulus, Michigan. The facility may eventually help Ford in-source much of its EV supply chain, a shift that could prevent or mitigate the challenges presented by parts and technology shortages.

As part of its electrification initiative, the automaker plans to build a new research and development facility, called Ford Ion Park. The facility will house new tech research, pilot programs for new manufacturing techniques, and will help give Ford more control over its supply chain.


Ford Ion Park Once complete, the facility will initially house 200 engineers.Ford


The price tag for the new facility and related efforts lands at $185 million, which sounds like chump change for a global automaker until we consider that Ford has committed $30 billion to electrification by 2025. The automaker says that its new facility renews its dedication to Michigan as its home base for EV development, a promise it originally made back in 2010. The company's new electric F-150 Lightning pickup truck will be built in Dearborn, which will add 500 jobs. An additional 225 jobs will be retained at Ford's Dyke Electric Powertrain Center.

As part of Phase One of the project, Ford plans to hire 200 engineers within 18 months of the 270,000-square-foot facility's opening. Ironically, the site was previously owned by A123 Systems, a battery manufacturer that closed the facility in 2017 due to low demand for batteries.


Ford Ion Park Ford has committed $185 million to the new facility and related efforts.Ford

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New off-roader

Ford Bronco Production Officially Begins

The Ford Bronco is finally ready for primetime.

Ford

The time is finally here. After years of speculation and several months of pandemic-related delays, the Ford Bronco is starting to roll off the assembly line. The SUV marks the first new Bronco model in Ford's lineup in 15 years, not counting the Bronco Sport, and is one of the most hyped and sought-after vehicles to hit the market in quite some time. Ford's announcement that production has begun will be accompanied by a special YouTube presentation that Ford says will include interviews with the Bronco team and with reservation holders at the automaker's new Modification Center.


2021 Ford Bronco Ford added 2,700 jobs to support Bronco production.Ford


Bronco production has driven Ford to invest $750 million into its Michigan Assembly Plant, and the automaker says it has added 2,700 jobs to support the rollout. Ford's push to begin production can't come soon enough. Over 125,000 Bronco orders have been placed, and multiple delays have pushed the vehicle's arrival back, meaning there is considerable demand for the off-road legend.

Ford is ready to capitalize on the craze and will offer several ways to customize the new vehicle. At its 1.7 million square-foot Modification Center, The Blue Oval will factory-install several optional modifications that include equipment such as a front bumper safari bar, graphics packages, roof racks, and more. That's on top of more than 200 factory-backed accessories that can be installed at the dealer, either at or after the time of purchase.


2021 Ford Bronco Delays and production difficulties have pushed the Bronco back.Ford


If you are hoping to get behind the wheel of a new Bronco, it could be a while. Even buyers that have been in line for a while now might not see their new vehicle until late 2021 or 2022, and the vehicle's official rollout will almost certainly re-spike demand. Even so, many feel it's worth the wait, and Ford's vehicle configuration tool is live, so go check it out for yourself.

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