Published On: Wed, Jan 11th, 2017

The Future of Cargo Vans

Though you’ll pretty much never see one featured on the showroom floor, cargo vans are one of the most lucrative, fastest growing vehicle types on the market. In 2016, sales of full-size vans in the United States increased at eight times the industry average. Even though the overall growth of the car industry has slowed, demand for work vans has actually increased due to the improving economy.

Most vans sold are purchased in bulk by cable providers, utility companies, and other big businesses, but many are also purchased individually or a few at a time by small businesses such as electricians, florists, caterers, and plumbers. Since most businesses that purchase commercial vans have a habit of buying the same brand repeatedly, such sales are highly coveted by dealers and automakers alike. And because commercial vans tend to rack up a lot of miles from frequent use by the businesses that own them, commercial van sales drive a lot of business to a dealership’s service department as well as its sales team.

Major Players in the Cargo Van Market

In 2014, Ford replaced its older E-Series Econoline van with the European-influenced Transit. Not only was the Transit a huge improvement over the Econoline, it would also prove to be much more profitable. It is available in a regular wheelbase version and a long wheelbase version (available in a standard or extended length option). It has three engine options, with prices ranging from around $30,000 to around $40,000.

Available alongside the Ford Transit is the Ford Transit Connect, a newly-redesigned compact van with an emphasis on nimbleness and fuel economy instead of cargo room. Its standard engine option boasts a remarkable fuel economy of 21 miles per gallon in the city and 29 miles per gallon on the highway, while the optional engine is even higher.

The Nissan NV is another full-size cargo van that is based on Nissan’s Titan pickup truck. Though it is the least fuel-efficient or technologically-advanced of modern cargo vans, its $26,000 price tag makes it extremely alluring for businesses large and small. It also has an imposing payload capacity of up to 4,000 pounds in its top model (the NV 3500).

Nissan’s other cargo van, the NV200, has little in common with its larger counterpart, the NV. Along with being quite a bit smaller, it features impressive gas mileage (24 miles per gallon in the city and 25 on the highway) and a low price tag (starting around $22,000). Like its rival, the Ford Transit Connect, the NV200 is intended mostly for city use.

The RAM ProMaster comes in three trim types—the 1500, the 2500, and the 3500—like most other full-size vans. Prices range from $29,500 to $36,000 and up, depending on the options selected. It has two engine options, and offers up to 76 inches of available standing interior height, as well as a payload capacity of up to 4,417 pounds.

Looking Ahead

Companies such as Mercedes-Benz have been researching new possibilities in cargo van technology, such as robots that deliver packages and van-guided drones. Its new strategic initiative, “adVANce,” could cover a wide variety of commercial applications. Some of these are being developed in conjunction with third-party companies, including many startups.

From drone and robot delivery of cargo and packages to cargo-sensing systems that identifies and tracks packages as they’re placed into shelves in the van to space-saving cargo sliders that are packed by robots in the warehouse, Mercedes-Benz is giving us a sneak peek into the future of cargo vans.

These technologies are best showcased in their Vision Van concept vehicle, which incorporates robotics, mobility concepts, and automation, along with a set of two roof-mounted drones. The Vision Van is completely battery-powered and is controlled by a joystick rather than pedals and a steering wheel. The driver area has a wide, curved display that shows relevant information to the vehicle operator. A terminal in the rear of the cabin controls a package dispenser that is tied to the van’s main computer system. On the roof, the pair of drones are fed packages by an automatic feeder, to be deployed to pre-set addresses while the driver delivers packages on foot.

While the adVANce and the Vision Van are the brainchildren of Mercedes-Benz, other automakers are already developing similar initiatives. They are likely to follow these trends for years to come.