Commercial Vans -- The Next Big Thing?

Ford_Transit_Custom_09 II
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. 

Fiat ducato II
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. 

Nissan-NV II

Ford_Transit_Custom_Exterior_Sketch II

Ford_Transit_Custom_Interior_Sketch II


Ford ans Ram might be on to somethng, but the nissan van is one ugly duckling! and to think it only has an underpowered V-6, or ineficiant V-8's to boot, it looks like an ugly pickup, but then has a van body, at least hey have a high-roof version, but man is it ugly! as far as GM goes at least you can get a powerful V-8 gas or diesel, with a good trans. it may not be cutting edge, but it gets the job done, and has for yrs. I would bet they will have something new b4 long. So far the best of them seems to be the Sprinter, formerly Dodge, now Merc. and Freightliner, it will be interesting to see just what Ram does come out with.

I think the American market will have to adjust to the euro spec models -- maybe the styling more -- as our models have been pretty much unchanged for so long.
It will be interesting, no doubt, to see how these new model fit into commercial duties where cutaways and 12 passenger models are also seen in service quite often.

We're anxiously awaiting the new Chevy Express. The Nissan's I thought were ugly at first and kind of still do but they are really starting to take off in the midwest.

I recently saw some variant of the Fiat Doblo doing some hot weather testing near Death Vally while on a road trip a few weeks ago.

When the new Colorado and Canyon launch production is will shift to GM's Wentzville plant that currently builds the full-size Chevy Express and GMC Savana vans. They can build the next gen Chevy Express here if they have the space?

@Bob, @ DennisScarborough
Going by what everyone else is doing the next Chevy Express will be US version of this, the Vivaro, which has been as successful as the Transit.

@fear the voices Agree, the US is going to get more and more Euro type vans

@sandman4X4 . The Fiat Doblo is going to be the next RAM Van. It is not as big as a Sprinter.

Remember that GM has a wide range of Opel vans in Europe, similar to the Sprinter and Transit. GM could bring them to the U.S. if the European style vans prove popular. And that's a big if at the moment.

@Big Bob,
The Vivaro is sold by Opel and Vauxhall in Europe.

I was looking at that van earlier. You're right, that van or Opel Movano (bigger than Vivaro) will probably be the next Chevy Express. Those vans are so much more popular in Europe than pick-up trucks. Important to notice that you can get it as panel van or chassis cab.

Let's not forget about GM/Peugeot-Citroen alliance.
Peugeot and Citroen have got some pretty cool vans themselves.
Peugeot Boxer and Expert
Citroen Dispatch and Relay

I don't think they have to go that far for ideas with Opel/Vauxhall vans right there on the palm of their hand, but new/fresh ideas are right there within their reach.

Big Al from Oz is right that we in NA will have to start sharing designed vehicles because of the development costs. These designs would take some getting use to but I could see the Ford and maybe the Opel with a Chevy or GMC grill. The main thing would be the lower floors and more efficiently designed cargo space (that is what commercial users would want).

I would but a T-150 today if I could - with the 3.5 ecoboost.

I would buy an NV low roof if I could find one equipped suitably.

The only viable option today is the NV low roof, which looks fine and has a V6 that gets decent mileage in other Nissan vehicles. ( They do not list mpg for the NV ).

Everything else is revoltingly obsolete.

Don't forget the other complication: The Opel/Vauxhall Movano and Vivaro are produced jointly with Renault-Nissan. The Movano shares its architecture with the Renault Master and Nissan NV400, and Vivano with the Renault Trafic and Nissan Primastar. Who knows how R-N would react to GM wanting to sell those same vans in NA.

@Jeff S
These Euro and even some of the Asian vans, particulary from Korea will find there way into NA. I hope they come with a diesel option. A lot of small diesels are interchangable with our pickups.

The looks are for aerodynamics and with a diesel they would be much cheaper to operate than your current vans. Even our pickups are more aerodynamic for efficiency reasons. Some of the comments regarding vehicle looks are just what you guys are used to seeing. I have seen some nice looking Transit van pictures.

