By on August 10, 2013


After abnormally high GM commercial van sales results in the United States a year ago, it wasn’t surprising to see dramatic year-over-year sales declines reported by the Chevrolet Express and GMC Savana in July 2013.

As a result, and in part because of the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter’s 13% drop, overall commercial van volume slid 11% in the U.S. last month. Compared with June, van volume fell 27%.

Naturally, commercial van sales are prone to fluctuation. Although a handful of these vehicles are purchased for RV conversions, and a handful more are registered by families who wish to field a full football team, many are bought by businesses who aren’t interested in buying one at a time. Instead, they buy twelve at a time. Or 4000.

North America’s commercial van market is beginning a period of great transition. From the front-wheel-drive Ford Transit Connect’s arrival to Nissan’s decision to compete with the big boys, and then Nissan’s decision to compete with the Transit Connect, times have been changing. And while none of those three vans sell in the kinds of numbers achieved by the Express or Ford’s segment-leading Ford E-Series, the Transit Connect, NV, and NV200 – three vans that weren’t around five years ago – currently combine for a meaningful 18% of the vans sold in America.

Ford, with the leading big van and the leading small van, owns 55% of the market for non-minivan vans. Another 31% goes GM’s way. The Sprinter earned 6% market share in the first seven months of 2013.

Nissan is making headway, although there are slim pickings remaining. From 3.1% of the commercial van market in the first seven months of 2012, the NV’s share rose to 3.9% this year; 4.8% if you include the front-wheel-drive NV200, which only went on sale in late March. NV200 sales have grown each month since.

There’s much more transition to come, however, and Nissan’s commercial vehicle sales reps may not be pleased with the outcome when Chevrolet starts selling the City Express, an NV200 twin. But it won’t be the end of the world for Nissan HQ to sell large numbers of vans to General Motors, traditionally a successful purveyor of commercial products.

Ford will also be updating the Transit Connect and replacing the E-Series with a proper Transit. Chrysler won’t have to rely on the Ram C/V, as the Fiat Ducato will become Ram ProMaster. GM surely won’t let the Express and Savana linger forever.

All this is repeated here again as a means of saying that these numbers won’t look the same a year from now, and they certainly won’t bear any resemblance to 2015’s numbers, either.


7 mos.
7 mos.
Chevrolet Express
5569 9327 – 40.3% 46,171 47,144 – 2.1%
Ford E-Series
9724 8574 + 9.8% 75,687 75,839 – 0.2%
Ford Transit Connect
2885 2627 + 9.8% 23,331 19,581 + 19.2%
GMC Savana
1400 2653 – 47.2% 9610 14,709 – 34.7%
Mercedes-Benz Sprinter
1915 2203 – 13.1% 11,398 11,479 – 0.7%
Nissan NV
936 651 + 43.8% 7109 5536 + 28.4%
Nissan NV200
496 1577
Ram Cargo Van
764 555 + 37.7% 5507 3998 + 37.7%
26,590 – 10.9% 180,390 178,286 + 1.2%
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23 Comments on “Cain’s Segments: July 2013 – Commercial Vans...”

  • avatar

    OTOH, it might be a wise move for GM to continue on with the existing Savana/Express.

    Much like FoMoCo continuing the Panthers long after everyone else had given up on RWD BOF sedans – and making money at it – GM might be wise to continue forward with the old-school vans, as fleet buyers tend to be resistant to change.

    • 0 avatar

      Definitely smart to play the wait and see game. If the Transit doesn’t maintain Ford’s 50% market share then the benefactor will mainly be the GM twins.

      • 0 avatar

        GM has already experienced this when they discontinued the Astro/Safari twins. That van had good power & was just about ‘right-sized’ in terms of being easy to maneuver & still swallow 8 foot sheets of plywood. My parents have been extremely reluctant to give up their 2001 Safari passenger van, which itself replaced a 1991 Astro. The transit connects by comparison are simply too small for many contractors, especially ones that need to carry anything over 6 1/2′

  • avatar

    A mixture of rebadged Nissan city vans and the current BOF vans is ideal for GM, IMO.

  • avatar

    Around here, the big NV is trouncing Sprinter 4:1, quite unlike the official stats in the article. It may be a local variation thanks to dealers. Heck I don’t even know if Sprinter is sold by Mercedes, Freightliner, or whoever. And NVs are in the every Nissan dealership.

    • 0 avatar

      It’s funny how regional van sales seem to be. When I lived in NYC a decade ago, there were white Econolines and…box trucks. When I was in Virginia seven years ago, there was at least one Sprinter anywhere that vans congregated. There were more than a few of the GM vans too. In San Diego right now, the Sprinters are diminishing, the Fords are dominating, and the big Nissans are becoming common sightings. I would not have thought they were only selling hundreds a month. The GM vans are pretty thin on the ground. I’m surprised to see that the GM twins outsold the big Fords last year and are fairy close this year.

