Ford is betting that at future holiday dinners, 2060s ‘tweens will stare at antiquated JPEGs, giggling.
“Hey, Joey, Grandma and Granddad use to live in a van!”
“Not just a van, Chloe. A Ford Transit Trail.”
An all-wheel-drive medium-duty van about the size of an airport shuttle or UPS van, the new 2023 Transit Trail aims to transform Ford’s workhorse into a vacation getaway/rolling residence for anything from weekend trips to years of residence.
“People often ask us what our favorite place is and our answer is constantly changing because we are always discovering new places,” write Joe and Kait Russo, who have traveled throughout North America living in a variety of vehicles since 2015.
They currently have a Storyteller Overland class B van built on a 2021 Ford Transit AWD chassis, after several years with a Ford F-350 crew cab pickup with a bed camper. They began van life with an RV on a Ford F53 chassis. The Russos write RV travel guides and tips.
They also have a brick-and-mortar house, but the U.S. Census Bureau estimates about 140,000 people live in cars, boats or motor homes. Some do it by choice, others by necessity, as depicted in the Academy Award-winning film “Nomadland.”
The basic idea: Ford does what it’s good at, building a vehicle with the latest safety and convenience features.
DIYers and aftermarket shops take it from there, transforming Ford’s blank canvas into custom living space.
The 2023 Ford Transit Trail goes into production soon. Ford dealers are taking orders now. The first Transit Trails should be on dealership lots in spring 2023.
Transit Trail prices start at $65,975, excluding destination charge. Prices can soar from that starting point, depending on interior features and materials.
There's no announced plan for an electric version, but battery-powered versions of the Transit delivery van have been an unexpected hit this year, notching 5,157 sales since debuting earlier this year. An E-Transit Trail is feasible.
Ford developed the Transit Trail so do-it-yourselfers could create interior fittings, lowering the threshold cost of #Vanlife in exchange for elbow grease and ingenuity.
An example, according to Tim Baughman, general manager of Ford Pro: Many do-it-yourselfers are understandably hesitant to cut a hole for a roof vent in their $65K investment. Ford does that kind of thing hundreds of times a day.“Do it yourselfers are the growth segment” of RV sales, said Transit Trail marketing manager Julie Ellen. “They want to do their own interiors.”
Particularly welcome to DIY owners on a budget: The Transit Trail comes with Ford’s standard warranty: three years/36,000 miles bumper to bumper and 5/50 powertrain.
In addition, any Ford dealer can service the vehicle, Baughman said. That can mean big savings in time and money versus finding someone to work on third-party modifications.
“The Transit Trail is the missing piece of our RV pie,” Baughman said. “We’re doing the stuff that’s difficult for the customer and leaving the inside customization to them.”
The Transit van is Ford’s workhorse van, a commercial vehicle used by all sorts of businesses and a hit around the world. After falling sales during the COVID-19 pandemic, Ford is adding a third shift at its Kansas City plant in anticipation of rising U.S. sales thanks to recovering demand and new models like the electric E-Transit and gasoline-powered Transit Trail.
In addition to standard all-wheel drive, a twin-turbo V6 gasoline engine and 10-speed automatic transmission, the Transit Trail comes in two wheelbases — 235.5 inches and 263.9 inches long — and three roof heights. All Transit Trails are tall enough for most people to stand upright as they walk through them, and to accommodate features like raised, loft-style beds with storage space below.
The Transit Trail’s body is lifted 3.5 inches higher than standard Transit delivery vans to make it easy to drive to campsites. All-terrain 30.5-inch Goodyear Wrangler tires are standard. The bumpers are modified to improve approach and departure angles.
Ford Transit and Super Duty chassis are already commonly used for larger RVs — called classes A and C. The category for smaller vans like the Transit Trail is class B. Nobody’s sure why; it just is.
Custom vans are nothing new to Ford. Company founder Henry Ford and friends — not to name-drop, but former President Warren G. Harding, Thomas Edison and Harvey Firestone; that’s life when you’re the richest person in the world — called themselves the Vagabonds and went cross-country glamping in 1915.
In the 1960s, the wonderfully named Ford Econoline van took up the torch, serving as the chassis for RVs up to the 27-foot dual-axle Holiday Rambler.
The Econoline-based 1968 Condor coach was the first van upfitter Ford worked with.
By 1970, more than 1,000 variations of Econoline could be built for commercial and personal use. They include vans with plastic porthole windows, shag carpet, built-in waterbeds and air-brushed portraits of everything from rainbows to death’s heads.
Base price: $65,975 (all prices exclude destination charge)
Output: 310 hp @ 5,000 rpm; 400 pound-feet of torque @ 2,400 rpm
EPA fuel economy estimate: Not available
Cargo volume: 357.1, 404.3, 487.3 or cubic feet behind front seats
Base curb weight: 5,767-6,094 pounds
Contact Mark Phelan:email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @mark_phelan. Follow him on Twitter @mark_phelan. Read more on autos and sign up for our autos newsletter. Become a subscriber.