Compact Commercial Vans Booming Despite Challenges

Cameron Aubernon
by Cameron Aubernon
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compact commercial vans booming despite challenges

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]

Cameron Aubernon
Cameron Aubernon

Seattle-based writer, blogger, and photographer for many a publication. Born in Louisville. Raised in Kansas. Where I lay my head is home.

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16 of 66 comments
  • HotPotato HotPotato on May 15, 2015

    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.

  • Chan Chan on May 15, 2015

    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.

    • Lou_BC Lou_BC on May 15, 2015

      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 4x4'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.

  • Sector 5 Sector 5 on May 15, 2015

    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.

  • Undertheradar Undertheradar on May 15, 2015

    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.

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    • Undertheradar Undertheradar on May 17, 2015

      @Frantz 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....