      I think the Sprinter debacle may hurt other brands trying to launch foreign diesel vans. They were like a small-scale second coming of the Oldsmobile diesels. Customers loved them and they had great word-of-mouth, until the problems became known. The US Sprinter trajectory also reminds me of how my dopy home town once bought a fleet of Mercedes-Benz diesel mini-buses in the ’70s. They had cute smiling sunshine faces on their sides and there was some amount of hype surrounding their introduction. They were replaced by Blue Birds as quickly and quietly as possible, Charlottesville, Virginia somehow being a less hospitable environment for them than the undeveloped countries where they’re sometime still seen.

      • 0 avatar
        doctor olds

        @RR- Why do you imagine Ford got anything from the Brits for the Econoline!

        Their engineering is done right in Dearborn, Michigan.

        Where do you come up with these absurd notions?

        • 0 avatar
          doctor olds

          @RR- Do you have any idea just how absurd it is to think a ’61 Econoline having similar styling to a British van means anything other than Ford has a styling staff and used similar themes? Now who is living in the past?
          More importantly, Econolines of today have no connection in any way to the ’61. If you are interested in auto trivia, the first Econolines were so front weight biased that the rear wheels could actually lift off the ground on hard braking. They added heavy ballast weights to the rear of the vehicle to stop it. Chevrolet copied the design so closely that they had the same problem and the same solution! The fundamental design flaw was corrected with the next generation.

  • avatar
    Big Al from Oz

    I would like to see the NV400 come out of Europe and enter the US van market.

    Just from a quick glance it appears the ‘neolithic’ US vans are on there last legs, like the current midsize pickups.


    Because they are outdated, why would you invest in one.

    The quicker Ford comes out with the 3.2 Duratorque Transit the better it will be for Ford.

    Also, more cab chassis versions of the Eurovans would be nice. They can start to be used as flatbeds and become economical replacements for some of the HDs sold. Especially if you don’t need to tow 20 000lbs.

    • 0 avatar

      What reason is there to update the platform, its very simple and does the job, a new platform raises expenses and provides no differences over the abilities of current selection, in fact it would seem people prefer the platform that they know they can trust.

      Current ford and GM offerings are extremely cheap to repair, have had all problems worked out, and are bigger then the new vans, they have a winner by simply sitting on their butts. It’s not like cars that are increasingly more complicated, lose value quickly and are increasingly more expensive to maintain.

      When ford drops the econlines which makes no sense, it will send the sales to GM. GM wins by default, cheapest product, most reliable product, best setup available, cheap to maintain, doesnt lose value as Quickly as the competition.

      • 0 avatar

        In a way, the van segment reminds me of the pony car segment, and specifically the Mustang.

        A certain segment of the enthusiast audience thinks the Mustang should have had an independent rear suspension years ago, but most (the vast majority) Mustang enthusiasts want to stick with their truck axle. Who is right?

        I hate to say it, but probably the Mustang crowd. The pony car segment is sort of unique in its brand loyalty; of all the in-market buyers, there probably aren’t many cross shopping between the Mustang, Camaro, Challenger and the bit players. Adding the IRS (which they are finally getting around to) probably isn’t going to sell more Mustangs.

        • 0 avatar

          Exactly, why mess with something that works, and the people want, you gain nothing but the hassles of dealing with a new product worse than the old.

          Bystanders who don’t even buy products complain about stuff that the consumers WANT, I agree there is nothing to gain by going IRS, it costs the buyers more, manufactures have to redo a good setup, deal with warranty as the inevitable kinks are figured out, are harder on the modder crowd; all of this relates, the only people that have a place to put words into a conversation are the direct consumers of a product, not some guy driving a VW passat with a solid beam rear axle making fun of someone who buys what they want which is a car with SRA.

  • avatar

    It is one of those things I’ve rarely think about, but with the exception of the Nissans and the Transit Connect I’ve driven every other van in the market within the past few years. The most recent was a new Sprinter back in May. I hope that the ProMaster and the T-Series can be more durable and cost effective to maintain than the Sprinter while maintaining the driving experience. Compared to the Sprinter, the E-Series and the Express/Savanna are really outdated.

    • 0 avatar

      No doubt the E series vans are stone knives and bearskins. But they are durable if inefficient. The Sprinter, while excellent in many ways, are reliability nightmares. We have them at work, and my friends who are contractors all report frequent and expensive repairs. It does not take too many lost/late jobs to render the Sprinter’s mileage advantage moot.

    • 0 avatar

      Compared to the Sprinter the Econoline and GM twins are dirt cheap to own, from purchase price, to maintenance, to repairs. Which of course is why the Sprinter has never made a serious dent in the market. I can’t imagine that the T-series could be anywhere near as expensive overall as the Sprinter.

    • 0 avatar
      el scotto

      Dear God! For the Sake of all that is holy and pure; No! A four cylinder, front-wheel drive motorhome on American interstates? I’d don’t know which would be worse: 45-mph gaggles of them on I-95 or walking speed lines of them trying to go up the mountains on I-64.

  • avatar

    Ford is jus printing money with the E-Series. I’m sure the Transit will get to that point after a few years.

  • avatar

    There are now a fair amount of motor homes being built on MD trucks here.

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