By on May 15, 2015

2015 Ram ProMaster City Pursued By Ram 1500 Crew Cab

While old-school large vans are still kings in catering and flowers for now, more small business owners are opting instead for compact commercial vans.

The new segment, boasting vans such as the Ford Transit Connect, Nissan NV200 and Ram ProMaster City, is gaining significant ground thus far in 2015, with sales jumping 58 percent compared to the same period in 2014, Ward’s Auto reports. The aforementioned Transit Connect is the segment sales leader, with 43,210 units delivered last year.

The popularity of compact commercial vans is in part due to business owners needing a van smaller and more efficient than the Chevrolet Express, Ram ProMaster, and recently discontinued Ford E-Series. Karl Chevrolet fleet and commercial sales manager Scott Sams says the compacts offer those features, filling “a blank space in the lineup,” and adds a lot of catering and delivery businesses would benefit from exchanging larger vans for smaller models.

Though popular with those who know already, dealers and automakers alike are facing challenges in bringing those customers to the compact commercial van segment. For GM, who sells the Chevrolet City Express, most consumers in the market usually don’t have Chevrolet in mind when shopping. Dealer displays at local events have helped in promoting the compact and boosting sales in some parts of the country. Meanwhile, FCA US is helping dealers interested in adding commercial sales to their retail operations with a go-to-market plan aimed at building rapport with business customers.

[Photo credit: Ram]

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66 Comments on “Compact Commercial Vans Booming Despite Challenges...”


  • avatar
    RideHeight

    There’s just no downside to them.

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    That ProMaster is definitely gonna lose the race with the RAM.

  • avatar
    Rday

    CR says that these vans get terrible mileage for their size. I have the promaster 2500 lwb and love it. gets good mileage 18-19 hwy, averages 15 and has plenty of room and power. Didn’t get the diesel because of problems the new diesels are having. I think the new epa regulations will really hurt the diesel sales. unless you drive all highway i think gas is the way to go,

    • 0 avatar
      fordcomm

      The ProMaster City’s mileage is competitive for the segment at 21/29/24. The only competitor to beat it is the Transit Connect with the optional EcoBoost 1.6L engine, which bumps its numbers up to 22/30/25, I believe. Of course, the EcoBoost sets you back $795, so the payback period for that extra 1 mpg can be quite lengthy.

  • avatar
    CJinSD

    To get a fuller picture, is the commercial version of the Caravan being counted? Why no mention of the full-sized Transit and Sprinter?

    • 0 avatar
      Drzhivago138

      Remember that the “Ram ProMaster City” is a completely different model than the “Ram ProMaster.” None of the full-size vans have been mentioned. The Ram C/V (commercial Caravan) is on its way out.

  • avatar
    eggsalad

    I still believe a lot of businesses are using these to replace old Ford Rangers (which are obviously no longer available).

    Around here, the jobber PartsPlus uses them for parts delivery.

    • 0 avatar
      RedStapler

      Some operators that do not run them much are replacing ye olde Astro Van.

      • 0 avatar
        JohnTaurus_3.0_AX4N

        Yes, 20 years ago, the situation was simple. Need a durable, capable smaller-than-full size van? Easy, which do you live closest to, Ford dealer (Aerostar) or Chevy-GMC dealer (Astro/Safari)?

        The Caravan, while always popular with the soccer mom/dad crowd, has never been a serious player in the commercial sector. Too fragile (transaxles being the worst point), lower payload capacity and a not-flat load floor (meaning you had to lift items up over the rear bumper when loading/unloading, not a problem
        with the RWD choices).

        I like that there are good choices today for smaller cargo vans. I just wish someone had told Nissan that they didnt have to made theirs so freaking ugly. They have a taller cargo area with more useful room than the RWD stalwarts of yesterday, and I believe its because they were designed with this type of work in mind from the get-go.

        • 0 avatar
          Mandalorian

          Yup, these are definitely replacing Rangers and S-10s. Hard to beat all easily accessible lockable storage.

        • 0 avatar
          redmondjp

          No doubt. The Astro/Safari commercial van was the contractor’s choice in my area (big on the inside and relatively small on the outside so good for tight urban streets).

          I just helped a locksmith friend swap his mobile business out of his 219K mile 1997 Astro into a 79K mile same-year model purchased from a city auction (on which the rear end went out a week later – go figure).

