DETROIT Ford Motor Co on Wednesday formally marked the end of a profitable half-century run for its E-Series commercial van, trumpeting the start of North American production of the replacement Transit van at its Kansas City assembly plant.
E-Series vans, known for years as the Ford Econoline, account for 46 percent of the U.S. market of full-size commercial vans.
In the last several years, Ford has made a $1.1 billion investment and hired 2,000 workers at the plant in Claycomo, Missouri, where its F-150 pickup trucks are also made. The plant's total workforce stands at nearly 5,000.
While the automaker has made pre-production models of the Transit in recent weeks, the official start of production was Wednesday. Transit vans are also produced at plants in China and in Turkey.
Joe Hinrichs, head of Ford's North American operations, said the Transit was being introduced to the region in part to save costs by sharing design and engineering work around the globe.
Introduced in Europe in 1965, the Transit has been the top-selling commercial van in Britain for 49 years and it is sold in 118 countries on six continents.
The E-Series was first sold as the Econoline in the United States in 1961 and has been the best-selling van on the U.S. market for 35 years.
Hinrichs said the company has been preparing its North American commercial customers for the last year-and-a-half for the transition to Transit. The E-Series will be sold alongside the Transit as the 2015 van is rolled out this year, he said.
(Reporting by Bernie Woodall; Editing by Alden Bentley)