Commercial operators with a desire for small vans are about to have a little less choice in the marketplace. As a new report indicates, Stellantis plans on killing the Ram ProMaster City at the end of this year to focus its commercial van efforts on its larger van.
The market for small commercial vans in America is dwindling. For a while, Americans could get their hands on a commercial van that wasn’t just a minivan with blanked out windows. In 2009, Ford started bringing over its Transit Connect. Nissan followed it up with the NV200, with General Motors badge-engineering it into the Chevrolet City Express. Mercedes-Benz made a showing with the Metris, and Ram arrived on scene with its ProMaster City. If you needed a small commercial van, you had a bunch to choose from. Now, they appear to be going away.
Chevrolet was the first to leave the market when the City Express was discontinued in 2018. The Nissan version of the same van marched on until 2021. You can still buy Ford’s Transit Connect and a Mercedes Metris, but both are reportedly dying off in 2023. That leaves us with the Ram ProMaster City. The van, a variant of the Fiat Doblò and replacement for the commercial version of the Dodge Grand Caravan, debuted in 2015. But now, as Automotive News reports, 2022 will be its final model year.
We’ve done some digging, and it appears that once the Transit Connect and Metris are gone, America will be left without a small commercial van. The cargo version of the ID. Buzz is reportedly not coming to the States and who knows if or when we’ll see those wild Canoo vans. But why? Why are these vans disappearing?
According to Dave Sowers, head of Ram Commercial, it’s because the ProMaster City wasn’t exactly a hot seller. From Automotive News:
“That particular segment has shrunk every year for the last four or five years, and it’s overall become very difficult from a regulatory environment and also from that volume-commitment perspective.”
“So we’re really refocusing all of our efforts in the commercial van segments over on the ProMaster.”
Automotive News goes on to describe those sales:
ProMaster City deliveries peaked in 2016 at 15,972 before falling in each of the next four years to 10,409 in 2020. After a 40 percent rise in 2021, ProMaster City sales fell by a third in the first half of this year, to 8,593.
The numbers sort of speak for themselves. Ram Commercial’s other van, the ProMaster, sold 63,361 units in 2021 and still managed to sell 50,556 of them in 2020. Meanwhile, the Ford Transit Connect finished 2021 with 26,112 units sold and 2020 with 34,596 units.
The big difference in sales between the big van and the little van continued at Ford, where 99,745 Transits found a home in 2021 and 131,556 went to work in 2020. The difference in sales numbers between the Chevrolet Express and City Express were similar. Even the Mercedes-Benz Metris failed to capture an audience quite like the Sprinter does.
Sowers notes in the Automotive News report that buyers are drawn to the ProMaster City for its good fuel economy. However, as the sales data shows, more commercial buyers seem to prefer the space and utility of a larger work van over the fuel economy of a small one.
Still, there is a market for these vans, even if it’s a fraction of the bigger vans. What options will those people have in the future? Sowers expects the economy-conscious buyer of a ProMaster City to be drawn in by the bigger electric ProMaster. That van is set to arrive next year. Over at Ford, the Transit Connect may be dying, but the Transit lineup includes its own battery-electric version.
As for the ProMaster City, the Turkey-built van was actually supposed to be killed off in 2021. But Stellantis kept it alive for just one more year. If you’re the kind of person who likes your commercial vans small, Stellantis says that dealership deliveries will continue into early 2023. After that, the chapter of the ProMaster City will be closed.
This honestly surprises me, as here in Boise I saw at least ten Transit Connects get converted into camper vans in the last two years. They’re the perfect size for that lifestyle (for up to two occupants anyway) and they have good road handling and reasonable power to fuel economy for that role.
Just got a new Transit Connect Wagon and it’s the most versatile vehicle I’ve ever owned!
I got the MB Metris double sliding door panel van in early 2019, and it is the best all around work truck I’ve ever driven.
Rear wheel drive, will pull a trailer, very good ride empty or loaded, good turning radius, can put a 4×8 panel between the wheel wells, can get into low underground parking garages, more than enough power, reliable, and it gets 25 mpg. I was totally bummed when I read that it’s been cancelled in the US.