Like I have been saying, I do feel the NA market will have diesels by 2016 in all forms of vehicles. This is when Euro VI, CAFE and even Australian diesel regulations are almost aligned with each other.

Robert Ryan seems to know more about vans, I tend to look into the industry as a whole and what is driving decisions, not just brand names and diff ratios.

@Robert Ryan
In my last paragraph I wan't have a go at you, sorry. It came out wrong:) I was explaining I like al aspects of the industry, not just targeting a small area.

I dont understand why Ford/Chrysler are using Euro Vans for Cargo vans now ? The gas mileage isnt going to be better with these guttless ugly pos vans !!

Our company has a few vans :

03 Dodge Ram 3500 extended maxi van 5.9 gas it gets 16 mpg average,medium length Ram with a 5.2 gas V-89 17.5 average mpg..

Sprinter Diesel not extended short version 16.5 average mpg

Ford econoline Diesel 18 mpg average ..5.4 gas 15.5 mpg..

The gas versions of the Ram are quick vans 7-8 sec 0-60,and reliable ,even the Ford goes like a F-150 pick up and is reliable as well !! The Sprinter cant out run a jogger..We timmed the sprinter 0-60 it was 14.2 seconds ..empty !! We had the Sprinter in the shop many times for repairs with only 40,000 miles it isnt as reliable as the American vans...We know some one with a Transit and they cant move ,struggle empty and with some cargo they fall on their face !! Plus they only get 17 mpg,like a full size V-8 cargo van..

Americans dont want vehicles like Europe...We dont want to be like Europe...Unfortunately,our economy is like Europe,our l;eaders are moving us to socialism like Europe,our vans are becoming European..and soon we will be starving and nobody but the rich will drive a car ..just like Europe !! I guess thats what Americans want...Have fun riding a bike and taking transit suckers !!

@Going Sideways
You obviously don't have much of a clue on what goes on in the world outside of the community you live in.

If you were one of my subordinates and drove 0-60 in 7-8sec, I'd have you fired for showing a total lack of common sense towards safety and equipment. What about the cargo in the back of the van, your a winner.

Also, If you drive like that how can you possibly be getting 15.5mpg?

Really mate, don't talk sh#t.

@ Big Al from Oz No problems, my interests go from Pickups, racing cars, Heavy Truck Industry, RV's and Aircraft/ cover a broad spectrum.

@Going Sideways - man, if you were any more retro and old school, you be wanting to give the USA back to England. Sheesh.
Get used to it. USA no longer calls the shots in the global economy. That probably explains why they spend so much of their GDP on the military. Politicians gotta make it look like they are in control of something.

Back on topic. I think that these vans will be superior to the old vans we currently have. I am seeing more NV's running around. Most of these vans are city delivery vehicles. Top speed or acceleration are of little importance in that environment.

Here is an image of the Ducato/Ram van. It looks pretty good, better than the Fiat variant. If they do introduce it it will be interesting what engine they fit.

@goingSideways: man, the paranoid and totally baseless dribble from people like you is getting old. It is obvious you are very poorly educated (spell much?) and now you're looking for someone to blame (Obama or the Democrats) for your total lack of personal responsibility as you foolishly drink the Koolaid that the rich fatcats in the GOP are gladly handing you. You turn a discussion about cargo vans into a paranoid rant on socialism. Really?! So you like the US vans--which are gas guzzlers and rattle traps whose basic designs date back to the 80s?! Really? I bet you also miss the Crown Victoria. And Nixon.

We got a transit 01 with a 2.0 diesel and it gets 30 mpg (us gallon)

@ Rich...

No, goingBackwards wouldn't like nixon.
Nixon tried to pass universal healthcare. A total commie by todays standards.

I will say this though, GoingBackwards does have a point about MPG. I'm not going by her figures but I suspect it will only be marginally improved because you know they're going to continue to outfit these with larger v6 powerplants that get the ubiquitous 16-20 mpg. Maybe a tad better if these are super light and a lot more aerodynamic.

16-20 mpg is a joke. It's absolutely terrible.
It's so bad, really what is the difference between that and 14-18 that a v8

If you had asked me back in 2008 when rumors of these Euro vans hitting the street were starting to surface, I was sure we'd be seeing highway mpg in the high 30's by now using small turbo diesels. Silly me.

