Ford Econoline Will Say Goodbye in 2013 – Function No Longer Needs its Form
Published September 3, 2012
The Ford Econoline van will say goodbye after the last 2013 model rolls off the assembly line. These vans, some capable of moving a small country in one trip, have had a hell of a run, debuting in 1961. Over the past 50 plus years, they really have not changed much other than some upgrades in body styling to make them more appealing to buyers. They have been built in Lorain County, Ohio since the first one rolled off the line, and have been being produced in smaller numbers in recent years, making way for their eventual demise. Between the monstrous size and poor gas mileage, it was a given that they would not last much longer in an era where hybrids are becoming more common, and fuel-efficiency is for some, the only reason they buy a certain vehicle.
As the Ford Econoline production ends, it will be replaced by the Ford Transit Connect, which until now, has been built in Europe and sold there and in other foreign countries. Ford however is not the only maker of a huge people and cargo moving land yacht to make a change, Chrysler’s Ram vans will be replaced by a smaller, more economical version soon as well. The reason these size of a small bus vans have held on so long, is that America has the, if it is not broke, why fix it attitude. European buyers seem to always look forward to and have come to expect new models every few years, whereas Americans have had to wait dozens of years for vehicles to be completely redesigned to catch up with modern technology. Just as a comparison, in the same amount of time Toyota has redesigned the Corolla eleven times, the Big Three have only redesigned the short buses two to three times. So why have we held onto these antiquated gas-guzzling vans for so long? Perhaps it is a way to hold on to the past, when owning a huge van was the “in” thing.
Turn the clock back to 1976. While I understand most of the people reading this were not even remotely close to being thought of in 1976, vans were the “groovy” vehicle to own. These inexpensive to produce vans were both family transport and a party palace on wheels. Automakers saw the popularity of these monsters and took advantage of it. Only when SUVs started to emerge in the 80s did these hotel rooms on wheels start to turn slightly back to their utilitarian form. Even then, these vans have held on for another 30 plus years. Part of this was due to exemptions from federal passenger car safety and emissions rules that the big automakers lobbied to instill. Ford, GM and Chrysler wanted to hang on to their money-making vehicles, as the initial investment in them has long since paid for itself, leaving them to enjoy nothing but profit. Which leads us back to the theory, “if it is not broke, why fix it”.
On the other side, you also have to look at the other uses for the Ford Econoline cab and frame that has kept them going. Ambulance manufacturers, who once used a pickup truck cab and frame, realized that there needed to be more access to the rear of the ambulance as advances in emergency medicine allowed more to be done than just hauling someone from point A to the hospital. Therefore, using the diesel equipped Econoline vans; ambulance manufacturers now had the perfect base to build a usable ambulance on. I know myself I spent quite a few years behind the wheel of a big diesel powered E-350 based ambulance, and actually preferred them to the older Dodge trucks that were transformed in the earlier years. While I am not sure the new Transit Connect will catch on as good ambulance base, perhaps another idea will emerge for a vehicle to be used as a suitable emergency vehicle.
The first glimpse the public has had to these new mini cargo vans has been until recently, the Freightliner/Dodge Sprinter. I myself have driven the diesel version, and compared to driving an ambulance for instance, they seem to be much more agile and responsive. While neither a full-size van nor Sprinter allow an adult of normal height to stand up straight in them, people like me of the shorter stature actually find them much easier to get in and out of than the big full-size vans. They however, are somewhat expensive and seem to be somewhat cheaply constructed. Not quite the caliber as the Ram vans that they are destined to replace. While I have not had a reason to drive a Transit Connect, I cannot comment on the cargo area.
So, now a little information on the Ford Econoline replacement, the Transit Connect. The Transit Connect is obviously smaller and lighter than the Econoline, so obviously will be more economical and easier to drive. Replacing the big V8 and V10 that so comfortably powered the E-Series is an EcoBoost V6, with a four-cylinder turbo diesel to arrive in the near future. Its American production line will also be moved to the United States from its current home in Turkey. The Transit Connect offers most of the same amenities as the full-size van, just in a smaller version. While it will provide easier access for loading and unloading cargo and will provide better maneuverability especially for city driving and parking, it will still take a while for people to get used to. For those who have been around long enough to remember the van craze of the 70s, it will also be a reminder that all good things must come to an end. The reality of today is that is no longer acceptable for a vehicle to only get 8 or 10mpg, and with the cost of gas, it is also not good on the finances of those trying to use vans to make a living.
So, say goodbye to yet another gas-guzzling Ford Econoline that America has been holding on to, as well as a few more full-size vans in the next few years. Soon, they will be forgotten along with all the other vehicles that become “impractical”. So hold onto those pictures of you with your hippy outfit and party van, someday they will be the only way to explain to your great-grandkids what a “real” van was.
Categories: Production Cars