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Chicago 2014: Why The 2015 Chevrolet City Express Is Based On A Nissan

Though Chevrolet decided to source its 2015 City Express urban van from Nissan, Joyce Mattman, director of commercial products for General Motors' fleet division, says that decision wasn't always a given.

"We knew what we wanted to build, whether we built it ourselves or whether we sourced it from somebody else," she says at the Chicago auto show. "We looked at the van from Nissan, and we liked it a lot."

Co-opting a van that had already been designed also meant Chevrolet could put the City Express on sale sooner. Overall, though, Chevrolet wanted to make sure it had a smaller commercial vehicle suitable for urban use. There's a reason it's called the City Express, Mattman notes. Downsizing the van also means that small business have a more fuel-efficient vehicle to choose from for urban deliveries.

"Every dollar that a small business has to spend in fuel, is money they can't spend back into the business," she says. "As they look at their business and how they can become more efficient… they maybe don't need the space of a full-size van."

Mattman also points out that this isn't the first time that Chevrolet has offered a small vehicle aimed at commercial deliveries. "The [2006-2011 Chevrolet] HHR in a way almost invented this segment. We ended up selling a lot of them to commercial customers," she says. In addition to a traditional passenger version with windows, the HHR was offered as a stripped-out panel van.

To help differentiate the 2015 Chevrolet City Express from its Nissan forbear, GM has added different rear tie-down hooks, more lighting in the cargo area, and will offer the van with tinted rear glass, whereas the Nissan NV200 is offered only as a panel van. The van also will come with 99 different equipment configurations, offering far more flexibility for fleet buyers on a strict budget.

"Customers really do have different needs," Mattman explains, so the lengthy options list means, "They're not having to pay for anything they don't need."

On whether Chevrolet will eventually build its own small van, Mattman offers no firm timeline. "We are always looking at that," she says. "This [the Nissan deal] made a lot of sense for us now. We'll see where it goes."

No Update For Large Vans

As for larger GM commercial vans, namely the Chevrolet Express and its twin, the GMC Savana, Mattman says there are no firm plans to update the aging model. Even though most competitors are introducing modern, European-inspired cargo vans -- Ford Transit, Ram ProMaster, Nissan NV2500/3500 -- Chevrolet buyers are still clamoring for the dated Express.

"We'll keep it as long as we can," Mattman says. "There are actually a lot of people out there that want it."

She explains that many fleet buyers appreciate that the body-on-frame Express/Savana are easy to repair, and that upfitting companies are already familiar with how to modify the vans for fleets' needs. For now, there's no clear timeline for a new model.

"As far out as we plan, it's in there," she says of the current Chevrolet Express.