Commercial van roundup

Howard J Elmer
September 11, 2013
Written by Howard J Elmer
For the users of commercial vans – whether the small corner bakery or courier giant UPS – this is the year that your model landscape changes forever.  Not only are there more new models available than ever before, but many of them are sourced in Europe – and will be available with small diesel engines.  This is a huge market shift – one that’s long overdue – and its best result for you, the van buyer, will be sharper prices on better product.

Nissan  
Nissan’s design uses many European cues – and as such is competitive with the new imports.
 
 
But, I am not talking about just the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter, which did lead the way for European imports. This year Ford follows suit with its full-size Transit and Chrysler is bringing the Fiat Ducato here as the new Ram ProMaster.  For a market that traditionally changes little, this is the big shift I’m talking about.

Here’s a roundup of this year’s commercial vans to help you see what’s out there.

2013 Ford Transit
The full-size Ford Transit has been a staple in Europe for well over a decade; now we get it here. The body is supported by a unibody chassis and is available in two wheelbases (129.9 or 147.6 inches), single or dual rear wheels and three roof heights (83.2, 100.8 or 110.2 inches). The engine is front mounted and it’s a rear-wheel drive setup. Cargo volumes will range from 250 to almost 500 cubic feet.

This will be the first time Ford has offered a small diesel in its North American product; however, it will also offer two gas engine options as well. All three will come with the same transmission: a six-speed automatic. The 3.7L V6 will also be offered with a LPG or LNG prep kit. Ford has not released the weight capacities for the various sized Transits yet. 

2014 Ford Transit Connect   
This small van has built itself a nice niche over the past four years with a personal-use wagon; commercial versions and even an all-electric van. For 2014 it is updated substantially. It gets two new engines, will now tow (this was not an option before) and offers even more trim packages. It can be ordered with second-row seating, offers options like a rear-view camera, 6.5-inch touchscreen display with navigation, and SYNC with MyFord Touch.

It will be available late this year.

2013 Ford E-Series Cutaway Vans
After 61 years the E-series van has been retired. The full-size Transit replaces it; however, for the time being the E-350/E-450 Cutaway E-series vans remain. For many upfitter applications these veteran trucks continue to be good performers and Ford will continue to offer them.

2013 Mercedes-Benz Sprinter 1500 to 3500
Mercedes continues to push its Sprinter into the Canadian commercial market with offers of multiple models, bus-style versions and cutaways that the RV market has jumped on. In an effort to show buyers how tough their truck is, they put on a torturous drive from Edmonton to north of the Arctic Circle. I drove a Sprinter in Alaska in January in temperatures down to -48 C. My unit had a diesel preheater, auxiliary heater and heated mirrors – it needed them and they all worked well.

Sprinter offers the most standard safety systems with Adaptive ESP, skid control, roll-over trailer stability, understeer control, load adaptive control, Advanced ABS, brake force and brake wipe.

2014 Ram ProMaster
Based on the Fiat Ducato (one of the most successful commercial vans in Europe) the new Ram ProMaster will sport two roof heights (either 90 or 101 inches), three wheelbases and four body lengths. It will have diesel and gas engines. Where it differs from the others is in its FWD propulsion. Either motor will use a six-speed automatic transmission. Because of its FWD setup, it has very low step-in height and great space offerings. It will be on sale soon.

Ram Cargo Van
The cargo version of the Caravan has been a Chrysler staple now for over a decade. It’s available again this year without changes. The van interior offers 144.4 cubic feet and it has a maximum towing capacity of 3,600 pounds.

Chevy Express Cargo Van 1500 to 3500
The Chevy Express Van is the last of the Detroit “old school” type vans standing. I’d expect GM to change its offerings soon – but not this year it seems. With the intense new competition it’s possible that it will slash prices – otherwise, things remain the same for Express with the exception of a new a rear-vision camera, rear park assist and a navigation/radio combination. 

2013 Nissan NV1500 to NV3500
Nissan has recognized that a North American market of over 200,000 commercial van units sold each year is very worthwhile to be involved in. For that reason it’s American-built NV was launched just two years ago and is working at building market share. Its entry into the commercial van market has offered a broader choice to buyers and its design and options are well suited to its purpose. Its design uses many European cues – and as such is competitive with the new imports. 

2013 Nissan NV200
The newest compact cargo van – the Nissan NV200 – is the little brother to the full-size NV that started selling across North America two years ago. This smaller NV200 is set to battle the popular Ford Transit Connect van. It will arrive late this year. The smaller size should make it manoeuvrable in city traffic, yet it will still fit a standard sized pallet between the wheelhouses – says Nissan. Suspension is independent struts and stabilizer bar in front and a leaf spring design in the rear. The front disc and rear drum brakes offer ABS and Electronic Brake force Distribution (EBD) standard. The NV200 has dual sliding side doors: tall 40/60 split rear doors (that open to 90 and 180 degrees), a low floor and tall interior cargo height.

Driver conveniences include six-way driver seat, a “Mobile Office” with a centre console space for laptops and hanging files; pen/pencil tray, CD holder and dual cupholders. Also, the passenger seat folds down to serve as a flat worktable.

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