I will get a new 2023 just before they stop importing, and hope to drive it for 200K miles…
Meanwhile in Europe, the Ford Tourneo Connect (the passenger version of the Transit Connect) is now a a face-ifted rebadged VW Caddy (built in Poland by VW) and the new Fiat Doblò is a rebadged 3rd gen Citroën Berlingo/Peugeot Partner.
I wonder if the Craiova-built 2023 Transit Connect will also be a VW Caddy. That would be logical.
I wonder how much of the low sales volume was demand, and how much was supply chain issues, and manufacturers shifting production to larger, higher margin products. I ordered a regular Transit 18 months ago and i’m still waiting.
I actually own one of those “minivans with blanked out windows”, a 2012 Ram C/V. I have a side hustle selling at specialty swap meets and it’s the perfect vehicle for it – holds all my junk, keeps it out of sight, handles well, decent gas mileage, low enough to fit into the occasional parking garage. Mine is actually an ex-Enterprise Leasing vehicle that I had shipped halfway across the country to me.
The Transit Connect and ProMaster City were a little small for my needs, but a Transit or Promaster is WAY more van than I need. IDK what I’m going to do when I eventually need to replace the C/V, other than buy a used minivan and take the seats out.
Is Ford discontinuing both versions of the Transit Connect or just the commercial one? Funny that it and the Ram are both made in Turkey. Van capital of the world?
From European perspective why would you? 2,4 4pot 22/28MPG https://www.fiatprofessional.com/uk/doblo-cargo/engines-performances
UK spec 44/50MPG.
I daily a Fiorino which does 54/57MPG. In reality thats about right. Best part is that you can throw anything in the back without a worry. You can even fit two small East German motorcycles in the back if you remove the front wheels 😀
It is slow, loud and the build quality is …well adequate but at the same time cheap to buy, cheap to run and the ride is tolerable. US versions just seem to miss the point. Too expensive for what you actually get with your money.
Some random thoughts. There IS a market, albeit a small one, for a smaller van. Both the Transit Connect and the Promaster City are imported from Turkey, which comes with both extended supply chain and Chicken Tax implications. Their departure leaves the door open to things like commercial versions of the Pacifica and the Bolt EUV (strip out the interior and blank out the windows, like the Ram Grand Caravan commercial van). With the shift to EVs and their skateboard architecture, other new, small vans are likely to be created. Obviously, low-end SUVs can be decontented and vanified, starting with vehicles like the Kia Soul and the Subaru Forester. And there continues to continue to be a market for commercial-grade caps and interior fixtures for both smaller and full-size pickup trucks.
A couple more thoughts . . . many potential users of these vans have chosen true economy vehicles (like the Prius), instead, even though they have windows (they just wrap them with advertising). Also, another subset of users will be left struggling. My brother-in-law, who uses a wheelchair, recently replaced his decrepit S-10 with a Transit Connect. It’s one of the few vehicles that offer both a low seat height (for transfers) and space in the back (where he can store his chair while driving). All the other pickup trucks now have higher seating positions and most SUVs and sedans won’t work, for him.
This is a good point – regarding the Chicken Tax. Both of these, I believe, were shipped in as fully-seated vehicles to avoid that, and then had all the seats removed basically at a “plant” at the port, and were converted into the cargo van there. I can’t imagine it was real cost-effective, especially for that few sales.
Okay but what are flower shops going to do now?
Madness. I’m not terribly surprised that the US couldn’t support five (four and a half?) models of compact cargo van, but I’d have thought there would be enough market demand for at least one. I wonder if Ford will reconsider—they already had the lost popular model in the segment, and now they’d have that segment all to themselves. The pie may be small, but they’d get to eat all of it.
The short-wheelbase ProMaster is already shorter in length than a Chrysler Pacifica and will fit wherever a ProMaster City needs to go, except for low parking garages.
A large factor is that these are used as work vehicles and if you’re going to buy a vehicle for work, current tax law incentivizes purchasing a vehicle with a GVWR over 6000 lbs. The GVWR for the Nissan, Ford, and Ram are all under 6k lbs, and therefore don’t get as much of a tax write off.
I think it’s short sighted not to bring over an EV van based on sales numbers alone since they don’t tell the full story. They would easily meet the 6k GVWR tax requirement.
This piece of tax code is a large reason why pickup trucks and SUVs make up so much market share in the USA.
