Editor's note: Check out a photo gallery of the all-new cargo vans here.
A number of all-new van and truck models will be entering the commercial fleet market over the next several years. As a result, there will be a corresponding increase in upfit products and packages for these new van configurations.
“The onset of new-model configurations, such as the all-new Ford Transit and Ram ProMaster, gives fleets more choices, removes some old standby options, and increases the amount of configuration effort to adapt upfitting needs to the new models and configurations,” said Steve Swedberg, truck engineering & ordering specialist for Emkay.
Will the surge of new van products re-energize the upfit market?
“In short, yes, but the answer deserves more perspective. The van market may see slight to flat growth in calendar-year 2014 because of Ford’s delayed migration in the van market. Ford is the market-segment leader. The migration from the E-Series, a 50-year market segment leader, to the new Transit starts with Job 1 in April 2014,” said Partha Ghosh, director, vehicle supply chain for ARI. “Additionally, the E-Series will have a shortened model-year, and the vehicle itself is in its final build-out this year, which can mean flat to modest growth, contingent on Ford’s actual production in the 2014 calendar-year. Building on the earlier growth expectations, this market segment should see stronger growth in outlying years — beyond 2014 — thanks to the increasing versatility of these new vans entering the North American market. The economic indicators are trending positively, boding well for the overall strength of the U.S. market, which should have a direct, positive effect on all vehicle production.”
Small Cargo Van Market
Growth is also anticipated in the small cargo van market with the introduction of new models into the marketplace.
“Nissan and GM are entering the small cargo van market with the Nissan NV200 and Chevrolet City Express to compete with the Ford Transit Connect and the Ram CV. Ram will offer a new ProMaster City in 2015. These types of vehicles offer fuel savings, maneuverability in urban areas, and the vehicle exterior design offers a high surface area to install graphics,” said Charles Mathew, senior order specialist for Donlen.
The 2014 Nissan NV200 cargo van features standard integrated mounting points, which allow installation of racks and shelves without drilling into the sidewalls, and six available floor mounted cargo hooks in the cargo area.
The 2015 Chevrolet City Express cargo van, being sourced from Nissan, will offer 122.7 cubic feet of cargo space and will qualify for General Motors’ Business Choice program. Like the Nissan NV200, the Chevrolet City Express features weld nuts for attaching bins, D-Rings affixed to the floor that allow users to secure cargo, and standard dual sliding doors that allow access to the cargo area from either side of the vehicle. Both the Chevrolet City Express and Nissan NV200 feature a fold-down passenger seat with a seat back tray table; a center console with storage for file folders, a laptop, and more; and an upper-dashboard-mounted storage bin.
The all-new 2014 Ford Transit Connect will be available in van and wagon models with an all-new powertrain lineup. The long wheelbase (LWB) van model features a maximum payload capacity of 1,710 lbs. and a cargo volume of 130.7 cubic feet or 151.1 cubic feet with the passenger seat folded. The Transit Connect van model will offer a choice of a rear liftgate or 180-degree swing-out rear cargo doors. The overall height of the 2014 model is six inches lower than the previous model, which will allow easier access to garages and parking structures. A variety of racks and bins are available to customize the Transit Connect to meet specific fleet applications. The 2014 Transit Connect will be available in two wheelbase configurations. The long wheelbase van will have a load length of up to 77.1 inches at the beltline and 87.3 inches at the load floor, which can accommodate an 8-foot ladder with the passenger seat folded flat. Ford is also offering a new, online Racks and Bins Configurator to create customized racks-and-bins ship-thru packages for Transit Connect models.
The new online program features a drag-and-drop interactive tool that allows fleet managers to visualize the van interior before ordering.
Other subject-matter experts likewise see a similar fleet trend toward small cargo vans.
“Companies are moving toward smaller, more economically sound vehicles, such as small, light-duty vehicles. These vehicles are popular for their maneuverability,” said Tom Keilty, senior vice president, customer and vehicle services and COO for PHH Arval.
Wheels views the top trends in truck fleet management as both vehicle and operationally related.
“As we consult with clients and prospects, we initiate analysis and discussion around vehicle acquisition cost and reliability. Vehicle operators are interested in acquiring vehicles as competitively as possible for their application. Acquisition cost is a key driver of the TCO outcome as well,” said Connie Swenson, account manager for Wheels Inc. “There are many new vehicles arriving to the market, many from global regions that need to prove reliability. Vehicle users prioritize day-in-and-day-out reliability, and are often unwilling to accept unknown risk.”
