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Managing Editor of Fleet Equipment Magazine

Why the increased sales?

2016 Transit Wagon XLT USB above cupholdeFord sold 220,586 vans in 2015, a 32% increase over 2014 and the most vans it has sold in a year since 1978. They weren’t the only OEMs to experience big gains in the van market. Mercedes-Benz celebrated record sales of 29,889 vehicles sold, a 16.1% increase over 2014 and its highest annual number ever; and as of September, Nissan was reporting a 14.2% year-to-date increase in sales of its NV van series. What caused this sudden increase?

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“Vans sales are at a level we haven’t seen since the 1990s, with more than 420,000 sales for 2015,” Ram’s Sowers says. “We believe the aging vans that are still on the road and the desire to become more efficient are the primary motivators for more van sales.”

Ford’s Hetman adds that the flexibility of modern van design is making a range of new applications possible for the first time, naming food trucks, contractor offices on construction sites, custom limousines, shuttle buses, school buses and mobile vehicles on ski slopes as just some of the unique applications the vans can now be used for.

“We have seen an incredible variety of uses in the field,” Ram Commercial’s Sowers mentions. “The segmentation of vans has opened the use to a new array of customers from florists to construction to beverage service and even dog grooming. The easy adaptation of service equipment and security of an enclosed unit are very appealing. Also, the Ram ProMaster vans are upfitter friendly, which makes our vans popular in third-party equipment sales.”

According to Mercedes-Benz, plumbers, electricians, construction, mechanics and delivery services were the leading applications for light-duty vans in the last year.

The future

Alternative fuels are a growing trend in the medium-duty van market. For example, compressed natural gas (CNG) and propane fueling options, are offered by Ford with the Transit, Transit Connect and E-Series. When asked whether we will see increased adoption of CNG/propane usage in vans in the future, Ford’s Hetman offers up a simple answer: “Yes. Our ability to provide CNG and propane-capable vans continues to be a growth driver of our van business and commercial vehicles in general,” he asserts. “The opportunity for our customers to choose the fuel that works best for them is an extension of the best-in-class configurability of our van and wagon lineup. Even with the reduced price spread between fuels in 2015, our sales volume of alternative fuel vans increased over prior years and we expect that growth to continue in 2016 and beyond.”

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As for the biggest growth opportunities for vans in 2016, Hetman and Ford forecast “growth in the core van markets of plumbing/HVAC/electrical, service/maintenance, restaurant/catering and pest control. We also believe growth will continue in the passenger transport market. We are seeing growing interest in the conversion van, RV and ambulance markets, as well, and expect that to continue in 2016.”

“Growth opportunities for vans exist in the areas of total cost of ownership, bringing to market new technologies, and providing efficient solutions for both cargo and livery applications,” Ram’s Sowers adds. “We also see interest in right-sizing for capability. Companies that do not require heavy or large loads can step down from terribly inefficient older-style vans and growing companies can expand to a variety of sizes rather than one-fits-all strategy to reduce costs.”

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