By Lindsay Chappell, Crain News Service
CHICAGO (Feb. 8, 2013) — Nissan Motor Corp. USA is launching the NV200, a small cargo van that's targeted to go head-to-head with Ford Motor Co.'s Transit Connect and Chrysler Group L.L.C.'s new Ram ProMaster.
Nissan unveiled the production version of the front-wheel-drive NV200 at this week's Chicago Auto Show. It goes on sale April 1.
"We see what the Transit Connect is doing in the marketplace and why people are buying it," said 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 has little competition in front-wheel-drive compact cargo vans in the U.S. and is redesigning its model for the 2014 model year. Chrysler Group's Ram brand also plans to enter the segment in 2014 using a platform from parent Fiat S.pA..
Nissan's new van is close in footprint size to the brand's compact Sentra sedan—half a foot shorter than the Nissan Altima, and 3.5 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 have a retail base price of $20,835, including freight.
The Nissan contender promises 24 mpg city/25 mpg highway/24 combined—slightly better than Transit Connect's 21/27/23 mpg.
"You are seeing a growth in small vehicles across the industry," Mr. Smith said. "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."
Nissan's full-sized van has had a slow start cracking the fleet-oriented and Detroit 3-dominated commercial van market. Last year Nissan sold 10,179 of the big vans, up 58 percent from the year before.
Nissan said it 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, Mr. Smith said.
"This isn't necessarily the big fleet play," he said 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."
This story appeared on Autonews.com, the website of Automotive News, a Detroit-based sister publication of Tire Business.