          So I’ve been watching in traffic for these, and have noticed that the contractors like them so much that they are switching over to the passenger-van versions of the same that they can find used that have lower miles than their worn-out ones. In fact, my neighbor who paints apartments for a living works out of a passenger version of one.

          • 0 avatar
            Lou_BC

            redmondjp – I see Astro/Safari vans still popular with commercial operators. The resale is amazing on them. The seats come out easily on the passenger ones and the capacity is amazing.

          • 0 avatar
            Scoutdude

            The Astro in the later years was a pretty durable little van. The fleet I used to maintain had one that was used by a salesman that racked up almost 400K before the transmission went out. I think it was at 399,8xx when it came in on the hook. They still managed to get $1400 out of it despite the mileage and that it wouldn’t move. It was in great condition body and interior wise.

  • avatar
    gear-dog

    I bought a Ford Transit Connect at the end of last year for my martial arts business. We transport a 500 pound bouncy castle to birthday parties and festivals. ( I also own a Miata, but no, Miata is not the answer to everything) I made the purchase purely on business necessity, but I have been surprised at how well it handles, turns and stops. It really is very pleasant to drive. Six months in and I could not be more impressed. This is my first (semi) domestic vehicle purchase in 30 years. So far it has been flawless, but I am sort of holding my breath with regards to reliability. I know it was designed and built in Europe so I am hoping it fairs better than most home market Fords that my friends owned in past decades.

    • 0 avatar
      danio3834

      “I know it was designed and built in Europe so I am hoping it fairs better than most home market Fords that my friends owned in past decades.”

      O.o

  • avatar
    sirwired

    I see an awful lot of restaurants around here using commercial vans (either full-size or mid-size) that don’t really seem to get used that much. I suspect a lot of such places would be better served by just buying a used minivan, removing all the rear seats, and paying for a nice paint/decal job.

  • avatar
    John R

    These things are a revalation.

    Ryder gave me a Sprinter when I hired a van for moving day about two years ago. Three years previous to that I had the displeasure of driving an E-series – what a dog. It made driving the Sprinter feel like I was driving an Integra GS-R. The Sprinter’s size belies its road manners.

    Mileage was decent and interior volume was stunning.

  • avatar
    Stumpaster

    The new segment! Welcome to the 21st Century, America.

  • avatar
    Sjalabais

    This is a very interesting convergence of inter-Atlantic car cultures. I wonder if the typical issues – like pesky delivery vans doing a 100mph on the motorway with no chance of stopping – follow with it? How are the marketing departments dealing with the Europeification of the US?

  • avatar
    Oberkanone

    No market for Euro style compact vans or full size vans. Will never sell in the USA.
    At least that is what Ford, GM, and Chrysler said for the past 25 years prior to marketing them here.
    Same thing is said about diesel passenger vehicles, compact trucks and some midsize trucks. And wagons!

    • 0 avatar

      I read a while back that at one time commercial vans were the most profitable vehicle sold by the Big 3 – because the fixed costs had been paid off a long time ago, and they didn’t need to put any money into engineering/updating them. Which is probably why they didn’t bother making something newer.

      I suspect they figure small pickups are just going to cannabilze profitable big pickup sales, and wagons would canablize profitable CUV sales.

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        Sales volumes are no longer high enough to justify a US-specific vehicle. The hundreds of millions that would need to be spent on developing it would not be recovered.

        Vans used to sell in healthy quantities to the retail market. Now that they don’t, there is no good reason to design separate vans for Americans. The US fleet buyers and commercial users who need to have a van will just buy one.

        • 0 avatar
          Big Al from Oz

          @Pch101,
          Why not import them as well?

          What is stopping this?

          These seem to be quite versatile vehicles.

          If some were imported I’d bet the prices would become more competitive. The US market is huge and there is room for this.

          • 0 avatar
            Scoutdude

            They do import them, the TC is imported form Turkey. However the market is not that large that it will support many more players. The TC is the top seller and it only sold a little more than 40K last year. The market is still growing as many fleet operators have found out they are much more suitable for their business than a small pickup. However those buyers are fleets and they don’t load them up with options and make them that profitable. The main reason that Nissan brought theirs to the US is because they won the NYC taxi contract, though that was thrown out.

          • 0 avatar
            Big Al from Oz

            @Scoutdude,
            I thought Ford was spoken to about those Turkish imported vans. Ford had to modify the vans in Baltimore to circumvent some kind of restriction placed on importing them as vans.

            Essentially Ford wasn’t importing vans at all, but people movers.

