New fuel-efficient vans for small businesses


No, they're not glamorous or fancy, but they're needed to get the job done. And for a long time, work vans were just crude boxes on wheels.

"When you talk to these commercial customers, they'll tell you they've been neglected for about the last three decades," said Nissan spokesman Peter Bedrosian.

Ten years ago, the European Mercedes-Benz Sprinter ($36,290 base price) arrived looking quite different. It offered modern style and modern fuel efficiency. Expensive and a bit quirky, it has the added advantage of Mercedes-Benz engineering underneath, though early ones sold here were branded as Dodges.

Then came Nissan with its take on the cargo van, the Nissan NV with a shape all its own.

"From the front door forward, its pick-up truck packaging," said Bedrosian. "It's really quiet to drive and it's a pleasure to drive. It feels like you're driving a heavy duty pick-up truck."

And so the van wars are on. Ford is about to introduce an all-new large one, the euro-designed but American-built Transit model. More modern and more fuel efficient than the current Ford E-series, which will eventually go away.

There's little doubt that the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter really changed everything in the world of vans in the United States. Now other automakers are following suit with new modern designs of their own but not every business needs a van so big or so expensive.

Ford has a real hit on its hands with the small Transit Connect, euro style fit for light commercial duty. You now see them everywhere. And it'll soon have some competition from Nissan with their new smaller NV200 ($19,990 base price).

"It's sold in 40 countries," said Bedrosian. "The question was can the U.S. use efficient vans. Do you really need those big vans?"

Interesting design and features make it a worthy adversary to Ford's small van in the commercial vehicle market. But Ford's not standing still in this arena, a redesigned Transit Connect will soon be here to go with the big Transit.

And Chrysler is bringing a new euro-style ram van here called the Ram ProMaster, sourced from their corporate sibling fiat.

They may have been utilitarian boxes in the past, but these days utility is being blended with style and efficiency, large and small.

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