Overdrive Extra

Jack Roberts

Work Truck Show wrap-up

| March 10, 2013

A few thoughts today on the Work Truck Show, which wrapped up Friday in Indianapolis.

Even though a late-season snowstorm fouled travel up a bit, the show was well-attended and the overall attitude was upbeat. The sense is that the economy is, in fact, recovering. It’s not recovering as fast as anyone would like. But things are getting better.

At its press conference to unveil the new Transit van, Ford noted that the average age of commercial vehicles in the U.S. now is 11 years old. A lot of fleets (and private owners) have been hanging on to their vehicles while the economy sorted itself. And combined with the sluggish recovery, it seems to indicate that a lot of people are soon going to be looking to purchase new vehicles.

Beyond that, here are a few take-aways:

The days of the Scoobie-Doo “Mystery Machine” van are numbered. For years, we’ve seen stutter-steps from manufacturers who want to consolidate their design, production and supply chain capacities by introducing global vehicle platforms — i.e., sell the same vehicles they make for Europe and Asia here in the States.

The U.S. has stubbornly resisted this trend for many years now: The same box-style van that Scoobie-Doo and his hippie crime-busting friends cruised around in still dominates the market here. But if the new vehicle launches at this show are indication, a sea-change is now occurring.

Sprinter, the vehicle which arguably made the first inroads in the commercial van market here but which fell off the radar a bit in the wake of the Daimler-Chrysler divorce, is revamping and revitalizing its presence in North America both through its Freightliner dealerships as well as Mercedes-Benz commercial dealers. The company views these dealers as serving two distinctly different customer bases, and it will be interesting to see how that effort develops in the coming months.

Beyond Sprinter, this Work Truck Show saw new, Fiat-designed Ram commercial vans entering the market, the much-anticipated debut of Ford’s successful-in-Europe Transit van and Nissan’s Stateside launch of its NV200. And we can’t forget that Nissan is now up to 312 commercially-focused dealers here in the States and has a strong, affordable presence in this new van market with its full-size NV2500.

The trend is undeniable: manufacturers think their global solutions will work well here in the States, and fleets seem to warming to these vehicles as well.

Compact vans are a thing. Speaking of Nissan’s NV200, it seems that with fuel prices spiking once again, and general uncertainty being the norm when it comes to fuel these days anyway, compact vans are gaining traction in a big way.

Again, we have to give Ford props for leading the charge here with the successful stateside launch of the zippy, funky-yet-functional Transit Connect. They’ve now followed with the launch this week of the next-generation Transit Connect, as well as a new wagon version — both of which will likely prove to be highly attractive to small-business owners and P&D fleets.

Nissan is entering this market in a big way as well. Starting at just $19,990, the new NV200 looks cool, is economical to operate and tough enough to be named the next New York City taxi cab.

All told, about 40,000 “compact vans” were sold here in the States last year. And I believe that as fuel prices rise, that number will grow – perhaps significantly.

I have to think Fiat, Volkswagon, Toyota and a more than a few other global players are watching this market with interest.

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  • Collin

    I have a work van now and I’m not really a fan as much as I once was. I’ve actually been looking at Rocky Ridge Chevy Trucks for sale for the horsepower. I feel like as these trucks and vans come out with better gas mileage and more features that the scooby doo vans will slowly begin to disappear from the trade workers.