            I’m talking vans, not people movers.

            Hmmm………????????

          • 0 avatar

            @BigAl

            The US has a tariff known as the “chicken tax”, set up to punish some country years ago and still hanging around. It puts a 25% tax on light trucks, which are defined as basically not having a back seat. So it was cheaper for Ford to import the Transit with seats and windows, and cover the windows and recycle the seats, than to pay the tariff.

            It’s the same reason Subaru used to put a back seat in the bed of the Brat in the ’80’s.

          • 0 avatar
            Big Al from Oz

            @Madanthony,
            I do realise this.

            My comment was remove the restrictions that reduce the ability of external manufacturers to market their wares.

            Silly isn’t it. You must manufacture a vehicle, export it, then strip it to circumvent restrictions.

            It shows how uncompetitive that market segment is in the US.

      • 0 avatar
        Big Al from Oz

        @madanthony,
        If the current US manufacturers consider the types of vehicles you described as eating into their profits, why not allow other manufacturers some room to import?

        There are many manufacturers other than what is on sale in the US.

        This would create a more competitive market for the types of vehicles you mentioned.

        • 0 avatar
          DenverMike

          @BAFO – We’re just not a van-happy society. Not since the Molester/Surfer Van Movement. Although the VW Bus was at the forefront. What’s left is incentive packed, fleet strippers. Luckily these users don’t cry for constant updates, bleeding edge tech/infotainment, nor touchy feely, soft plastic interiors.

          I have European friends who’s 1st cars were old panel vans. Because there’s such a huge gluttony of them there. Their vans are our pickups. Just different customs is all.

          So why does Europe not allow other manufacturers room to import more pickups?

          This would create a more competitive market for other types of vehicles.

          But silliness aside, Ram could be the 1st to penetrate the heavily protected Euro market with a FS pickup made in Italy or Portugal. The regular cab, Ram 1500 and all HD cab configurations are already Hecho en Mexico, and virtually ready to sail on over.

  • avatar
    Undefinition

    Now if they can just furnish the interior like a comfy conversion van(or even a comfy minivan), it’d be the perfect vehicle for my family.

    I’m frustrated that the “reasonably sized, reasonably priced” minivans of the 80s and 90s are gone (Mazda5 was the last of its kind), and now the automakers have declared, “If you want a minivan, it’s going to be ginormous, and it’s going to cost 50% more than a comparable CUV.” I don’t want a CUV! I want a minivan, with the low floor, the removable seating, and the ability to swallow mass amounts of stuff–in a floorplan the same size as a car.

    • 0 avatar

      I was looking at what leftovers my local Ford dealer had, and they had a passenger Transit Connect that was pretty well kitted out. I think it was a “Platinum” – it had leather, nav, ect. Had a pretty significant discount too.

  • avatar
    HotPotato

    Micro-vans also make great taxis. Was recently in New York City and was surrounded by em: previous-generation Ford Transit Connect, Nissan NV200 (the only one with a carefully engineered factory taxi package – no fun to drive but brilliant to ride in), Ford C-Max Hybrid, Toyota Prius V (the vanlet), and later-model Scion xB (the “big” one). Didn’t see any new-gen Transit Connects, Kia Souls, or new baby Rams, but I’m sure they’d all shine too. Big inside, small outside, 4-cylinder economy.

  • avatar
    Chan

    Outside of the dry climate areas, it would make sense for an affordable “truck” that protects your cargo from the weather year-round. These things are a no-brainer, and I’m surprised they took so long to catch on in the US.

    • 0 avatar
      Lou_BC

      Chan – commercial operators tend to be very conservative. One reason why they tend to stick to one model or configuration is to save on upfitter costs. If you retire an old unit and all of the accessories (shelving, racks etc.)are in good shape you just swap it over to the new one. Another obvious reason is spare parts and tires.

      A local reforestation company in my region does the same thing with HD pickups. They do 6 month leases due to the seasonal nature of the work but always go with 1 ton Ford crewcab 4×4’s. They remove the boxes and bumpers and add their own decks, cargo bodies and bumpers and apply thick clear vinyl to the rest of the truck.
      It saves them a ton of money because they do not have to keep a large inventory of trucks year round and swapping gear keeps the lease return costs down because these trucks get beat up pretty bad.

  • avatar
    Joss

    NV200 has the tightest turning circle. I don’t like the fact that to upgrade to back-up monitor you have to include color coded bumpers ans mirrors and wheel covers. These are a complete waste on a commercial vehicle and first to get damaged or lost. Best warranty though.

