April 9, 2020

Ford looks for growth with conversions

Already dominating the new van market, Ford sees potential to add volume through conversions, reports Dan Gilkes.

Commercial vehicles are a critical component of Ford’s success across Europe. While that might seem obvious in the UK, where the company’s Transit range has dominated the LCV market for decades, things have not always been the same across the Continent. In the last five years, Ford of Europe’s CV sales have grown by 50%, with the company claiming market leadership across the 20 EU countries in which it has a stand-alone business. That’s some result, given that Ford admits it was number seven in that market in 2012.

In 2019, Ford achieved a 29% share of the pick-up sector across Europe, along with a 20% share for the 1-tonne Transit Custom and a 12% share in small vans, such as Courier, Connect and FiestaVan. Its 2-tonne full-size Transit claimed a 14% share of the market, prompting Ford of Europe’s CV general manager Hans Schep to forecast a further increase in sales this year.

“Our 2-tonne Transit still has a way to go in growth,” he said, adding: “But we are not in business to be number one, we are number one as a result. We are in business to make our customers’ business thrive.”

With a recently updated range of vans and pick-ups on offer, there is little that the company can do to make the actual vehicles a more attractive proposition to those customers. Further developments therefore have to come through additions to the vehicle. Ford is looking to increase sales through development of both its conversion business and in connected services.

Bodybuilder assistance

Simon Robinson, chief programme engineer at Ford’s CV Special Vehicle Operations business, says that at least 80% of large Transit models undergo some sort of conversion work. With that in mind, SVO is constantly working to make life easier for converters, by providing a wide range of options across the Ford LCV range.

“The days of one vehicle fits all are long gone,” said Robinson.

Over 400 conversion companies from across Europe recently visited Ford’s Dunton Campus in Essex, the international home of Transit, to see the latest developments and to preview forthcoming models. At the heart of many conversions is Ford’s Body and Equipment Mounting Manual (BEMM), which is available to all of the company’s approved converters, under the Qualified Vehicle Modifier (QVM) programme and through Ford’s One-Stop-Shop business.

BEMM provides a guide to how to safely carry out conversion work on a Ford vehicle, retaining the Ford warranty. The guide lays out the huge range of special options that are available to customers and to converters. Often created for a single customer, to solve individual requirements, many of these options are then offered to other converters for possible inclusion in their own products.

This can include factory-fit towing electrics, that work with Ford’s Trailer Sway Control system, a wide range of batteries and charging systems, overload protection, various seating configurations, even a choice of 139 special paint finishes. There is a composite rear leaf spring that provides an additional 15kg of payload for motorhome conversions and a touchscreen that can be used to control third-party apps and systems within the conversion, for additional lighting, water heaters and inverters.

The company is not just looking at the hardware and software involved in converting its vehicles, but is also helping bodybuilders to meet legislative requirements. With the introduction of WLTP, converters often have to complete a second stage Certificate of Conformity (CoC) for the finished vehicle.

Ford provides a calculation tool for converters that allows them to work out their WLTP CO2 and fuel economy figures. Ford provides the van or chassis with a Stage 1 CoC and the converter then inputs new frontal area, mass and rolling resistance data, to calculate changes to the WLTP figures.