European Light Vans Show The Way

Options for true commercial vehicles in the lightest Class 1 and 2 range are relatively limited in North America once you get beyond walk-in or step vans. But walk-ins, which have small, under 10,000-lb GVWs but large overall size to handle low-density, high-volume loads like bakery goods, aren’t well-suited to applications that need commercial truck durability and utility in a small package. And minivans, while popular with large families, haven’t proven to be up to commercial business demands.

But European OEMs have a long history of building small commercial vans for dense urban markets. While early vehicles like the Fiat Multipla with its 600cc air-cooled engine weren’t suitable to domestic truck buyers here, the newest generations of these under 10-ton trucks look like they might be ready to bring a whole new category of light trucks to North America.

The pioneer is Ford’s Transit Connect, a sales success since its introduction despite arriving here in the midst of a miserable economy. With a GVW of just 5,000 lbs., it offers high head room, a flat floor and maximum cargo volume in a small truck that’s at home on city and suburban streets. And an electric vehicle (EV) version has followed. Small and large service businesses, in particular, have been quick to see the advantages over the full-size pickups and vans they had been using.

But Ford is unlikely to have this emerging truck segment to itself for long. At the recent IAA Commercial Vehicle truck show in Hannover, Germany, three other manufacturers with well-established N.A. dealership networks unveiled new trucks for the under-10-ton market, and broad hints are that at least two will be headed here in the near future.

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