Many firms have tried to build a better mousetrap, but few have truly endeavored to develop a better full-size cargo van. Today's two best-selling designs -- The Ford E-Series and Chevrolet Express -- can be dated to the late 1990s, and adhere to a design ethic established in the early 1970s.
For large fleets, which simply seek the cheapest means to schlep cargo from point to point, that's no problem, but small business owners, contractors, and entrepreneurs are left seeking a capable, comfortable vehicle that caters to their industry. Lucky for them, the 2012 Nissan NV offers exactly that.
What Workers Want
Nissan's feet-first jump into the commercial van business may appear to originate from left field, but it's actually a very calculated move. In fact, the idea behind these particular NV models -- Nissan's first commercial vans for North America -- was born almost six years ago.
Although the E-Series and Express have large, loyal fleet followings (Mercedes-Benz's costly Sprinter is, admittedly, a niche player in this market), the automaker sought to target independent contractors and small businesses -- people who may, on occasion, use their vehicle as something more than transport to a job site. A logical business case, as the automaker says these buyers lay claim to nearly 3.5 million vehicles in the U.S. alone.
So, what were they looking for? A pickup. Mike Hobson, Nissan's North American director of LCV and fleet vehicles, says van sales dropped earlier this decade largely because traditional van customers were switching to pickups, thanks in part to their comfort, available comfort, and drivability. The ideal vehicle, Nissan believes, combines the best of those two worlds.
Standing on the Shoulders of Titans
Beneath the skin, the pickup influence is apparent. The fully boxed ladder frame is based upon the F-Alpha frame used in the full-size Titan pickup, but the two aren't interchangeable. The NV's frame rails are flat, allowing for a low, level load floor. A new recirculating ball steering rack, redesigned rear leaf springs, enlarged front spindles, and enlarged brakes are designed to cope with extra payload.