    The new Transit Connect has become taller and is more bespoke. But it’s expensive.

    The ProMaster has a snout like the NV’s larger cousins which cuts into turning radius.

    All in all I don’t think these vans offer good value presently.
    The manufacturer are obviously cashing in on the wave of popularity. Folks mentioned above retailers searching for used to adapt. No wonder.

  • avatar
    undertheradar

    Drove Ford E250’s for over a decade with various drive trains including one with a 300 I6. Company went to the Transit Connect and I could not have been happier. My line of work puts me either in front of a customer or driving to the next customer 95% of the workday, I found if you kept things organized there was plenty of space. And when the nice lady in the 300M tried to drive through the passenger side, the trucklet let me walk away unscathed. I now have the full sized Transit 1500 and while it is worlds apart from the E vans, I miss the transit Connect every day.

    • 0 avatar
      RobertRyan

      @undertheradar
      Welcome to world of European Vans. Someone in Australia, thought it was a good idea to import long tailed E450 Class C’s from the U.S, as they were fairly cheap,even after a conversion. The Motorhomes sat on the lot after prospect Customers were allowed to drive them. Too many thought, they were a dog to drive, interior furnishings were pretty cheap and dreadful to look at. Strangely the whole idea of a E450 as a Motorhome base died a quite death. Also it was found out that MH’sdid not conform to Australian ADR’s as well

      • 0 avatar
        DenverMike

        @Robert Ryan – Yeah shocking big class C’s don’t drive/handle like sports cars. Once you’re talking up to 28 ft with multiple slide-outs, is there a better way to do it than heavy duty truck chassis’, one ton and up?

        The long-deck coach should be centered/balanced over the dually axle. Common sense and shortest possible wheelbase. So the long tail is the best scenario with long length RVs.

        With fwd motorhomes, the dually axles are pushed far back to get max weight over the front drive axle. Kitchens and baths right behind the driver. Weird scenario when the dually axles should be at the front of the RV!

        So how is a Fiat, Sprinter or whatever, interior less dreadful?

        You leave the big A$$ motorhome to the pros.

        • 0 avatar
          RobertRyan

          Your Right, totally useless as a Motorhome base. Not a surprise that they were abandoned. They went up to 31ft here
          American Motorhome bases are changing , more Promasters, Sprinters etc becoming prevalent

          • 0 avatar
            DenverMike

            Yeah 1 ton van cut-off RVs have been “useless” for the past 60+ years. RV upfitters have no choice but follow OEM trends. Ford and GM have given the heads-up, van cut-offs are on the way out. Upfitters can’t continue designing/building coaches specific for trucks that will no longer exist. Coach builds/models are not interchangeable between brands of truck chassis’.

            At one time Dodge absolutely dominated the RV market. All classes. Upfitters only build the coaches and just along for the ride.

      • 0 avatar
        DenverMike

        Also, no diesel option, is a deal breaker in OZ. Not to mention a hacked up RHD conversion. But then again you have to try to spin everything into ‘American stuff bad, global stuff amazing’.

    • 0 avatar
      Scoutdude

      So which engine does the Transit have and what kind of MPG are you getting with it? Not that I’m going to buy one anytime soon but when they get a few years old I could possibly see replacing my Club Wagon with one. I only put a few thousand miles per year on mine, so I can’t justify spending much money on one, but when I need it I need it.

      • 0 avatar
        undertheradar

        I have the 3.5 Ecoboost V6. Loaded with stuff 14 to 15 mph is all we have ever seen out of the Transit 150’s as the motor is much more boost than eco….

        • 0 avatar

          The ecoboost replaced the 5.4. One should not expect “Eco” to mean “Better than a 4cyl”. It’s far better than a loaded 5.4 econoline would have gotten you with far more power. The “Eco” is perspective, and frankly when in proper perspective is pretty impressive.

          • 0 avatar
            undertheradar

            We ran E250’s with the 4.6 V8 prior to the Transit Connects, they reliably achieved 13 mph for 200,000 plus miles with infrequent oil changes and semi annual ball joints. I don’t see the EcoBoosts doing 200,000 miles without far more maintenance/repair costs. Especially with our younger leadfooted workers….

        • 0 avatar
          Scoutdude

          That isn’t that bad, though of course it is very dependent on how heavy you load it and what type of driving you do with it.


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