It's one of the fastest-growing, most lucrative vehicle segments -- yet you'll almost never see one prominently parked in a dealership's showroom.
U.S. sales of full-size vans are increasing eight times faster than the industry average so far in 2016. Combined with their compact siblings, com-mercial vans are on track to top half a million sales for the first time this year.
While the pace of overall industry gains is slowing, the improving economy means demand for work vans is actually heating up.
Newcomers to the market from Nissan and Ram are surging, while Ford, the dominant player by far, enjoyed its best March van sales since the Carter administration. Ford replaced its aging E-series van, also known as the Econoline, with the European-bred Transit in 2014, just as many businesses had recovered enough from the recession to start upgrading their van fleets.
"You won't see it on the cover of Motor Trend, but it's certainly a great addition for Ford, said Marc McEver, the owner of Olathe Ford outside Kansas City, Kan. About 20 percent of the dealership's sales are now Transits, which come from a plant 30 miles away.
"It's really light years different between the Econoline and the Transit," McEver said. "And profitability versus the Econoline is much better."
Commercial vans are a big reason fleet sales rose 14 percent in the first quarter. Many vans are sold in bulk to utility companies, cable providers and other big bus-inesses.
But every year, tens of thousands of vans are bought one or two at a time -- by plumbers, electricians, caterers and florists -- small businesses are helping boost retail sales as well.
Either way, commercial van sales are coveted by automakers and dealers because many businesses tend to purchase the same brand repeatedly. In addition, dealers with strong commercial sales often have busier service departments. Business owners put a lot of miles on their vans and are more careful than many consumers to ensure the vehicles don't break down unexpectedly and disrupt operations.