An estimated 520,000 Class 1 and 2 work vans will be sold in 2020, with about 25% sold to delivery fleets. Yes, the venerable cargo van is finally en vogue. This newfound stardom is owed to retail e-commerce sales, which pulled in $3.53 trillion worldwide in 2019 and is expected to grow to $6.54 trillion by 2022.
When you find your local Ram dealer can’t source a ProMaster cargo van because Amazon bought them, you understand the enormity of the market firsthand.
Of course, it’s not just cargo vans that serve this market. Classes 3 to 6 — from low-cab forwards with box bodies to walk-in vans — are also meeting this demand.
“Dense urban markets will grow, and projected e-commerce demand will drive medium-duty sales,” said Shaun Skinner, president of Isuzu Commercial Truck of America, at the Isuzu press conference at the 2020 Work Truck Show (WTS).
The 2020 Work Truck Show, which convened last week in Indianapolis, showcased a convergence of model redesigns and technologies with e-commerce in mind. These innovations are driven by environmental conditions, regulations, and the needs of package delivery drivers — who enter and exit their vehicles hundreds of times in a day.
Urban jurisdictions are rebelling against emissions from traditional combustion engines. As such, the work truck industry is making progress in moving electric models from testing to production (separate article to come).
The urban package delivery market is a natural for EVs due to the high number of daily stops yet moderate range requirements. As well, electric delivery trucks may be allowed to access residential neighborhoods in off hours that shut out diesels due to noise restrictions.
“Regulations will be the biggest factor driving EV adoption,” was a refrain heard in more than one press conference and seminar.
While we wait for electrification to mature, the near-term work truck innovations unveiled at this year’s WTS had a focus on driver safety, comfort, and efficiencies.
ADAS (Automated Driver Assistance Systems) have migrated from passenger cars to work trucks, which makes sense, as work trucks double passenger car miles.
The Ram ProMaster will get an alphabet soup of safety acronyms for the 2021 model year, including forward collision warning (FCW), automatic emergency braking (AEB), blind-spot monitoring (BSM), rear cross-path detection, and crosswind assist.
Ram also revealed a digital rearview mirror. Not a new invention, but a Class 2 commercial van exclusive, the digital mirror uses a rear-mounted high-resolution camera (separate from the standard backup camera) that replicates exactly what the rearview mirror would display with an unobstructed line of site.
Utilimaster’s new Class 3 Velocity M3 walk-in van has available lane-departure warning (LDW), AEB, BSM, and a rear-collision warning system that works from parked up to 30 mph.
Freightliner Custom Chassis Corp. (FCCC) offers similar safety options on its MT platform on a menu basis. Bryan Henke of FCCC pointed out that AEB is not yet available on any work truck with hydraulic brakes, though the company is developing an ABS modular controller for this purpose next year.
Workhorse, now making electric walk-in vans exclusively, has five option packages with safety features on the C650, its new all-electric Class 3 walk-in van. The C650 can be spec’d with Workhorse’s proprietary telematics system, Metron, as well as a 360-degree camera system — another work truck trend.
These external camera systems give drivers a 360-degree view of the truck to prevent, among other hazards, “a collision with that bicyclist coming up between the truck and curb,” as one rep put it.
They’re available as options or standard on virtually every new walk-in van model in some form, though they’re not to be confused with aftermarket systems that record incidents for driver coaching and accident reconstruction. Workhorse’s C650, however, also has an in-cab camera and a digital recorder in the cab (not in the cloud) for this purpose.
That camera system is ASA Electronics makes that camera system and unveiled it at the Workhorse booth. The system auto-calibrates, which alleviates the need for third-party recalibration. Proper re-calibration of ADAS and tech components after an accident is a growing concern.
Package delivery drivers could make over two hundred deliveries a day — and get in and out of their vehicles twice that. That’s why increasing driver ergonomics and shaving seconds off every delivery matter.
In the spy wristwatch category: Utilimaster’s Velocity M3 has an automated door system that’s activated by the driver’s RFID-enabled wristband to alleviate door handle grabs. The wristband automatically opens and closes the bulkhead door and the passenger side door.
Tablets are an extension of delivery driver’s right hand, and messing with them on the road is a safety concern. FCCC came up with a solution: As part of its all-digital instrument cluster, drivers are able to transfer their handheld tablet info via Bluetooth to a device mounted in the cab.
FCCC also moved headlight and windshield wiper functions from the dash to a passenger car-like stalk on the steering column. Also in the “why didn’t we follow passenger cars a long time ago” category, the lights switch off when the ignition is turned off, preventing dead batteries.
Workhorse’s nods to driver comfort and ergonomics on the C650 include a low step-in height, four-wheel independent suspension for ride comfort, and an articulated bumper that eases crash impacts.
Ranger Design unveiled its third generation folding shelves, allowing delivery drivers to fold them up as their vans empty of packages throughout the day. Built with pinch guards and gas shocks, the Ranger rep said DHL and FedEx are spec’ing the feature.
With ergonomics in mind, the driver’s seat in Morgan Olson’s new walk-in model, the Storm, was redesigned to a higher height than that of a cargo van. According to Rich Tremmel of Morgan Olson, “Imagine climbing in and out of a small sports car, hundreds of times a day, as compared to standing up from a raised stool level chair.”
The Storm slots in under 10,000-lb. GVWR to avoid the Department of Transportation’s commercial vehicle designation. “Anyone can drive this,” Tremmel said during the Storm unveiling. With a shortage of commercial drivers and in the face of an escalating e-commerce boom, this walk-in model is a needed addition.