It used to be that ladder-frame-based full-size vans dominated the commercial van segment but all that seems to be changing. Companies like Ford and Chrysler are poised to come to market with their own bigger, lighter, and more fuel efficient (small and large) choices to better compete as the economy implies there are better times around the corner. Whether downsizing or replacing their aging fleets, small businesses will have many more choices in size and capability.
The Ford Econoline or E-Series has dominated the industry for several decades but the heavy, rear-wheel drive, V-8, automatic, full-size van is into its last year of production before the new Ford Transit (due to offer several T-Series models--T-150, T-250, T-350), to be equipped with at least one EcoBoost engine and one turbodiesel, is on the way. The trend nowadays is to have both a large and more compactly sized work van that provides good load-carrying capability, has a substantial tow rating, offers decent I-4, V-6 or V-8 engine choices, has a relatively low load floor, and can be configured in many different ways to fit the needs of the many small businesses around the country.
According to Automotive News, interest in this segment seems to be building--in the last five years, the number of plane-Jane commercial vans sold in the U.S. has gone from well over 300,000 in 2007, to below 160,000 in 2009, and now seems to be riding a "rebound" wave with almost 230,000 units sold in the segment in 2011.
Companies like Nissan have invested heavily, creating a version of their fullsize truck platform to accomodate a entirely new commercial and passenger van called the NV, as well as coming to market with the smaller NV200. Chrysler has the Fiat Doblo and Ducato poised for U.S. distribution under the Ram nameplate with a converted minivan (Ram Cargo Van) on-sale now. Ford has been leading the way with its four-cylinder Transit Connect gaining a solid foothold with private businesses, but they also have the larger Euro-derived, larger Transit ready for sale some time in 2013. Ford is releasing information about their European version vans (Tourneo Custom and Transit Custom) right now and U.S. design teams are working on various renditions of our Transit version as well (see sketches below). Unfortunately, General Motors looks to be the only player on the field without a newer option in the works.
No doubt the segment will grow in then coming years, if for no other reason that businesses have been waiting to see signs of economic movement before investing in their fleets. And the fact that many of these newer options could potentially save small and large companies a lot of money at the pump, as well as long-term maintenance costs will also be attractive.