I agree Nissan NV are ugly as sin but they designed that thing based on feedback from tradesman that use vans. What a concept!

If the prototype they were bringing around to all the car shows that had a lunch truck style flip up side window, built in tool storage and a swing around drivers seat that met up with a small workstation, I'd totally have one, ugliness and all. Alas, the production model doesn't have any of that stuff and it's note even an option.

MaXx:: you said if you clould get a van with flip up sides you would get one,, Chevy GMC vans have such an option, all you would need to do is get a swivel seat and youd be good to go.

I can't see how their wil be huge mpg gains with these vans. The savings will come more from the "idle time" spent with these units. A turbo V6 or small diesel will consume less fuel than a V8 idling. That is where the savings will come in. Delivery guys aren't going to shut down at every delivery stop regardless of how many "Idle Free Zone" signs you put up. Especially when it is -35C or +35C (-29F - 95F).

I keep hearing Chrysler wants to bring the Iveco Daily to the States as a Ram also. If I'm correct, the Ducato is front drive, so the Daily would probably be targeted towards the Heavy Duty market or even recreational market (RV's).

Also, it's possible that Korean vans will show up here as well. Considering how fast Hyundai is expanding, I'm waiting for an announcement for the debut of the next generation i-Load van. And if Nissan's full-Size NV gains any traction, look for Toyota to toss its hat into the ring as well.

The most intriguing vehicle to me right now is the VPG MV1 disability van (pardon me if it sounds politically incorrect, but I just can't find a better phrase at the moment). Since it bears a strong resemblance to the old Astro and Aerostar vans and has a low floor to boot, this would seem like an excellent candidate for a commercial mid-size van.

And what's the deal with GoingSideways (or is it GoingBackwards)? Is this person for real? Geez.

Here is a link to a Ford Transit that we have in Australia. It's achieving 34mpg (7.2litres per 100km). It's powered by the diesel that is in our base model Ranger/BT50.

It is developing about 150hp and 280fllbs of torque in rear wheel drive form.

I'm looking forward to the new transit. My 2010 E250 will be ready to be replaced in a couple of years and it will be nice to see the replacement.

I wonder if it will still have double i-beam front suspension?

@Bob, @ DennisScarborough
Going by what everyone else is doing the next Chevy Express will be US version of this, the Vivaro, which has been as successful as the Transit.

Sir, if the new Chevy vans looks anything like that, we'll politely decline. I think the Nissan looks much better and it is a genuine Nissan product. I will not buy a Chevrolet van or truck that is a rebadged Opel or any other sort of European vehicle. It's either a genuine Chevrolet product made in America that actually Looks like an American van or our business with them is done.

This is a New Zealand built 28ft Motorhome built on the Daily chassis.

Hyundai Iload Van

VPG MV1 Good idea, right size for a disability platform, would make a "London Taxi" as well.

Diesel fuel has not worked since about 2003 in North America when it starts shooting up to be almost the same price as gasoline at the pump. I have used propane since 1981 in commercial vehicles and it always has had a significant price advantage over gasoline and diesel. Today in Toronto, July 11, 2012, diesel costs 2.55 times as much as the cheapest propane station while gasoline is 2.6 times as much. EG: 47 cents per liter for propane. (same as $1.74 per U.S, gallon ) while diesel sells as low as $1.19 a liter and gasoline about $1.22 to $1.25 a liter. Both Canada ($2,000 ) and the USA ($2,500 to $5,000 ) offer Federal tax deductions for switching to a dual-fuel conversion to LPG, propane. Thailand, the UK, Australia and many other countries offer federal tax deductions and reduced road taxes on fuel, for converting and using propane. It's best to leave the gasoline system in place and just add on the propane conversion so you have a backup fuel for when, not if, when you cannot find a propane station close by or open at 4 AM. You can use a bigger engine in the same vehicle or even a bigger car or truck and still spend less dollars per mile, KM, than running on diesel or gasoline. Do BOTH a Yahoo and Google search on me to read the dozens of articles I have written about using propane in commercial this MARK SMYTH PROPANE. You will read about my running 1.5 million kilometers on propane in both trucks and cars. Propane has 18 times the hydrogen content of nat gas, CNG so you travel about 40 percent further on LPG than on CNG identical driving.

