Ford's Transit Connect paced a 28 percent increase in sales of compact vans in 2014 in a segment that saw the introduction of one new model with a second model debuting in early 2015.
Total sales in the category came in at 68,436 for the full year with the Transit Connect accounting for about 63 percent or 43,210 units, according to data provide by the automakers. Nissan's NV200, the Ram C/V Tradesman, and the 2015 Chevrolet City Express followed Ford's vehicle.
In 2013, manufacturers sold 53,222 compact vans.
"Ford identified an unserved market segment in 2009 (and has owned it since then with Transit Connect), and now the segment is growing as other OEMs enter the market," said Kristen Simpson, a Ford spokeswoman. "Our Transit Connect sales have increased every year since introduction."
In late 2014, General Motors began selling its City Express, which is based on the NV200. Early reports from initial fleet customers purchasing the vehicle have been positive, according to Ed Peper, U.S. vice president for GM Fleet & Commercial.
"We are hearing directly from our small business customers that the City Express is helping them deliver a better product and service to their customers," Peper said. "The cargo space and fuel economy are the driving forces behind these purchases, and we are excited to share more soon about what our customers are doing with this vehicle."
Ram Truck has announced it will discontinue the C/V Tradesman in 2015. The Ram ProMaster City will replace that vehicle when it arrives at dealers early this year.
Ram Truck expects strong growth in the segment in 2015 with the addition of the ProMaster City, said Dave Sowers, head of Ram commercial vehicle marketing. Compact vans offer a compelling proposition to fleets looking to downsize from a full-size van, Sowers added.
"The price of entry to this segment is efficiency," Sowers said. "That efficiency comes in the form of fuel economy and cost of ownership. These vehicles are primarily used in urban environments, so turning radius is important. Those features are going to be driving the growth."
The new compact vans arrive alongside their new or redesigned European-sourced big brothers, which include the Ford Transit, Ram ProMaster and Mercedes Sprinter. The full-size van market is undergoing its own transformation toward European-sourced commercial vans, and Mercedes-Benz has announced plans to bring its Vito mid-size van to the U.S. market.
By Paul Clinton