Nissan has big hopes for small van
Nissan Motor Co., tipping its hat to Ford Motor Co. for opening the U.S. market to small cargo vans, plans to pit its own small van against Ford's Transit Connect.
Last week at the Chicago Auto Show, Nissan officials unveiled the production version of the front-wheel-drive NV200, which goes on sale on April 1.
"We see what the Transit Connect is doing in the marketplace and why people are buying it," says Tom Smith, Nissan's director of truck marketing.
"This will compete head to head with Ford. Like the Transit Connect, the NV200 has already been around in Europe for a few years. We're bringing it to the States because we expect this market segment to continue to grow as fuel economy becomes increasingly important to consumers."
Ford currently has little U.S. competition in the compact cargo van segment, and is redesigning its fwd Transit Connect for the 2014 model year. Chrysler Group's Ram brand also plans to enter the segment in 2014 using a platform from parent Fiat.
Nissan's new van is close in footprint size to the brand's Sentra sedan -- half a foot shorter than the Nissan Altima and 3 1/2 feet shorter than Nissan's full-sized commercial van, the NV2500.
The B-platform van will use the same 2-liter four-cylinder engine as the Sentra. It will be produced in Aguascalientes, Mexico, to supply the 320 U.S. Nissan dealers out of 1,100 who have elected to become commercial truck retailers.
It will come with a retail base price of $20,835, including shipping, about $2,400 less than the Transit Connect.
The Nissan contender promises 24 mpg city/25 highway/24 combined -- slightly better than Transit Connect's 21/27/23 mpg.
"You are seeing a growth in small vehicles across the industry," Smith says. "And consumers are trying to get the same thing for cargo vans by converting other models and ripping out seats and so forth. Consumers are trying to get into this segment -- the products just need to follow."
The commercial van business is dominated by fleet sales, but Smith says the smaller new vans will be more appealing to individual retail customers. Nissan's full-sized van has had a slow start in cracking into the fleet-oriented and Detroit 3-dominated commercial van market. Last year Nissan sold 10,179 of the big vans, up 58 percent from 2011.
Nissan believes the B-platform vans will be more appealing to small business owners and independent operators. Individuals will care more about the small van's features -- including fuel economy, driver comfort, ease of parking and smaller turning radius -- than a fleet vehicle buyer, Smith says.
"This isn't necessarily the big fleet play," Smith says of the segment. "A lot of the features we're talking about here -- like having an interior that allows for a mobile office with file storage -- are things that owner-operators really care about. Less so for the big fleet."
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