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Find the Right Work Van for Your Business The new crop combines the usual brawn with some serious brains.

By Christopher Nagy

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Driven, flexible, and successful in asserting professionalism, work vans truly embody the entrepreneurial spirit. Whether it is the prompt delivery of flowers to a summer wedding, operating as a shuttle service or responding to an emergency call, a well-suited commercial-grade work van can be crucial to achieving maximum productivity.

Recognizing that small businesses can not be satisfied with a singular commercial van design, automakers are stepping outside the box in to properly define the reliable moving utility box, a new generation of commercial vans that employ great strides in engineering, design, and technology to accommodate 21st-century business needs.

Chevrolet HHR
Providing nostalgia for a time when hard-working small businesses were truly the backbone of a town, the Chevrolet HHR's retro-themed sheet metal immediately invokes second looks--second looks that might include a peek at an enterprise's name, logo and phone number. Initially sold as a less business-friendly family crossover, Chevrolet's addition of HHR panel versions in 2008 has made this vehicle a serious commercial vehicle. For the panel-van conversion, Chevrolet covers the rear half windows with sheet metal with a billboard-smooth side and rear appearance.

Although it's longer than the Ford Transit Connect, the interior space of this small cargo van is not as generous as the imported Ford. With 63 cubic feet of cargo room, the HHR might not be the ideal vehicle for moving large loads, but the interior features lots of benefits for commercial vehicle buyers. With the rear seats omitted on every Chevrolet HHR panel vehicle, a long plastic load floor features lockable storage bins to safeguard expensive business equipment. Three household-style electrical outlets are found throughout the cabin, serving as potential power recharging cell phones and digital cameras or auxiliary power for running electrical items requiring up to 40 amps. Further forward in the cabin, Bluetooth connectivity is available for safer, hands-free dealings over the phone.

In a move to vault the HHR panel from the commercial van crowd, the utilitarian Chevrolet added some performance spice to its crossover van in 2009 with the SS package. Dropping in a 2-liter, turbocharged Ecotec powerplant delivering 260 horsepower, this enhancement may not appeal to the practically-minded entrepreneur, but front-wheel-drive launches will certainly stir up personal morale.

Dodge Sprinter
After 15 years as delivery and service business staple in Europe, Dodge adopted the massive commercial van in 2003 for North America. Defined by its tall stature, the Dodge Sprinter comes in one of three roof heights including a 7-foot mega roof model. Available in Sprinter 2500 or 3500 trim, total lengths differ between regular, long and extended varieties. With several body shell configurations, cargo volume varies at minimum 318 cubic feet until reaching a 600 cubic feet peak. Some underground parking garages notwithstanding, the Dodge Sprinter is remarkably agile and comfortable to drive for its size. Leader of its class with a 54.6-foot turning diameter, handling manners are tamed by standard equipment anti-lock brakes, electronic stability program and a roll-mitigation system.

Riding among the Dodge Sprinter's front passenger cabin, several storage spaces insure that valuables are kept out of sight of burglars but within easy reach of a driver. For extra protection a lockable glove compartment bin can be added, designed to securely hold important notepads and clipboards as well as a prized pen. In passenger van form, under-floor warm air ducts and optional climate control assures that up to 10 paying customers ride comfortably.

With the gasoline engine banished from the Sprinter's 2009 option list, the latest Dodge Sprinters are all diesels. A 3-liter turbocharged diesel V6 engine pumps 154 horsepower along with an extreme gutsy 280 pounds feet of torque. Moving between 3,018 and 5,509 pounds of cargo or passenger payload, this torque-infused engine provides a 5,000 pound towing capacity if the cargo space inside the van is ever deemed inadequate.

Ford Transit Connect
Fulfilling the need for a smaller proportioned van than the large E-Series, the Ford Transit Connect is a charming but ambitious import from Ford's European model lineup. Accustomed to tight and narrow urban arteries of English roads, the Transit Connect occupies less pavement than a family minivan while affording up to 135.6 cubic feet in total cargo volume. In support of the business community, Ford dealerships offer a variety of cargo management options to help handypeople, landscapers or any other hard-working proprietor. Another option to the Transit Connect is Tool Link, an equipment tracking system that uses radio frequency identification tagging to prevent the loss of expensive tools.

Though not as plush as that dream executive office, Transit Connect's front seating area competently serves as efficient business space. Featuring abundant storage areas for notepads, laptops and an assortment of other items, one of the more clever spaces is a sizable shelf above the windshield. Catering to the 21st-century small business, Ford Work Solutions can outfit the Transit Connect with true office productivity through a factory-supplied dashboard computer system. Supported by Microsoft's CE 6.1 operating system, high-speed internet and networking with your office or home computer is available on a 6.5-inch screen.

Sharing the car platform of the Volvo C30 translates into a surprisingly sporty ride negotiating crowded city centers. Without generating lavish performance, the 2-liter Ford Duratec power plant does provide some satisfying fuel figures. Using regular gasoline, the Transit Connect mists a gallon of fuel every 20 miles city or 24 miles of highway driving.

Starting at a very affordable $21,475 base price, the Ford Transit Connect may be the sensible vehicle for the small-scale enterprise.

Nissan NV2500
When production starts on the Nissan NV2500 in 2010, it will mark the first time a Japanese nameplate competed directly in the full-sized commercial van segment. Mirroring the Dodge Sprinter's generous scale, the NV2500 design famously exhibited throughout the 2009 auto show circuit shows with its many innovations and mobile office solutions.

Sectored into three zones, the Nissan NV2500 concept-forward cabin is highlighted by a large multimedia control screen. Proving useful to construction foreman and architects, the second zone is furnished by a computer station complete with a large-screen monitor as well as tailored storage for drafting and other construction tools planted into the side access door. The third zone features a built-in shop vacuum cleaner with additional storage bins. At an overall cargo floor length of 126 inches, NV2500 dimensions are between the short length versions of the Ford E-Series and Dodge Sprinter. Keeping in mind that this version is a conceptual showcase, the production model is likely to maintain many of the design cues. By early to mid-2010, the NV2500 is guaranteed to offer cargo versions and passenger versions with seating for eight to 11 passengers.

As for engines, Nissan may donate the 5.6 liter V8 engine already used for the Titan pickup, but has also committed to offering at least one Cummins turbo diesel power plant option. As development of the production Nissan NV2500 progresses, some suspicion surrounds a possible gas/electric hybrid power system that may function as an on-site electrical generator for power tools and other equipment.

Overall, the Nissan NV2500 appears set to provide a forward look to a not-so-distant future for mobile business and enterprise.

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