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Driven to Success

With incentives, tax breaks and price wars sweetening the pot, there's never been a better time to shop for new business vehicles. Let our guide to commercial vehicles get you started.

There couldn't be a better time to buy light-duty commercial vehicles-pickup trucks, vans and sport utility trucks-than between now and December 31, 2004. A temporary tax-cut package signed ear-lier this year gives small businesses a break and provides federal write-offs, including a bonus depreciation and a new expensing rule, to companies that buy business equipment, including vehicles. Also, Uncle Sam is giving a tax break of as much as $100,000 to small businesses that buy SUVs and pickups weighing more than 6,000 pounds. Plus, a flurry of incentives and rebates being offered by virtually every auto manufacturer and price wars spearheaded by GM, mean it's a buyer's market.

The leading 2004 commercial vehicle trends are pickups and vans that combine brains and brawn with greater power and performance, more comfort and conveniences, and more varied configurations and price ranges. In pickups, new names include Chevrolet's midsize Colorado/GMC Canyon. There are also two additions to Chevy's Silverado line-a half-ton crew cab and a hybrid gas/electric-powered model. Nissan introduces its first full-size pickups, the 350 Z Titan crew cab and king cab; and Toyota adds a double-cab Tundra pickup. Some familiar models are improved as well: Toyota's Tacoma has a fresh look, some Dodge Ram pickups sport a new HEMI engine, and Ford has completely redesigned its F-150 and is offering a Super Duty optional diesel engine Harley-Davidson model.

In vans, Dodge's Sprinter is making its U.S. debut this year. Ford's new top-of-the-line Freestar is the most flexible, powerful and quietest minivan the company has brought to market, with dozens of storage features and rear sliding doors. To its Express and GMC Savana cargo/passenger series, Chevrolet has added a new work van with large cargo areas and long load floors. Honda's Latitude, a smaller version of the Odyssey, is new this year as well. And Nissan has built a midsize Quest minivan.

Get Moving: Whether you've got one business car or a fleet, our Commercial Vehicle Center has what you need to know to get the best deals for your vehicles.

If you can't decide what type of vehicle best suits your needs, consider a sports utility truck (SUT). These vehicles combine elements of an SUV and a truck, usually featuring a portion of the body that functions like a pickup bed. Among the offerings are Buick's Rainier, Cadillac's full-size Escalade EXT, Ford's Explorer Sport Trac, and GMC's Envoy XUV. One unusual SUT is a delivery/commercial/cutaway truck, sold by Chevy as the Kodiak and by GMC as the TopKick, which seats six and has an option that tilts the cab forward for easy maintenance. A variation on the SUT concept, Chrysler's Pacifica sports tourer is a combination SUV/van.

Which to choose? It's a daunting task requiring serious research. Fortunately, manufacturer and automotive Web sites are loaded with information, color graphics, optional features and comparison prices to help you figure out which fleet and commercial vehicles are best for you. GM dealerships even offer a free 24-hour overnight test drive. Call (800) 508-1050, or visit www.gm.com/24hours for details.

When buying or leasing a fleet of vehicles, factor in size, function, capacities, mileage, life cycle cost analyses, insurance and maintenance, warranty coverage, and driver feedback. Keep in mind that light-duty trucks depreciate less than cars. To find the right vehicle for your business, ask yourself:

  • How much cargo space is needed to make deliveries efficient?
  • How heavy are the products your business delivers?
  • How many people need to ride up front in your pickup?
  • Are deliveries mostly stop-and-go or long hauls? Figure out fuel economy for both situations.
  • How big is your budget?

Jill Amadio is Entrepreneur's "Wheels" columnist.

Like this article? Get this issue right now on iPad, Nook or Kindle Fire.

This article was originally published in the December 2003 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Driven to Success.

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