It’s dumb and should be recodified to emphasize smaller, more efficient vehicles for work purposes but when has American policy ever trended to less is more?
I assume it’s because in the current climate with parts shortages, the focus is on higher profit vehicles, and most people buying a small cargo van for local business deliveries don’t want a ton of creature comfort upsells.
I’m actually legitimately sad about this trend. I’m one of the handful of owners of the wagon (minivan) version of the current generation Transit Connect and – while it was clearly a small cargo van apathetically converted to passenger duty – I love it. It’s cavernous for its footprint and I can toss multiple bikes inside while carrying myself, my wife, and our son in a car seat. We’ve road tripped across the country in it multiple times with the full second row in use, carrying a huge tent, camping gear, cots, clothes for weeks, and camped on BLM/FS land down dirt roads where we basically only saw pickups and SUVs in overland guise. My wife used to toss a 9.5 ft kayak inside when she went along as she couldn’t put it on the roofrack.
When I read that Ford was moving it to the same plant they make the Maverick, I was really hoping that they’d finally lean into the small van’s potential as an adventure vehicle. An extra inch or two of clearance, some underbody protection, maybe AWD, easy to clean materials (in the rearmost section if nowhere else), and even half the thought that went into the Bronco Sport or Maverick’s interior would have turned it into a spectacular vehicle for active/outdoorsy people who mostly want to get to the trails/campsites with their gear to pursue their hobby rather than having offroading as the hobby.
Exactly, I do the same with my VW Caddy (alas not available in the USA), camping and transporting and going on bad roads to reach campsites without really offroading. The modularity and space within the relatively small footprint is fantastic. But the newer versions are getting less and less rugged and losing clearance, an evolution I don’t like.
When I did appliance repair work, I used to drive a 2008 Ford Transit Connect with the 2.0 Duratec. It was peppy off the line, but lost breath fast. It was adequate, if a little bit overburdened with the work asked of it. The saddest part was the 22 MPG average (pencil calculated) with about a 60% city and 40% rural split of sensible driving. Maybe that’s okay to some, but the way I saw it, the economy to power to utility ratio wasn’t there.
Small delivery businesses are going to be in a world of hurt at some point if this trend continues. Lots of places doing light delivery can’t justify a full size van like a Transit and since compact wagons don’t exist anymore these types of vans were perfect, although not exactly cheap either. Forget buying a crossover for such duty as fleet specials don’t exist, and hatchbacks aren’t a thing anymore either.
There apparently aren’t very many businesses that’ll be effected, it was not a large segment to begin with.
And the trend is already over, the Promaster City was the last domino to fall.
My coworker downgraded from an E150 to a Transit Connect (concrete testing, inspections, instrumentation) because it was hard to find garages that would take full size vans in Manhattan, and the lower fuel consumption was a plus
I greatly enjoyed the irony of this passage, since Transit Connects were literally brought in as 3 row minivans and then had the seats stripped out and steel blanks put in the windows to get around the chicken tax.
“For a while, Americans could get their hands on a commercial van that wasn’t just a minivan with blanked out windows. In 2009, Ford started bringing over its Transit Connect. “
HA! Good point. Apparently, the ProMaster City was imported in the same fashion to avoid the Chicken Tax.
I would bet the replacements will be 40mpg Maverick Hybrids with a utility shell. These little vans never really did sell that well though around here. Most small delivery stuff could just as easily be handled with the seat down in a smallish CUV. And then when they are past their prime as a fleet the seats get put back in and the residual value is on an order of magnitude better.
A Mav with a shell would only hold about 30% of what a compact cargo van does, has a hauling capacity about 500 lbs less, and instead of big barn doors in the back with two sliders on the sides, with a low load floor and a cargo area you can stand up in (OK, most people have to stoop a bit) you’d get a clamshell that gets in your way and forces you to crawl through the back of the vehicle to access anything up near the cab. You also wouldn’t be able to bolt five-foot-tall modular shelving units onto one side while still leaving enough room for an entire pallet of materials. There’s absolutely no comparison.
Either another model will need to fill the market, electric will work for me, or I’ll have to hold onto my NV200’s (4 of them) for longer than planned. They are perfect in the city for the cleaning company that I run. They also fit exactly into our parking area that is fenced in, anything bigger I’ll only be able to fit 3.
