Dynamics of commercial van segment mirror general U.S. market

19 May 2013 Tom Libby

Just as the U.S. new vehicle market continues to fragment into dozens of segments and hundreds upon hundreds of models, the commercial van segment is splitting into two distinct categories, each with a wide range of models. Back in 2008, the commercial van customer had five models from which to choose, but by next year there will be 11 models on the market.

Prior to 2009, there was one commercial van segment and it was perennially dominated by Ford's E-Series (Econoline and Club Wagon). In 2009, Ford began importing the compact Transit Connect, offering a more fuel efficient choice than the larger E-Series to the commercial buyer. This year, Nissan will launch the NV200, the first direct competitor to the Transit Connect (and the preferred taxi choice by the city of New York). Next year, Chrysler will launch the compact Ram Promaster City, a rebadged Fiat Doblo, and GM just announced a few days ago that in 2014 it will purchase NV200s from Nissan and sell them as Chevrolet City Express in this market. GM mentioned in the announcement of the NV200 purchase that timing was a high priority, suggesting GM sees growth in this category and does not want to sit on the sidelines while it develops its own entry. There is also the possibility that Volkswagen will import a version of the Volkswagen Caddy currently sold in Europe, since this would help Volkswagen in its efforts to sell 800,000 Volkswagen-badged vehicles in the U.S. by 2018.

The large commercial van category is evolving as well. Next year Ford will introduce the Transit (and discontinue the E-Series), a successful model in Europe offering much more cargo space and a wider choice of configurations than the Econoline. Ram will also import a rebadged version of the Fiat Ducato called the Ram Promaster. Both of these models will compete against the Freightliner and Mercedes-Benz Sprinters. As in the small van category, Volkswagen may offer its own large commercial van to gain volume, but this would not occur for several years. GM will continue to market the Chevrolet Express and GMC Savana in this large van segment, most likely targeting fleet customers who need the functionality of a large van but consider the Transit/Sprinter models too big.

This product activity in the van sector will drive up its volume and U.S. share considerably. Polk forecasts that total van registrations (not including midsize passenger vans such as the Dodge Caravan), including those registered to private individuals and as well as to fleet customers, will rise from 155,900 in 2009 to 301,000 this year and 365,000 in 2014. The category's share of the U.S. market will climb from 1.5% in 2009 to 2.0% this year and 2.3% in 2014.

Commercial Van Models in U.S. Market

Compact VanChevrolet City Express
Ford Transit Connect
Nissan NV200
Ram Promaster City
Fullsize VanChevrolet ExpressChevrolet Express
Dodge SprinterFord Transit
Ford E-SeriesFreightliner Sprinter
Freightliner SprinterGMC Savana
GMC SavanaMercedes-Benz Sprinter
Nissan NV Series
Ram Promaster
Source: Polk Forecasting

Tom Libby is manager, loyalty practice and industry analysis, IHS Automotive

Posted on May 20, 2013


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