Another fleet trend has been the growing implementation of telematics devices in upfitted equipment. “We are seeing the onset of increased ancillary products and services, such as telematics, being included in the upfitting, spec identification, and vendor selection efforts,” said Swedberg of Emkay.
With the number of new models entering the market, there has been some migration away from vans to trucks, especially with upfitted units. Ghosh of ARI offered his perspective.
“Migration, if it is occurring, is likely temporary and perhaps subject to interpretation. The truck and van market will be in transition, as the new ‘European style’ vans continue to make their impact and entry into the North American market,” said Ghosh. “In any case, North American fleets will continue to be either predominantly truck- or van-based, depending on their industry segments and applications. As an example, oil and gas will likely always be dependent on the more rugged truck and cab chassis applications designed and built to withstand the harsh terrain of oil fields. Service industries concentrated in metropolitan markets will most likely move to the new-style vans, as a more self-contained mobile work solution is better suited to their industry.”
As with the introduction of all-new models, there are questions about the order-to-delivery process in the minds of some fleet managers. “There are a number of unknowns about the new configurations, such as concerns over ship-thru availability, the Mexico ship-thru options, and customers being put in a position to have to make decisions before the
release of pricing,” said Swedberg of Emkay.
What could influence the choice between a van or a truck is the reintroduction of the Chevrolet Colorado to the U.S. market in late 2014.
The new mid-size pickup, which will be available in a work truck model with a box-delete and rear-seat delete option, will be 900-pounds lighter, 16-inches shorter, 5-inches narrower, and 3-inches lower than the Silverado full-size pickup, but have a trailering capacity of more than 6,700 pounds, according to Chevrolet. The North American version of the Colorado will also be 40-percent lighter than the global version. However, some view the embryonic migration from vans to trucks as a short-term trend.
“I would classify the activity as experimentation versus migration. With the continual pressure to manage costs, the traditional full-size cargo van is giving way to smaller, more fuel-efficient configurations. As such, the limited availability of small trucks keeps the cargo van higher on the list of options, albeit the scaled-down versions are more popular,” said Ken Gillies, manager of truck ordering and engineering for GE Capital Fleet Services.
Wheels reports seeing a similar phenomenon in the industry.
“We see this going both ways with our client and prospect fleets; however, pickups have come under greater interest as a result of their versatility in the option to exchange bodies. Also, there is the option to separate payload from the driver compartment,” said Swenson of Wheels.
What is driving the trend to migrate from vans to trucks or, conversely, from trucks to vans, is fleet application and the perception that current offerings do not meet the needs of some companies.
“During CY-2013, we observed both, but I would say the number of clients migrating from pickups to compact cargo vans or small- to mid-size SUVs was higher than the number of customers moving from vans to pickups,” said Mathew of Donlen.
A key factor for some companies has been the average increase in GVW, which places some vehicles under DOT jurisdiction.
“There are always going to be anecdotal instances; however, holistically, there has been some movement with certain segments of the van business. One contributing factor is due to the OEMs increasing van GVWR to more than 10,000 pounds, which forced some customers to consider alternative vehicles to avoid DOT regulations. However, we think the application and job requirements will drive the final choice of vehicle and upfitting as it has in the past,” said Wayne Reynolds, operations manager, truck and vehicle upfitting for LeasePlan USA.
According to the subject-matter experts, the discontinuation of popular full-size van models has limited some fleet choices. “Manufacturers have changed the availability of gross vehicle weight under 10,000 pounds so there are now not as many options now in a van. Fleet managers are now considering other vehicles, such as pickup and cab and chassis, which are under the 10,000-pound GVW threshold,” said Keilty of PHH Arval.
Keilty further noted: “The non-availability of proper GVW vans is forcing fleets to look for other alternatives, such as truck cab and chassis, or exploring upfitting options.”
With some new van models being solely built outside the country, there are additional upfitting considerations.
“New factors have to be taken into considerations due to new ship-thru offerings and locations, such as Mexico, which is where the ProMaster is being assembled,” said Swedberg of Emkay.
New Van & Truck Products Will Re-Energize the Upfit Market
The introduction of all-new van and truck models into the commercial fleet market will result in a corresponding increase in upfit packages.
“There will be many new shelving options, new van sizes with walk-in availability, and new fuel-efficient, six-cylinder gasoline and diesel engine options, all of which have played key roles in this surge,” said Swedberg of Emkay.