As one driving a 2019 VW Caddy in 1.4Tsi form with manual gearbox, the versatility of these little vans and their people carrier counterparts like mine is astonishing. And a lot of Europeans are with me on this. I’ve been off-road camping, sleeping comfortably with my 6’5 inches frame in it, transported 2.5 meters length of ikea furniture, experienced no problems for transporting my bicycle with the modularity of the backseat. And all the while it is smaller than my Passat Variant used to be, a hoot to drive with 130hp with decent fuel economy, even though the rigid rear axle is something I’d gladly trade in for independent suspension but it’s a compromise for being able to load 1 tonne of weight … And the possibility to haul a trailer too to expand on transporting solutions All in all, I love it as a daily driver with just enough frills for comfort. Don’t get why those compact vans aren’t that popular stateside ? Here the Caddy, Caddy Maxi, Fiat Doblo, Peugeot Partner/Citroën Berlingo ans Renault Kangoo are everywhere. In my Belgian street of 18 houses alone, there are five households driving a compact van…
As someone who has lived mostly in the USA, but also in Belgium, many Europeans don’t quite realize how space constraints really aren’t a thing for most Americans outside Manhattan and a few other city centers.
Roads are wider, parking spaces are bigger, street parking is much less common, more people own their own homes, etc.
The only real advantage these small vans had was fuel economy (maybe upfront cost but not significantly so), and with the electric versions of larger vans coming that’s a moot point.
This. I brother in law lives in Antwerp, in Berchem….very densely populated. From what I have seen of Liege, Ghent, Bruges, and Brussels, I am pretty sure you could live with no vehicle and rent whatever you needed when you need it.
I’m an American living in southern Germany. While the small vans listed are here, so are larger vans. And buses. And CUVs of all makes and models. When you have the space, people tend to have larger vehicles.
And you are correct: outside of the very inner core of certain US cities (NYC—really Manhattan), PHL, Boston, DC, LA, Pittsburgh, Chicago, Seattle, Portland, San Diego, San Francisco) you pretty much have street parking possibly a driveway for at least one car per household in older areas, and two spaces or a garage or driveway almost everywhere else. Streets are wide, lots of parking lots or garages for shopping or work areas…the need for a small van isn’t there for tradespersons….or anyone, really.
But me and my neighbours do not live in the city but in the countryside with space to spare and a big parking lot at our job sites. Yes large vans and crossovers etc. abound too, but for an economical and roomy package with the stature of a hatchback, it is a very good option, certainly with cost of fuel that is much higher here too… But I don’t think it’s the available space … Brussels is full of Sprinters and Transits and Jumpers and Ducatos like the big RAMs, popular with contractors and package deliverers. Those are not small vans. Makes me wonder about car culture and perception…
I think it’s American culture in general, if you don’t have too much you’re failing.
Well, also they’re considerably cheaper to buy. If you’re a fleet manager and a compact cargo van serves your use case, why would you buy vans that are bigger, thirstier, and $10,000 more expensive than necessary?
Size is an issue for a lot of people who aren’t comfortable with a full-size vans, especially a certain class of small business. Flower shops are a big example of this – and EVERY flower shop here has a van in this class – because you don’t need a full size van, and the majority of operators aren’t actually comfortable driving a full-size van. Basically small scale delivery operations love these things, for good reason, same reason they all had Chevy Astros back when those existed.
Is it a huge niche? No, obviously, or these vans would be popular – there IS a market here, but it’s not a market that can support more than one player, which is why the Transit Connect did great until actual competition showed up, I imagine that the total annual sales in the category hasn’t actually changed at all.
Could it be that everyone who wanted one got one and they do last for a long time?
Which could also play into how small the viable customer market is for these. Everyone got theirs, and there is / was no continual onset of newer small businesses, or transitioning small businesses, to also pick one up in the interim. The available market is effectively already saturated.
I’m all for smaller automobiles but the small vans sold in the US have been boring. If one of them came with a manual transmission or a BEV drivetrain I would have bought one as soon as I heard of it.
When I was in Norway I saw a few of Nissan’s e-NV200s and I totally geeked out over them. One of them would make an awesome little camper but sadly Nissan never sold them in the US.