Ford says sales of its one-tonne Econetic Transit are rising, but it recognises that fleets want more options, particularly for medium wheelbase models. Econetic improves fuel consumption by more than 10%, with a similar reduction in CO2 emissions.
“The range will dramatically increase with new products and engines,” said Steve Clary, Ford commercial vehicles director. “There a real demand for it.”
The 2011 Transit, with a new Euro5 engine, will have multiple Econetic variants. The 260SWB model will have fuel savings of £1,077 over the current Eco version based on 80,000 miles, while the new Econetic 350LWB High Roof, rear-wheel drive will offer fuel savings of £3,680 over its equivalent non-Econetic variant.
While the Econetic versions will carry a price premium, Ford says this will be more than offset by the fuel savings.
However, although interest from fleets has been high in Econetic vans, Clary believes the dealer network has been poor at converting this into sales. He is looking to increase training for the corporate sales teams to boost their understanding of the technology.
“We will take staff to the CV Show for some training about eco technologies and the benefits they have for customers,” he added.
Boosting uptake of Econetic vans will also help Ford to meet the tough new CO2 emissions targets announced by the European Commission. All van makers will need to hit a range average of 175g/km by 2017, as a weighted average of their total sales.
In the second phase, manufacturers will have to meet 147g/km, by 2020.
For companies like Ford, with their heavy bias on heavier panel vans, these targets will be particularly challenging to meet.
“We are strong in the one and two-tonne segments rather than car-derived vans, so we are disappointed that the ruling isn’t related to the CO2 output versus the gross vehicle mass,” Clary said.
“Unless we can find a clever way for our bigger vehicles to meet the emissions targets, we fear it will force operators into smaller vehicles, and more of them. This will increase congestion levels.”
The larger van segments have also been responsible for driving much of the growth in sales last year, which has continued into January. Demand has come from every sector of the market, including construction, blue light, SMEs and public sector.
Ford anticipates the market for vans this year will increase by 5%, with light vans rising by 6%, medium by 13.4% and heavy by 1%.
While sales are rising, the ways in which van fleet operators fund their vehicles is changing. According to Ford, many are opting to switch to flexilease.
It points to SMMT figures which show a rise in flexilease sales from 11% of the market in 2009 to 16% last year. And that increase has been carried forward into 2011.
“Most rental and contract hire companies have got into this market,” said Clary. “In the current economic climate, there will be companies that are hesitant to go into three or four year leases, and flexilease fulfils their needs.”