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Published: Wednesday, 11/14/2012 - Updated: 2 years ago

It looks, drives like a minivan; yet Ford says it’s anything but

ASSOCIATED PRESS
To almost everyone outside Ford Motor Co., the Transit Connect Wagon appears to be Ford’s first minivan after a six-year hiatus. But the Transit Connect Wagon, based on Ford’s Transit Connect commercial van, won’t be referred to as a minivan by Ford, which says the word is polarizing. To almost everyone outside Ford Motor Co., the Transit Connect Wagon appears to be Ford’s first minivan after a six-year hiatus. But the Transit Connect Wagon, based on Ford’s Transit Connect commercial van, won’t be referred to as a minivan by Ford, which says the word is polarizing.
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DEARBORN, Mich. — It looks like a minivan. It has sliding doors like a minivan. So why isn’t Ford calling its new seven-seater a minivan?

Because it’s not cool.

The Transit Connect Wagon will debut later this month at the Los Angeles Auto Show. It’s set to go on sale late next fall.

To the average buyer — or, in fact, to everyone outside of Ford Motor Co. — it will appear that Ford is getting back into the minivan business after a six-year hiatus. The Transit Connect Wagon, which is based on Ford’s Transit Connect commercial van, has the high roof of the van but trades its industrial-looking hood for the tapered nose and trapezoid grille of Ford’s cars. It has sliding doors on both sides and comes in five-seat and seven-seat versions.

It will have two four-cylinder engine options, one of which will get 30 miles per gallon or more on the highway. That would make it the most fuel-efficient minivan on the market — if it were a minivan. But Ford insists it’s not.

“It’s anything but a minivan,” said David Mondragon, Ford’s general manager of marketing. “In our mind, it’s a people mover. We think of it as more of a utility, or kind of a hybrid sport utility, than a minivan.”

Mr. Mondragon says the m-word is too polarizing and turns off Ford’s target customers: Parents between the ages of 30 and 42 who grew up with minivans and like their utility but don’t want to sacrifice style. Ford even considered calling the wagon a “you-tility,” but it turned out another carmaker already had dibs on that one.

“A lot of consumers in this segment are parents who still want their own identity,” Mr. Mondragon said. “There’s a lot of blandness in the industry, especially in regard to multipassenger vehicles. They want something fresh and uniquely styled.”

The Transit Connect Wagon has a different look than the average minivan. The roof is higher, the windshield has a steeper slant, and it has a sturdier, more industrial look.

But more importantly for Ford, the Transit Connect Wagon will be priced like a minivan. The company’s current seven-seaters, the Flex wagon and Explorer SUV, cost $30,000 or more. While Ford isn’t releasing a price for the new vehicle yet, Mr. Mondragon says it will compete at the lower end of the market with vehicles such as the Dodge Grand Caravan, a minivan that starts at $19,995.

Dealers say the vehicle fills a void in Ford’s lineup. The company stopped making the Freestar minivan in 2006, citing falling demand as customers swarmed to new crossovers such as the Ford Escape. But the decision cost it some customers who needed the utility of a minivan, says Terry Kidd, who owns Kidd Ford Lincoln in Morrison, Tenn.

“We still sell used minivans. It’s a very popular body style,” he said.

Ford has been selling a five-passenger version of the Transit Connect van since 2010, but it’s designed for commercial use and has few creature comforts. The new version will offer lots of bells and whistles, including a panoramic sunroof, leather seats, third-row seats that slide back and forth, and the MyFordTouch entertainment system.

U.S. minivan sales peaked at 1.37 million in 2000; by last year, they had fallen to 472,398. About 3 percent of new-vehicle buyers are purchasing minivans now, down from 6 percent a decade ago, according to Strategic Vision, a consulting firm.

The Transit Connect Wagon will be made in Valencia, Spain, and exported to the United States, Asia, and Europe.



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