Auto companies have spotted the trend, and they’re moving quickly to enter a market once dominated by Ford, General Motors and Mercedes. Nissan entered the market with the NV full-size van in 2011 and the NV200, as small van, last year. Chrysler’s Ram brand started selling a full-size van last year and has plans for a small van. More products are coming from GM and Ford.
Ford’s Transit Connect, a van built on the guts of a compact car, created a new market for small vans when it was introduced in 2009. Before it arrived on the scene, businesses had to buy big vans even if they didn’t need them. Now, if owners want better gas mileage and maneuverability but don’t need huge cargo space, they have choices.
Earlier this month, GM’s Chevrolet unveiled its own Nissan-made small van, the City Express, at the Chicago Auto Show. GM contracted with Nissan so it could bring a van to market quickly to take advantage of growth, said Ed Peper, the company’s vice president of commercial sales.
Ford sold only 8,800 Transit Connects when it was introduced in 2009, but that grew to almost 40,000 last year. Nissan’s NV 200 and the Ram Cargo Van, a modified minivan, joined the market, pushing total small van sales to more than 53,000 in 2013. Big vans saw even larger growth, with sales rising from 159,000 in 2009 to nearly 259,000 last year.
Van sales began taking off in 2012 and 2013, and now they are accelerating, Peper said. “We’ve seen just a lot more activity, a lot more confidence,” he said. “There’s more (price) quoting. To me that’s a very good sign.”
While Karin’s may be confident enough to pull the trigger on a new van, others are still waiting.
Kessler Plumbing near Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles is still running eight older-model Ford E-Series vans, some of which have more than 200,000 miles on them. The company’s owner has been against making a purchase, and Kessler hasn’t bought any vans since 2008, said Matt Martinez, a company supervisor.
“It’s been tough since the recession,” Martinez said. “We’ve been crawling out of that. This year is starting off strong, so we’ll see.”