Another new product is the all-new 2015 Transit full-size van, which will be available as a wagon, van, or cutaway/chassis cab. The Transit comes with a standard 3.7L TI-VCT V-6 engine, but can be spec’d with a 3.5L EcoBoost V-6 or an optional 3.2L diesel I-5 engine that is also B-20 capable. A standard 6-speed automatic transmission is standard with all Transit engines.
In addition, the Transit unibody struc-ture weighs less than body-on-frame construction found with the E-Series. The use of front and rear subframes provides a rigid foundation for the powertrain, suspension, steering, and braking components. The 2015 Transit offers a maximum cargo volume of approximately 500 cubic feet, compared to 278 cubic feet on the E-Series. It will be available with side and rear cargo door choices.
One new product is the 2014 Chevrolet Express Crew Cargo Van, which offers a three-passenger rear bench seat. The new Crew Cargo Van is available with 2500 and 3500 models, with additional equipment including full-length black rubberized-vinyl floor covering, fixed full-body window package glass, swing-out passenger-side door, and head- and side-curtain air bags.
In another recent announcement, Ram Commercial Truck said it will offer an all-new small commercial van in North America based on the Fiat Doblo. The 2015 Ram ProMaster City will be available for order in late 2014. The van will be built in Turkey.
Two other key van products in the commercial fleet upfit market are the Nissan NV Cargo and Mercedes-Benz Sprinter Van. The new 2015 4X4 Sprinter will be equipped with an all-wheel-drive system.
For 2014, the Nissan NV Cargo van features a long, wide cargo floor, square-top wheel well housings, and nearly vertical sidewalls. In addition to maximizing cargo space, the sidewalls accommodate aftermarket storage systems without excessive modification. The NV Cargo Van is offered in three versions (NV1500, NV2500 HD, and NV3500 HD) and two roof configurations (Standard Roof and High Roof).
For the 2014 model-year, the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter Van has a new look and now offers a new, standard 2.1L four-cylinder diesel engine option with 7-speed transmission (the V-6 models continues as an option). The vehicle’s front has been redesigned, including a higher hood for improved pedestrian protection. The new Sprinter also includes four new safety systems: Collision Prevention Assist, Blind Spot Assist, High Beam Assist, and Lane Keeping Assist.
Donlen, likewise, sees a plethora of new upfit products and packages entering the market. “The Ram ProMaster, Ford Transit, and the Nissan and Sprinter offerings will re-energize the upfit market with new products such as interior packages factoring in ergonomics, higher cubic volume, and routing of vehicles to upfitters. Currently, upfitters are transitioning their existing facility to accommodate these new offerings and have acquired real estate, or are in the process of acquiring land, to build upfit plants closer to the OEM production plants. These new vans provide customers greater flexibility than the previous van offerings,” said Mathew of Donlen.
The different size option available to fleets will also contribute to the increase in the availability of upfit packages.
“The coming of the Transit models that are replacing the Econoline offer three van options that we didn’t have before,” said Keilty of PHH Arval. “Those offerings are going to compete directly with the Sprinter in the parcel market.”
For example, the 2015 Ford Transit offers three roof heights. The Low Roof height is 82.5 inches, which is similar to the E-150 regular length. Transit also offers a Medium Roof height of 90 inches, and a High Roof height at 108 inches.
However, not everyone sees a surge of new upfit products occurring quickly.
“I believe the surge in upfit packages will be delayed. Most customers in the van space are taking a bit of a ‘wait-and-see’ approach. They simply don’t want to be field testing with their perceived risk of problems and downtime with a new model,” said Gillies of GE Capital Fleet Services.
Change, however, such as in new trucks, results in the inspiration for new upfit products.
“Not only do the new vans demand new upfitting, but it also stimulates new ideas within fleet operators, upfitters, and FMCs. Change is always the source of new inspiration and ideas,” said Swenson of Wheels.
Similarly, LeasePlan USA sees both opportunity and challenges with the introduction of the new models.
“The introduction of new van models with various configurations, along with the pending retirement of the Ford Econoline, is presenting both challenges and opportunities for fleets to reconsider the choice of vehicle and upfitting. More choices in sizes in similar models and the increase in the need for more fuel efficiency is becoming a trend among users. There is also a better opportunity to leverage expertise with FMCs and upfitters. In addition, the change to new vans has been a concern for build and delivery constraints and a chance for increased cost as technology hits the road. The loss of package deals from the old segment could also become prevalent,” said Reynolds.