Ford has launched its first new European-designed model in the US since the original late-1990s Focus, saying the "industry exclusive" Turkish-built Transit Connect small van "fills an unmet US commercial business need".

Such small vans are common here in Europe and are offered by most major automakers, including a partnership between PSA and the Fiat group.

Ford claims the Transit Connect will meet the unique needs of American small business owners as a spacious, fuel-efficient alternative to larger commercial vehicles that's ideal for navigating US cities.

It's the first of a number of planned new European-designed models destined for the US under a new global model- sharing programme and will be followed by the Honda Fit-rivalling Fiesta next year.

"Transit Connect is a tangible success of our 'One Ford' strategy to harness the best of our global products and offer new choices... to customers in other parts of the world," said Ford's president of The Americas Mark Fields. "With 40% market share, Ford is the reigning commercial truck leader in the United States, and we're looking for Transit Connect to further grow our leadership."

The Transit Connect, launched in Europe in 2003, will be unveiled to the US public at the 2009 Chicago auto show.

It is built on a dedicated front-wheel drive commercial vehicle platform. In place of the mostly smaller capacity, diesel/manual transmission combinations offered in Europe, the US powertrain is a Duratec two-litre DOHC four-cylinder petrol engine with four-speed automatic overdrive transaxle. Several design details, including the grille and interior items, have been updated for the American debut.

Ford's product development head Derrick Kuzak said:  "We're offering small business owners a real choice to meet their needs, instead of asking them to pull seats out of minivans or compromise on one or more of their needs."

The van has 135 cubic feet of cargo volume and split rear cargo doors open at a standard 180 degrees, or an optionally available 255 degrees. Available load height is 52.1 inches and lift-over height is under two feet. Dual sliding rear side doors are standard.

Ford claims the Transit Connect has more than double the cargo-carrying space of the similar size Chevrolet HHR Panel, making it suitable for a broader range of commercial users.

Cargo payload is 1,600 pounds, more than the full size Dodge Ram 1500 standard-cab short-box pickup truck.

"Transit Connect can swallow far more cargo than people might think," added Stevens.

The US-spec model is expected to deliver at least 20 city and 24 highway mpg, pending EPA fuel economy certification.

A wide range of loadspace fittings will be offered and the base van itself will be sold as a cargo hauler with no windows in the sliding side doors combined with rear cargo door privacy glass, a panel van with no side or rear cargo area windows, a model with side and rear door privacy glass for maximum driver visibility plus a wagon version with folding second-row bench seat, in either two- or three-passenger configurations, to suit small business owners needing a dual business and family vehicle.

Options include a computer and various telematics services, navigation and hands-free phone function.

Front and side air bags, four-wheel anti-lock brakes and a tyre pressure monitoring system are standard along with air conditioning and a basic AM/FM radio with two speakers that can be upgraded.

Such as 'basic' package is considerably better than offered in Europe but US prices start higher at US$21,475 (GBP14,350) including delivery to the dealer.

Ford has set 7,500 mile service intervals for the US.