By Lindsay Chappell and Mike Colias, Crain News Service
NASHVILLE (May 16, 2013) — General Motors Co. is turning to Nissan Motor Co. to put Chevrolet dealers into the small cargo van market.
GM disclosed this week it will rebadge Nissan's four-cylinder NV200 commercial van, which went on sale in North America just last month, as the 2015 Chevrolet City Express, starting in the fall of 2014. Nissan builds the NV200 in Cuernavaca, Mexico.
Demand for a smaller, more fuel-efficient cargo vehicle has surged in recent years amid higher gasoline prices, said Ed Peper, U.S. vice president of GM's fleet and commercial sales, in an interview.
He said he expects to attract customers such as bakery or flower delivery companies, which might now use SUVs or crossovers. The smaller vehicles are being pitched as small-engine, fuel-efficient alternatives to the aging, full-sized commercial vans, a segment where the Detroit 3 have held sway for decades.
Until now, Ford Motor Co. has enjoyed a virtual monopoly on the category with its Ford Transit Connect van.
GM's fleet customers "told us they had a need for this product, something with a lot of cargo space that gets great fuel economy," Mr. Peper said.
The City Express will fill the role of the Chevrolet HHR, which was a fleet favorite before the retro-styled wagon was discontinued in 2011.
GM said it has restyled the City Express' front and rear ends to reflect Chevy's design cues. The Nissan NV200 offers nearly 123 cubic feet of cargo space, according to Nissan's specifications.
The van will be sold in the base LS trim, along with an LT model that will get cruise control, remote keyless entry and other features. Both will get a 2-liter, four-cylinder engine and a continuously variable transmission; Nissan rates it at 24 mpg.
The Nissan NV200 rolls on all-season tires, size 185/60R15, on steel wheels.
Nissan itself has broader hopes for the van, which is approximately the size of a Nissan Sentra. Nissan also intends to sell an electric version of the van and is on tap to produce a taxi version in an exclusive deal with New York City.
This fall, Chrysler Group L.L.C. is expected to roll out the 2014 Ram ProMaster—based on the Fiat Ducato van—which has been on sale in Europe for more than 30 years.
The supply arrangement is a first in North America for GM and Nissan. While GM has worked with Nissan alliance partner Renault in Europe, and the U.S. and Japanese companies make a van in Europe, they've previously not had a similar project for the U.S. and Canada, said Travis Parman, a Nissan spokesman.
This story appeared on the website of Automotive News, a Detroit-based sister publication of Tire Business.