General Motors recently announced it plans to source a new, compact cargo van from Nissan to fill this niche in its product lineup. The automaker plans to bring what it’s calling the Chevrolet City Express, based on the Nissan NV200’s platform, to the market in fall 2014 as a 2015 model-year vehicle. Given that a number of automakers are introducing new compact cargo vans for the U.S. market, Automotive Fleet wanted to learn more about GM’s strategy for this vehicle in the fleet marketplace and what will differentiate it from the existing NV200. Automotive Fleet spoke with Joyce Mattman, General Motors’ director of commercial products, to find out.
With the development of a new category of smaller cargo vans in the U.S. Automotive Fleet first wanted to find out more about what motivated GM’s decision to enter this market segment by partnering with another OEM. GM’s Mattman said the company looks at a number of factors when choosing a vehicle and platform for a specific niche in its product lineup. She said vehicle quality is the primary factor, but when selecting a vehicle for the fleet market, cost and ensuring fast order-to-delivery times are other key concerns. Finding a vehicle produced in North America was a major part of the company’s decision, according to Mattman.
“As we look to fill a product gap, we definitely look at vehicles we have in other markets around the world,” she said.
Mattman noted that market size was also a factor in GM’s decision-making process for this vehicle.
“It’s not a huge market in the U.S., so it made sense to look at other OEMs for potential partnerships. This is commonly done in Europe,” she said. “Major factors are quality, cost and timing for a product that must meet customer needs.”
In choosing a vehicle, she said fuel economy and cargo capacity were two major factors the company considered, as was maneuverability in urban areas and parking lots.
As for differences between the NV200 and the 2015 Chevrolet City Express, Mattman said the look and some content will be different, though the base vehicle platform is the same.
“What we were really looking for in the design was that the Chevrolet vehicle would have a unique look and styling and that it would fit in with the entire Chevy portfolio,” Mattman said. “We redesigned everything from the A-pillars forward. We really felt the Nissan NV200 was contented very well. We do still have work to do, but you will see some packaging and content differences, designed for our customer base.”
For fuel economy, Mattman said it will be fairly close to what the Nissan NV200 offers (in the mid-20 mpg range), though there may be some differences.
“There may be some slight difference due to different sheet metal and content changes,” Mattman said. “It should be close.”
Because this is a 2015 model-year vehicle, there are still a number of specific features that GM’s Chevrolet brand has yet to work out, according to Mattman.
“Nissan’s NV200 is in its 2013 model-year. They’ve got a 2014 and 2015 model-year vehicle to bring out,” she said. “So Chevrolet’s 2015 features aren’t set in stone yet, but we’ll be working with Nissan.”
For the relatively new compact van segment, Mattman said GM is cautious but optimistic when asked whether it will grow. She noted that many companies, for example large service companies, have their technicians carrying much less product and less weight than they did in years past, which is allowing them to downsize to smaller vehicles.
“How much it grows remains to be seen,” Mattman said. “But I will tell you that we expect to see it go up some. As I mentioned, we have seen customers downsizing and shifting to different products, as their needs change and they look for more fuel-efficient products. We will definitely be watching this category.”
She added that although the compact van segment is relatively new, GM previously had a vehicle that filled a similar role in its commercial product lineup.
“GM had a vehicle that filled a similar role in its product lineup, the HHR panel,” Mattman said. “It was a surprise for us because it was designed for retail with a unique look and size. We looked at it for the commercial market and saw applications there. The market has been growing ever since. I wouldn’t be surprised if compact cargo van sales grow when you put this in the hands of Chevrolet dealers out there.”
As for the types of customers GM sees would be interested in this vehicle, Mattman listed a wide range of business types, from small to large.
“We’re thinking it would work for caterers, florists, the small-package delivery businesses, even companies that have services where they deliver interior cabinetry, or those that provide electrical services, or alarm companies,” she said.
She also noted that with many companies downsizing, this vehicle could work in the same role that some full-size vans filled in years past.
With the vehicle now officially in Chevrolet’s product pipeline, it’s now just a matter of time before it’s available to GM’s customers. The 2015 Chevrolet City Express is set to go on sale in the fall of 2014, according to Mattman.
By Greg Basich