At a recent event near Ford's Dearborn headquarters, the company provided a briefing and drive of its commercial vehicles. There are many changes, and the company had several big announcements too. The commercial line isn't just dump trucks and panel trucks; it includes police cars, vans, and livery vehicles as well. We didn't get to drive it, but we learned that Lincoln is going to replace the Town Car with versions of the MKT as a limousine and a livery vehicle. The name? The Lincoln MKT Town Car.

The biggest news involved the vans: Ford announced that it is planning on an on-sale date of calendar year 2013 for the full-size Transit. This is the van that will eventually replace the E-Series (aka Econoline), but as Ford transitions from E-Series to Transit, all four -- wagons and commercial vans -- will be on sale at the same time. Ford also expects that while the current E-Series will eventually go away, the company has no plans to discontinue the cutaway or stripped chassis.

While the current European Transit is the sixth generation, the Transit that is coming here will be the seventh-generation global model; this means that the whole world will get a new van in the near future. We don't know yet how different the U.S. version will be. Ford is going to build our Transit in its Kansas City facility, and is spending $1.1 billion to upgrade the plant.

Fo rd anticipates that the new vans will be 300 pounds lighter -- and will offer 25-percent-better fuel economy -- than the current E-Series. There is no news yet on specific powertrains, specifically whether diesel or all-wheel drive will be offered. The global Transit also has three roof heights, three diesel engines, and comes as a cargo van, chassis cabs, and passenger vans, with front, rear, and all-wheel drive.

Ford is building a new area in its Michigan Proving Grounds where it will put the next-generation Transit though three months of tough durability testing. The new test road is similar to a course the company uses to test the Transit in Belgium, which is riddled with bumps and potholes. When the company finalizes the Michigan test plan, it will include driving the van over curbs thousands of times. The Transit will be put to the same standards of durability and reliability as the E-Series. For those who lament the loss of the Econoline, keep in mind that the Transit is no spring chicken: Even though we're getting the newest generation of the van, the Transit has been around since 1965 -- it's only four years newer than the Econoline -- and more than six million have been sold on five continents.

In other commercial news, Ford announced that as of the 2012 model year, half of Ford's vehicles are capable of running on alternative fuels, including commercial vehicles. At the event, we got behind the wheel of several alternative-fuel vehicles. There was a panel truck and an E-450-based school bus, both of which were powered by LPG (liquid propane). Roush did the conversions on both trucks, installing its CleanTech technology system. According to Roush, there have been cold-weather tests of CleanTech-equipped trucks in Alaska, where the drivers discovered that cold starts were better in the propane-powered trucks than in the diesels, so the propane-powered trucks were stored outside and the diesels stayed in garages overnight. The cost of propane is also lower than that of gasoline. We also drove a van powered by Leggett & Platt's CNG system. The van felt quick off the line, and sounded like a gas engine when driving around and accelerating and rumbled more like a diesel at idle. Then there was a hybrid shuttle bus (using Azure Dynamics' system), which uses regenerative braking, gas-off idling, and electric launch assist. When we drove slower than 25 mph going easy on the throttle, it was powered solely by the electric motor.

Our last two vehicles of the day were gas-powered, and both use the three-valve version of Ford's SOHC 6.8-liter V-10. We drove a bread van built on Ford's F-59 platform, and went for a ride in a dump truck. The bread van had a five-speed automatic backing the V-10, and the dump truck used a six-speed automatic. That the Class 6 truck is offered with this V-10/six-speed combination is new for 2012, and Ford is the only one to offer a gas option. This saves buyers about $8300 compared with the price of a diesel powertrain.

Transit History
Gen 1 -- 1965-1977
Gen 2 -- 1978-1984
Gen 3 -- 1985-1993
Gen 4 -- 1994-1999
Gen 5 -- 2000-2005
Gen 6 -- 2006-Present