DETROIT (Bloomberg) -- When Daimler AG, the maker of Mercedes-Benz luxury cars and former owner of Chrysler, brought its Euro-styled Sprinter van with a 14-foot high roof and sloped brow to the U.S., it stood out on the parkway like a pachyderm.
A dozen years later, the commercial-van market has embraced the look. Traditional, big vans, such as General Motors Co.'s Chevy Express and Ford Motor Co.'s Econoline, are starting to fade from the scene as stricter fuel-efficiency standards are prodding a convergence around a more aerodynamic, European look.
"Guess what? The world has changed," Claus Tritt, who heads Daimler's U.S. commercial-van business, said in an interview. "We are no longer the oddball."
Automakers, including Daimler, Ford and Chrysler Group LLC, are all bringing new, large, fuel-sipping work vans to the U.S. as they gear up for a boom in the highly profitable segment. The surge is fueled by new-home construction and an improving economy, the same forces helping make 2013 the year of the pickup, said Tritt.
Commercial vans, like pickups, have long been a strong source of profit for automakers. Sales of both are tied to the housing market and both have a loyal customer base, which include buyers of fleets such as PepsiCo Inc., FedEx Corp. as well as plumbers, painters and carpet installers.
The new vans tend to have straighter sides and taller roofs than traditional ones that looked more like bulked up minivans. With their improved fuel efficiency and utility, they complement the U.S. automakers' best lineup from top to bottom in a generation.
Ford, which brought its smaller made-in-Turkey van, the Transit Connect, to the U.S. from Europe in 2009, is introducing its larger Transit van next year, replacing its segment-leading E-Series work van. The Transit will be made at the Kansas City Assembly Plant in Claycomo, Mo. Large vans make up about 80 percent of commercial-van sales.