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Why the Cargo Van Is Outpacing the Pickup as the Business Vehicle of Choice With superior hauling capacity, killer pricing and lease deals to boot, the cargo van may put the pickup out to pasture.

By Michael Frank

This story appears in the October 2015 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

David Fenton
Michael Farias chose Nissan for his fleet of emergency plumbing vans.

Five years ago, if you'd wanted a cargo van for your business, you'd have had four choices: Ford's long-in-the-tooth E-Series, Chevrolet's ancient Express, Dodge's Ram converted minivan or the pricier Mercedes-Benz Sprinter. The domestics were built on top of a heavy pickup-truck chassis with old engine technology that guzzled gas, and their interiors were noted for their cramped cockpits and narrow cargo bays. For employees trying to find parts, make deliveries and keep cargo organized, these old vans were painful compromises. Meanwhile, manufacturers poured money and research into the engines, cabs and capabilities of full-size pickup trucks—and sold the hell out of them to millions of businesses.

But today there are dozens of van options, if you count all the possible configurations among Nissan's NV, Ford's Transit and Mercedes' revamped (and now less expensive) Sprinter, plus two new Ram ProMasters. It's no wonder that commercial van sales are up, with the smaller city vans leading the way—their sales have increased nearly 50 percent in the past year.

What's the attraction of vans? They offer a wide range of options for interior customization; modern diesel and gas engines, which deliver more power with better fuel economy; and a slew of sizes, from car-size wheelbases for easy city driving to models with more than 500 cubic feet of cargo volume and 5,000 pounds of payload. There's another incentive as well: better lease deals (see "Pay as you go," page 66) and superior warranties. For example, Nissan's commercial arm offers a five-year/100,000-mile warranty on its leased vehicles.

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