As of today July 11, 2012, in Toronto and area, propane is selling as cheap as 47 cents a Liter ($1.74 per USA gallon ) while diesel is $1.19 a liter and gasoline is about $1.24 a liter give or take 2 cents up or down. Why pay 2.6 times as much for gasoline as propane (105 octane R+M ) or 2.55 times as much for diesel fuel. The math for diesels has not worked since 2003 in Canada when the big oil companies started to push the pump price of diesel into the same price range as gasoline. "But diesels get better mileage" say the idiots who cannot use a calculator. DO THE MATH. Here is what you need to know, you will loose 10 to 12 percent in miles per gallon when you have a modern LPG port fuel injection system compared to the exact same vehicle running on gasoline. Nobody uses old tech propane carb systems here since 2004 when Bosch introduced it's joint venture fuel injector for propane use here in Toronto. The Toronto shop was chosen by Bosch because it had been in business for over 31 years (now 40 ) and was mostly very high mileage vehicles converted driving 60,000 to 120,000 KM per year on each fleet vehicle. Lots of data for Bosch in the shortest amount of time and for that biggest propane conversion shop in North America. How about 1,500 vehicles working out of Toronto airport on propane only 2 miles from the shop. Perfect location.

Light weight vans are ok for light work like bread delivery. If you are in the construction business the new vans will be trouble. To haul a load safely you need large brakes, full frame, big wheels and a V8. The new vans may not be suitable for hard work and I don’t think contactors will replace their V8 E250’s with 6 cylinder unibody vans. The Econolines dominate almost 80% of the full size van market Ford is taking a big risk in replacing the Econoline one of ford oldest brands.


@Phil - go buy a globe at Wallmart. You might notice that there is a whole lot of real estate beyond continental USA. Don't you think that some Russian backwater, third world dictatorship, or South American Banana Republic would be a tougher environment than a USA job site?
Please note that the "Global" Transit van outsold the E - Series. Transit #6 and E -Series #11 globally.
1.Ford Focus - 236,261
2.Ford Fiesta(World/LA) - 189,246
3.Ford F-Series(World)/ Lobo - 170,913
4.Ford Escape/ Kuga - 91,632
5.Ford Fusion(World) - 69,460
6.Ford Transit V,VII - 56,650
7.Ford Mondeo - 40,636
8.Ford Edge - 39,298
9.Ford Explorer - 38,444
10.Ford C-Max - 32,636
11.Ford E-Series - 31,125
12.Ford Figo/ Ikon(Mx) - 25,154
13.Ford Mustang - 21,497
14.Ford Ka(Euro) - 20,810
15.Ford Ranger(World) - 19,423
16.Ford Transit Connect - 19,350
17.JMC Boadian/ BD-Series/ Boarding/ JX-Series - 18,720
18.Ford Ka(S.Am.) - 16,643
19.Ford Taurus - 16,563
20.JMC Qingka/ Carrying/ Convey - 16,543

Like it or not - the world and its products are coming to a car lot near you!

Here is a van that would be competitive against an E250. It comes with a 3.0litre diesel and has up to a 15 000lb GVM.

They also come as a cab-chasssis version as well and can take a flat bed, very useful in construction.

Thanks for responding to my post and I respect your opinion. I do have some experience with trucks and vans as I have been a licensed builder for 30 years. I would safely say that I have bought and used more vans and trucks than most, including you. My business depends on trucks to do hard work, each and every day I send out trucks to meet my commitments. If a truck breaks down or cannot do the work it cost me money. In the 30 years of my construction business I have only had one Econoline break down on the way to a job. That Econoline was a used 17 year old GTE phone van with over a half million miles on it the c6 failed.
If the European vans are so good and so capable why is Ford going to continue to build the E350? The answer is simple: the unibody 6 cylinder vans will not do the hard work the Econoline will. A properly equipped Econoline can tow 22,000 pounds please show me a European van sold in the US that can tow 22,000 pounds.

