Vans like the 2022 GMC Savana have cargo space that can be secured to keep valuables safe from the elements and theft. - Photo: General Motors

Vans like the 2022 GMC Savana have cargo space that can be secured to keep valuables safe from the elements and theft.

Photo: General Motors

With more players coming into the field of contract work and last-mile delivery, they need to understand what kind of vehicle will lead them to success. One wrong decision can put buyers back thousands of dollars, and time wasted cannot be recouped. 

Cutting corners isn’t an option, as it could endanger not only vocational fleet owners but also those they employ. Work Truck conducted interviews with Ed Peper, General Motors Fleet U.S. Vice President; Dave Sowers, Head of Ram Commercial; and Nathan Oscarson, Ford commercial truck brand manager, to help readers determine what vehicle will be the best fit: A truck or a van.

Q: How should a vocational fleet go about determining whether they need a van or a truck for the work they plan to do?

A: According to Ed Peper, General Motors Fleet U.S. Vice President, the answer will depend on the type of work a fleet does and what capabilities it will need to get the job done. 

“Trucks are workhorses built for hauling, trailering, and towing across all terrains. They offer engine and transmission options for more power, and they can be upfitted to meet particular job needs, like tool and equipment storage,” he explained.

On the other hand, he said vans are a great fit for courier and delivery businesses, as well as product and passenger transport over short and long distances. 

“They have cargo space that can be secured to keep valuables safe from the elements and theft. In addition, their size and configuration provide more space for organizing and storing tools, equipment, and merchandise, and they have sliding doors for easy loading and unloading. Vans can also be augmented with upfits to meet specific job requirements,” Peper said. 

Dave Sowers, head of Ram Commercial, explained that while many fleets now have a mix of vehicles, the most apparent factor that needs to be taken into consideration is the payload. 

“Vans can haul a heavy payload but are less proficient at towing heavy trailers. Trucks do a good job hauling a trailer as part of their daily work but provide less security than vans,” he stated. 

Trucks like the 2021 Chevrolet Silverado 5500 HD and 6500 HD Chassis Cab Crew Cab are workhorses built for hauling, trailering, and towing across all terrains. - Photo: General Motors

Trucks like the 2021 Chevrolet Silverado 5500 HD and 6500 HD Chassis Cab Crew Cab are workhorses built for hauling, trailering, and towing across all terrains.

Photo: General Motors

Q:  What kinds of particular work are vans better suited for? What about trucks?

A: Nathan Oscarson, Ford commercial truck brand manager, said medium- or high-roof cargo vans let you work in a way you can’t with a truck because they enable the driver to actually stand up and walk around inside. 

“That makes a van a natural choice for delivering goods and services — both in traditional applications like package delivery and plumbing, as well as all the ‘mobile’ businesses that have sprung up since these vans hit the scene, from food trucks to mobile pet groomers,” he stated. 

Vans also keep tools and cargo organized and protected. One can select from innumerable racks and bins to customize them to individualized needs to maximize efficiency and productivity. Plus, expensive tools and equipment are locked away out of sight when not in use.

Trucks generally have higher payload and towing ratings than vans, so they are ideal when the job calls for hauling just about anything. 

“You wouldn’t dump a load of gravel in the back of a van — that’s a job for a truck. That open bed also lends itself to carrying things that might be challenging to put in a van, like lumber or landscaping equipment. If the job calls for a lot of off-road travel, a 4x4 truck is probably a better choice for frequent drives in the dirt,” he explained. 

Vans tend to be more functional for contractors not only because of the higher roofs available but also the interior workspace, according to Sowers. Urban environments where space is limited and a tight turning radius is more important also lend themselves to using a van. 

“Trucks continue to serve multiple applications like for a landscaping company that plows snow in the winter and hauls trailers in the summer. If you’re working on a construction site, you need the right tool for the job, and a truck provides that freedom to adapt to different job sites. Trucks are usually found at the genesis of a construction site and the dirt roads that lead to them, and then vans come in with the interior trades like plumbing and electrical,” Sowers said.

Peper commented vans are typically better designed for transporting people as well. 

“Also, since they are on display as they go where your customers work and live, vans can also act as a mobile billboard for your business,” he added. 

The  Ford Transit enables fleet managers to select from innumerable racks and bins to customize the vehicle to individualized needs to maximize efficiency and productivity.  - Photo: Ford 

The  Ford Transit enables fleet managers to select from innumerable racks and bins to customize the vehicle to individualized needs to maximize efficiency and productivity. 

Photo: Ford 

Q: What are some of the most common questions you get from fleet managers who are trying to determine what the best vehicle for their fleet is?

A: Peper emphasized that fleet managers know their industries inside and out and speak from experience when it comes to the capabilities and options they need for their businesses. Some of their main focus points are reducing operating costs, increasing productivity, improving safety, and bolstering the bottom line. 

“They’ll ask about every aspect of what a truck or van offers in terms of power, durability, accessories, and trim options. As we move into an all-electric future, they will want to know about the infrastructure they’ll need to keep their vehicles charged and ready to work, as well as the parts and service available through the OEM,” he stated. 

Other factors fleet managers will often inquire about are vehicle connectivity, telematics, and customer support, as well as the total cost of ownership, including maintenance and fuel costs, to better leverage the value of their fleet vehicles over time.

2021 Ram 2500 Tradesman regular cab and 2021 Ram 3500 Tradesman dually regular cab trucks do a good job hauling a trailer as part of their daily work, but provide less security than vans. - Photo: Ram

2021 Ram 2500 Tradesman regular cab and 2021 Ram 3500 Tradesman dually regular cab trucks do a good job hauling a trailer as part of their daily work, but provide less security than vans.

Photo: Ram

Q: What are some tips you’d give a fleet manager when it comes to figuring out what they need in a van or truck?

A: According to Sowers, it often comes down to acquisition cost, fuel economy, reliability, and total cost of ownership. 

“Once they’ve come to grips with having a mix of vehicles, we go into all the other factors, the most important of which is capability,” he said. 

Peper recommended working closely with a fleet account executive who can advise fleet managers on making the best choices to suit current needs while building for the future.

“Also, be sure to talk to your drivers. They know first-hand what they need to do their day-to-day jobs efficiently and safely and will provide a lot of insights into whether a truck or a van makes the best sense for your business,” he advised. 

When the job calls for towing or hauling, the Ford F-150 Lightning Pro, an all-electric truck is one possible choice. - Photo: Ford 

When the job calls for towing or hauling, the Ford F-150 Lightning Pro, an all-electric truck is one possible choice.

Photo: Ford 

Q:  What are some common or top issues from spec’ing the wrong vehicle type?

A: Buyer’s remorse is a reality if fleet managers end up choosing a vehicle that doesn’t do everything they need it to do.

“That’s why working with a fleet account executive is so important to match your business needs to the capabilities of the trucks and vans your OEM sells,” Peper said. 

Sowers said one of the biggest concerns would be creating an unsafe operating condition for workers or the general public. 

“Overloading or improperly loading a vehicle can cause concerns with handling, braking, and increase the risk of accidents. Additionally, overloading also increases wear and component failure, causing additional downtime and reducing vehicle’s overall life. If you go over the vehicle’s gross vehicle weight rating, you won’t be able to transport everything you’ll need to the job site safely,” he explained. 

The 2021 Ram ProMaster van can haul a heavy payload, but is less proficient at towing heavy trailers.  - Photo: Ram

The 2021 Ram ProMaster van can haul a heavy payload, but is less proficient at towing heavy trailers. 

Photo: Ram

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