Curbside Newsstand: The Compact Van Segment Vanishes

In 2009 the Ford Transit Connect created a new market niche in the US: the compact van. Admittedly, there had been some previous windowless versions of domestic minivans, but with the TC, Ford now offered something a bit different, with the primary target being the commercial market.

In subsequent years, three others joined the party; the Nissan NV200 (and Chevy City Express), the Mercedes Metris and the Ram Promaster City. But now they’re all disappearing. The NV200 has been gone for some time, the Metris’ cancellation was announced a week or so ago, and the TC’s death was announced earlier this week. Stellantis has not yet made an announcement regarding the PMC, but I can’t see how it can continue for any more than a short time, as the Fiat Doblo it’s based on has been replaced in Europe by the Citroen Berlingo.

Hey; Americans like big vehicles, and it’ll just mean bigger profits by forcing buyers into full size vans.

The Nissan was the first to go, due to low sales. The Metris was cancelled for the same reason, and the Nissan plant in the US that built its turbo gas four is being phased out. The Transit Connect is being replaced in Europe by a badge-engineered VW Caddy. Ford had strongly suggested that it would create a new TC for the NA market based on the Escape’s platform, but that just evaporated, undoubtedly in connection with Ford’s announcement that it will lay off up to 8,000, starting with 3,000 right now. The car business is changing dramatically, significantly influenced by the pandemic—everyone is reducing model lines and complexity wherever possible. It’s much more profitable that way.

As to the Promaster City, they may continue to roll some NA market versions off the line for a while, but that’s not a longer term strategy. It has also been a weak seller, so its future was always iffy. One could argue that since the rest of the competition is all bailing, the PMC would have the compact van market all to itself. But even then, federalizing the Citroen Berlingo/Peugeot Partner seems unlikely for all the same reasons.

Ram already has the shortest full size van on the market, the 118″ wb version, which is only 195″ long, and almost a foot shorter than the former Caravan C/V pictured here for an Outtake I did on the subject. The shortest Transit is 219″ long, and the shortest Mercedes Sprinter is 236″ long, so Ram has the compact but tall van market to itself, which might likely make the relatively rare 118″ wb version more popular.

Another key factor is that manufacturers are now loathe to invest in new IC-based vehicles, as the development money is going to EVs. And there are some prospects in that market that may take up the slack in the compact end. For instance, Canoo’s EV van is only 184″ long. Like a number of other EV startups, Canoo’s prospect were looking a bit dim recently, but they just got a boost from Walmart, which just ordered 4,500 of them and has an option for 10,000 more.

Speaking of Canoo, they also have a prototype for a pickup version, based on the same structure. It reminds me a bit of the old VW double-cab pickup. Given their financial challenges, I strongly suspect they’ll focus on the van, as the demand for EV vans is huge. But a compact 4-wheel drive EV pickup is an interesting prospect.