Big Al,
I would love to have a diesel as most contractors would. I just find the operation cost and the purchase price to be high. We love Econolines because we can buy them cheap and they hold up to abuse. The last new E250 we bought was in 06 and we paid around 20K, mostly we buy Econolines used and we normally pay 2K to 5K. The GTE Econoline we had we bought for $600 for it and had it 6 years, we did install a rebuilt c6 for $400 (1992) in it. We try to keep cost down so we can stay in business.

@Phil - I do think that the E series will stay for a while to cover the transition. Up-Fitters will need time to adapt to the new chassis configurations. The E Series will most likely be used to fill that gap. I used to work as a paramedic so I have a lot of respect for the E Series units. I do think that the Euro vans will do the job. Ford has ruled the van market for decades so I doubt they will kill their dominance with a poor product.
I apologize for the sarcasm.
Too many people look at things from a North American perspective and automatically discredit what the world has to offer. The trolls on this site do tend to make me more edgy at times.

From what I know about the new vans Ford has marketed them as a light duty delivery van. Which may explain why Ford plans to continue the E350, I don’t know how Ford will replace the E350 without building a new full frame chassis truck. As I understand Ford has trademarked the phrase T350: do you know if a new one ton van is in the works?
I am a firm believer in free trade and commerce with through out the world. Unrestricted trade will keep all of us safer.

I very much doubt the The E350 Econoline can TOW anywhere near 22,000lbs. A HD F350 Diesel is rated here as 12,000lbs bumper pull towing, a slight 10,000lbs discrepancy.
Official Ford Figures show 10,000lb for a E350.

Like you we would like to know the specs of the up coming T350 and T450/550 Vans based on the Transit.


Sorry my mistake it is the E-450 Super Duty 6.8L V10/5R110W (not the E350) the E450 has a Gross combined weight rating of 22,000 and not tow, I stand corrected. It still out classes any European van sold in the US that I know of.


@Phil - I was looking at the Ford UK site and there is a huge range of configurations including chassis cabs for flat decks and ranging to chassis cabs for motor homes. Pickup trucks aren't big sellers there, so these vans fill that void in the market. I would suspect that if Ford brought the whole line up to NA, it would cover every market need.


Thanks for the link to the Ford UK site, did you see the new ranger pick up? As I understand Ford plans to build the new van here, I wonder what changes Ford will make for the US market. On the UK site I did see full frame vans and unibody vans, so Ford is going to market a new heavy duty van. That addresses my major concern: a heavy duty full frame van.


@Phil - I thnk that Ford will slowly bring over all of its vans. They came first with the Transit Connect, then the Transit. I bet we will see the bigger chassis cab full framed Transit vans as well. That is probably when the E Series will finally be shut down. I suspect that Fiat will bring all of their Iveco vans to NA as rebadged Rams and they come in various sizes as well. The only one that will be left out is GMC. Someone else stated that their "global" van was a shared product with Nissan. You were saying that most of your vans are bought used so I suspect that it will take a while before those new vans end up on the used market. That would give you a good idea as to how they measure up.
I wonder if they can skirt around the chicken tax like Ford does with the Transit Connect. Bring it in with passenger seats which makes it a car then swap it over to a van which then counts as a truck.

I have seen more Transit Cab Chassis's around, but IVECO seems to be producing a lot of them. No the Transit does not go to 22,000lb, but the new IVECO 70C does.
A basis for a Truck Camper or Slideon.

A 26 ft Motorhome

A European 30ft Concorde Motorhome with a garage to take a small car. Iveco Daily 70C17 3.0 Euro 5 diesel 170ps

Can anyone tell me about these "Step Vans"? I saw them driving around N.Y , Chicago etc. They seem to be specific to NA. Who makes them?

@Robert Ryan - I think that it isn't really any different than buying a motorhome. I had read somewhere that the gassers are on a Ford chassis and the diesels were on a Freightliner chassis. I actually don't know who makes the body.
This parts company does have a list of "step vans".
I thing Grummand Olson makes the FedEx van.

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