Bob Wheat sees unusual uses for the Ford Transit Connect small cargo truck. Some people want it for wheelchairs, and sports enthusiasts want to carry their gear, says Wheat, general manager of Village Ford in Dearborn, Mich.
"We sold one to our body shop employee, and he's making a camper out of it," Wheat says.
But the vehicle's core audience -- small-business owners -- are nervous about the economy, and sales of the vehicle have been modest. So the jury's out on whether small, European-style commercial vehicles will catch on with U.S. customers. Ford Motor Co. hopes the vehicle will appeal to a broader audience.
"Confidence among small-business owners is very cautious right now," says Ford sales analyst George Pipas. Businesses "are not in a position to turn over their whole fleet, but they've bought some to see just how they can use them in their business."
A total of more than 600,000 Transit Connects have been sold in seven years in 55 countries. U.S. sales started in July. The vehicle is 181 inches long, 10 inches shorter than the Ford Fusion sedan.
Damoni Hurt, Transit Connect marketing manager, sees potential beyond small-business owners.
"There are untapped markets out there that we're still trying to hone in on, like the sport enthusiast, the aftermarket 'trick my ride' niche," Hurt says. "There is upward growth because we're in a new segment."