DEARBORN, Mi., - Six years ago when the Transit vehicle program was still in its infancy, the North American Vehicle Logistics team was already hard at work contemplating how they were going to ship the vehicle from the Kansas City Assembly Plant in Claycomo, Missouri, to dealerships throughout North America.
The team knew that the geometry of the new Transit – specifically the medium- and high-roof models which are roughly 100 and 110 inches in height respectively – would present unique challenges. Both are significantly taller in size than any other vehicle in the Ford lineup. (To provide some perspective, the high-roof Transit stands 33 inches taller than the 2015 F-150 SuperCrew.)
"We entered into a significant amount of brainstorming in an effort to try and figure out what the best solution would be in terms of the cost to Ford and the speed to deliver the vehicles to our dealerships," said Chris Lemmink, manager, Vehicle Logistics.
According to Lemmink, Ford typically uses railroads to move vehicles over long distances, while over-the-road flexible car carrier trucks are most often used for local and regional hauling.
"We quickly learned that that the maximum number of high-roof Transit vans that can fit onto a traditional car haul rig is one. So whereas we might be able to fit nine Ford Escapes on that rig, we’d only be able to fit one of the high-roof Transits along with one of the medium-roof Transits," he said. "From an economic standpoint, that was an expensive proposition."
Transporting the vehicles by rail also posed a problem since the medium- and high-roof Transits were too tall to fit in the common two-story railcars used by Ford, which traditionally only provide clearance height of 87 inches on the lower level and 94 inches on the top story.
"We worked with our railroad partners to design a major modification that included raising the floor of the second level to 116 inches in order to provide the clearance necessary to accommodate the various roof-height variations of the Transit," said Lemmink. "That still left enough space on the upper level to transport smaller vehicles such as the Ford Focus, Fiesta, Mustang and Fusion."
Roughly 370 railcars were converted to accommodate the Transit vehicles.
"We have the opportunity to increase that based on the sales volume," he said. "It’s scalable."
At the end of the day, Lemmink and his team developed a vehicle transportation plan for the Transit that includes both railcars and over-the-road car carriers.
"Basically, all of the territory within a 500-mile radius of the Kansas City Assembly Plant is going to be delivered by truck and everything outside of that circle will be delivered by rail – at least its first leg," he said. "We are working with our car haul carriers to ensure that they are maximizing the load density on the car haul rigs. While I may only be getting one of the Transit vehicles onto the truck, I might be getting four F-150s along with it."
When Ford President and CEO Mark Fields heard about the innovative way that Lemmink and his team approached the Transit shipping challenge, he sent a note of appreciation.
"I was happy and encouraged that Mark Fields took the time to write," said Lemmink, who has been with Ford for 20 years. "It made me feel very good, and quite proud of the talented team that contributed to this project."