General Motors has inked a deal with Nissan for a small commercial van to be sold in the U.S. and Canada starting late next year.
The 2015 Chevrolet City Express will be cloned from Nissan’s NV200, which has been on sale in various world markets since 2009 and in the U.S. since earlier this year. If the name rings a bell, it might be because a passenger version of the NV200 was selected as the replacement for the Ford Crown Victoria as the next standard New York City taxicab.
Both vans will be built at the Nissan plant in Aguascaliente, Mexico.
“Our fleet customers have asked us for an entry in the commercial small van segment, so this addition to the Chevrolet portfolio will strengthen our position with fleets and our commercial customers,” said Ed Peper, GM’s U.S. v-p of Fleet and Commercial Sales.
While customers may have asked for a junior Chevy van, a more likely rationale for the Chevy-san is the success of Ford’s imported-from-Turkey Transit Connect, which has enjoyed a virtual monopoly in the segment with only minor competition from Chrysler’s Ram Cargo Van. Ford sold 35,216 Transit Connects in 2012. As of April this year, Transit Connect sales are up 27.6% while sales of GM’s full-size G-Series vans (Chevrolet Express and GMC Savanna) are down 6%.
In addition, Chrysler Group will start selling a Ram version of the Fiat Doblo, which is also built in Turkey, early next year, leaving GM as the sole Detroit automaker without an entry in the field. GM hasn’t had a small commercial van since the Astro was dropped in 2005.
The tie-up with Nissan seems unusual, considering that General Motors already has a small van, the Opel/Vauxhall Combo, which is sold in Europe and other markets. However, the Nissan van is already federalized, which will get the City Express to market more quickly and save GM the cost of certifying the Combo with the EPA. There’s also the potentially embarrassing fact the newest Combo is itself a clone: of the Fiat Doblo. Surprisingly, GM Korea (formerly Daewoo), which supplies the Spark and components for the the Sonic and Cruze, does not produce commercial vehicles.
Whatever the reason, Nissan is quite happy with the arrangement. Joe Castelli, Nissan v-p for commercial vehicles and fleet said, “Working with partners to expand markets for our innovative products enhances Nissan’s growth and manufacturing efficiency by leveraging our capacity to meet growing demand in this space.”