Vans are making a comeback. A segment that saw sales of 200,000 units in the middle of the last decade slumped to fewer than 100,000 units by 2009. Yet van sales increased to 251,000 units last year, and with a plethora of new models on the horizon, sales presume to go higher.
You can thank (or blame) high fuel prices, the trends to rightsizing and inventory control and the fact that commercial vans dominate the European market, where many of the new models are sourced. And fleets are beginning to understand that vans pencil out well on the balance sheet, often with better fuel economy, residual value retention and upfit options compared to their pickup cousins.
Here’s a look at what the near future holds for the North American van market.
As production of the venerable workhorse E-Series van sunsets, the much anticipated Ford Transit will become the torchbearer for the new style of full-size van. With European roots dating back to 1965, the Transit has a unibody construction and will be offered in four models: cargo van, passenger wagon, chassis cab and cutaway with direct cab-to-body access.
Those models come with a myriad of spec options: three roof heights, regular and long wheelbase lengths (as well as a long wheelbase with extended body) and three engines choices: a 3.7L V-6, the 3.5L EcoBoost V-6 or the 3.2L I-5 Power Stroke Turbo Diesel. The 3.7L is E85 flex-fuel capable. Ford will also offer a CNG/LPG Gaseous Engine Prep Package. Chassis cab and cutaway models offer three frame lengths to accommodate a range of body types and sizes.
The Transit’s unibody construction won’t affect payload capacity, up to 10,360 lbs. The Transit can accommodate up to 487 cubic feet in cargo volume and a 6-foot-8-inch driver standing tall.
On sale: fall 2014
FORD TRANSIT CONNECT
Another European transplant, the Ford Transit Connect invigorated the compact van market when it arrived in North America in 2010. With a redesign and a passenger wagon available for MY-14, the Transit Connect features the maneuverability and efficiency of a car with the versatility of a van.
The 2014 Transit Connect will come in two wheelbases and two trim levels, while offering a choice of 50/50 cargo doors or a liftgate. Fleets can choose the standard 2.5L four-cylinder engine or opt for the 1.6L EcoBoost four cylinder, which is estimated to deliver 30 mpg on the highway; both have six-speed transmissions. The 2.5L engine is available with a CNG/LPG Gaseous Engine Prep Package.
The 2014 Transit Connect has a maximum payload of 1,670 lbs. and up to 130 cu. ft. of cargo space, and it’s tow rated at up to 2,000 lbs.
The Transit Connect Wagon can seat five to seven passengers and has fold-flat and flip forward seats for greater storage options.
On sale: fourth quarter 2013
2014 RAM PROMASTER
The new 2014 Ram ProMaster van plants Ram Truck into the expanding full-size van segment. Tapping into Fiat Professional’s decades of commercial vehicle production, the ProMaster is based on the front-wheel-drive Fiat Ducato, one of the most popular full-size vans in Europe.
The 2014 ProMaster will be available in two roof heights, three wheelbases and four body lengths. In addition to the cargo van, the ProMaster will be available as a chassis cab and a cutaway direct from the factory.
The ProMaster features a high step-in height and low load floor, with a standard sliding door on the passenger side and an optional sliding door on the driver’s side. In the rear, an available two-position rear clamshell door swings open to 260 degrees, folding almost flat to the side of the van. All three door openings enable forklift pallet loading.
The ProMaster’s powertrain lineup features a standard 3.6L Pentastar V-6, rated at 280 hp with 258 lb.-ft. of torque and an available 3.0L I-4 Turbo EcoDiesel engine rated at 174-hp and a peak torque of 295 lb.-ft. at just 1,400 rpm. Both engines are paired with six-speed transmissions.
The 2014 Ram ProMaster slates above the currently offered Ram C/V (cargo van), a small commercial van based on the Dodge Grand Caravan that offers beefier payload and towing capabilities than other small van models.
On sale: third quarter 2013
The all-new 2013 Nissan NV200, released this spring, fits alongside the Transit Connect in the small van market. The car-based NV200 is opening eyes with a starting MSRP of $19,990 for the base model and an impressive combined 24 miles per gallon. The NV200’s 2.0L four-cylinder engine produces 131 hp and 139 lb.-ft. of torque.
Though it does give away a few cubic feet of cargo volume and pounds of payload capacity to the Transit Connect, the NV200 can accommodate a full pallet and boasts a tight turning radius. Nissan made sure the NV200 came with some commercial van must-haves, including dual sliding doors, integrated cargo area mounting points for upfits, a center console for hanging files and a fold-flat passenger seat to use as a desk.
The NV200 is available through 320 Nissan commercial dealerships that also sell the Nissan NV, the NV200’s larger body-on-frame van brother.
On sale: now
CHEVROLET CITY EXPRESS
Fleet buyers will have expanded choice in the small commercial van market with the launch of the Chevrolet City Express, based on the Nissan NV200. The van will be procured from Nissan and distributed through the Chevrolet dealer network.
The City Express will come in two trim levels, LS and LT, and will qualify for the automaker’s Business Choice program.
The small van will complement GM’s existing body-on-frame offerings, the GMC Savana and Chevrolet Express large van models.
On sale: fall 2014
Mercedes-Benz started the European van invasion when it brought the Sprinter to North America in 2001. Sporting a new grille design, the latest version of this full-size, body-on-frame rear-wheel drive commercial van brings a new standard 2.1L turbocharged four-cylinder diesel engine that produces 161 hp, or an available V-6 diesel rated at 188 hp. The MY-2014 Sprinter is available either with a five- or seven-speed automatic transmission.
Badged in the U.S. and Canada as either a Mercedes-Benz or Freightliner vehicle, the Sprinter features two roof heights, three body lengths and two wheelbases. To aid in making the new model Sprinter more aerodynamic, the floor was dropped about 1.25 inches.
The new Sprinter introduces four optional safety systems: Lane Keeping Assist, Highbeam Assist, Collision Prevention Assist and Blind Spot Assist. A new Crosswind Assist is standard in Sprinters sold outside the U.S. but won’t be available here until the 2015 model.
On sale: Sept. 2013