For many years, van sales in the United States were fairly dull; Ford and Chevrolet took nearly the entire market with ancient, inefficient designs, and Mercedes/Freightliner/Dodge took the rest with the Sprinter, a modern, efficient, and unreliable design.
Today, the competition is red-hot, mostly because companies realized that to get profitable pickup and sedan sales, they needed to have vans as well—so companies could do one-stop shopping. That means that every company serious about fleet sales has a full-size cargo van and a small cargo van, and nearly all are the modern design.
Though Daimler(Chrysler) was there first, with the Sprinter, Ford has taken over the modern van market to a point that must be embarrassing for everyone else. The Ford Transit van had 137,794 sales in 2018, an 8% gain over 2017, though the Ram ProMaster is arguably a better van (we’ve spoken with a few van fleet people and they say reliability is about even across the board, with Mercedes at the bottom and nobody on top). Coming it at #2 is the Chevrolet Express (81,239), with 17.5% of sales, and at #3 is the “old Ford” E-series, at 47,936. Yes, the #2 + #3 are still less than #1, and #1 and #3 are both Ford. One reason for this is that Ford is very well established as King of the Fleets, having had a full product line and established, continuous relationships with companies and the aftermarket alike; Dodge/Ram has dropped in and out of markets too often to really be trusted, and Chevrolet had too long an interval between old and new vans (not to mention not having a full line for governments—no credible police cars). Also, of course, GM competes with itself, with the Express going up against the GMC Savana.
The ProMaster van came in at #4, with 46,600 sales over 2018, a 15% gain. The ProMaster is the only front wheel drive van, giving it a massive traction advantage and a lower load floor; but it did have some definite reliability shortcomings in its first years, which the Ram people tell us they’ve addressed now. The Sprinter, incidentally, came in at 29,787, despite being first in the market, while Nissan couldn’t break 20,000.
The mini-cargo-van market is smaller; the Transit Connect again leads, with 31,923 sales in 2018, down by 7%. The ProMaster City fell 12% to 13,788, and the Chevrolet City Express fell by 24% to 6,341 (this is one place where the Nissan did better, dropping 5% to 16,902). Mercedes’ new Metris gained 11% to 8,391. Chances are most buyers are going for the marginally pricier big vans during this era of cheap gas, especially since the big vans are much more efficient than their old vans were.
Moving on to the civvie market, we have the minivan. As Ford dominates commercial vans, Fiat Chrysler dominates minivans—again; the Caravan, with a 21% sales gain, had 151,927 sales in 2018 (making it the best selling van in America, period, including the Transit). The #2 minivan was the Chrysler Pacifica, with 118,322 sales—doing the Ford “1-3 van sales” punch one better.
The Honda Odyssey was, not surprisingly, #3, overcoming Toyota’s brief reign at the top, with 106,327 sales. The Toyota Sienna, oddly, dropped by 21%, to 87,672.
Into this race comes the Volkswagen Atlas; will they fare better than Kia? The Sedona, the forgotten minivan, fell by 25%, to just 17,928 sales for the year. It seems a smaller minivan is not all that popular, or perhaps people just forget the Sedona’s there.
The author of Dodge Viper, Jeep’s Go-Anywhere Vehicles, and The Rise and Reinvention of Chrysler Minivans, David Zatz has been writing about cars and trucks since the early 1990s; he also writes on organizational development and business at toolpack.info and covers Mac statistics software at macstats.org. His latest book, for kids, is Meet the Jeep.
David has been quoted by the New York Times, the Daily Telegraph, the Detroit News, and USA Today. You can reach him by using our contact form (preferred) or by calling (313) 766-2304.