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These cargo vans -- from the Big Three U.S. manufacturers, plus one from Germany -- are designed for capacity first, comfort second.

Photo above is Dodge Ram Van. Yellow truck at right is new-to-North America DaimlerChrysler Sprinter, which won't reach Canadian Dodge dealers until late 2003.

2003 Cargo Vans
Our look at the Dodge Ram Van, Dodge Sprinter, Chevrolet Express, GMC Savana, and Ford E-Series (Econoline) vans for 2003.
By Bill Roebuck

Aug. 3, 2003 -- Work trucks -- the cargo vans and pickup trucks contractors use for service work -- are a challenge to deal with for those that use a magnifying glass to review cost and revenue spreadsheets, and that's almost everyone.

Should you lease or buy? Should you buy new or used? How long should a vehicle be kept on the road? Should you spend a lot of money on maintenance or just run the truck into the ground? These life cycle questions are not easy for anyone to answer.

Manufacturers and lessors will tell you a new vehicle is the best bet, while your local auto mechanic may say your truck could last forever with careful care. For a couple of reasons, the manufacturers might have the edge -- this year at least.

First, competition in the vehicle market is very strong. At this writing, both General Motors and Dodge dealerships are offering financing of zero per cent for several years. Free money like that is unprecedented.

Second, warranties are better than ever. For example, Dodge cargo vans and pickups come with a seven-year, 115,000 km powertrain warranty in addition to the traditional three-year, 60,000 km bumper-to-bumper program. And it applies to commercial use.

Although you may be tempted to run your current vehicles until they literally fall apart, you'll find that not only will newer models make for a better driving experience, they offer improvements in key areas such as cargo capacity, payload, towing capacity, accessibility, rear axle ratios, horsepower, torque, fuel economy, plus reliability. As a bonus, they look better too.

Here's what's available for 2003.

Dodge Ram Van Cargo

With many drivers reporting good reliability from their Dodge vans, it's curious that DaimlerChrysler is dropping the full-size Dodge Ram Van Cargo from its lineup at the end of the 2003 model year, which occurs in mid-June. Models should remain available through the summer, however.

The cargo vans are available in half-ton, three-quarter-ton and one-ton models and can be ordered with tradesmen packages that include heavy-duty contractor shelving, storage spaces for tools or equipment, and ladder racks. Swing out rear and passenger-side cargo doors are standard, and a sliding side door is an option.

Extended-length models are standard in all three size ranges of the Dodge Ram Van Cargo lineup -- the 1500, 2500 and 3500, although a short-box 1500 can be ordered. Engines range from a 175-hp, 3.9-litre six-cylinder to a 245-hp, 5.9-litre V8.

The GVWR of the 3500 Maxi -- the largest model -- is 9,200 lb, while its payload is 5,040 lb.

Prices for the Dodge Ram Van Cargo start at $26,920. Thanks to recent double-digit improvements in product quality, all Dodge vans now come with a seven-year, 115,000 km powertrain warranty and a 7/115 roadside assistance plan.

The Ram Van is being replaced by the Dodge Sprinter, a rebadged version of the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter cargo van that's been available in Europe for the past five years. So far, only international fleets have been able to put their hands on Sprinters for Canadian use, although it's available in the U.S. DaimlerChrysler Canada only recently confirmed that the Sprinter would be sold in this country.

The Sprinter has proved popular in Europe and the U.S. because of its huge cargo area, multiple configurations, and economical turbodiesel engine. Three wheelbases are available (118, 140 and 158 in.) and there are two roof heights (64 and 73 in.), offering from 247 to 473 sq ft of storage space. You can stand up tall in either version, making working inside the truck easier. A Trades Sprinter version with special shelving and fittings is available. The GVWR is between 8,550 lb and 9,990 lb. U.S. pricing starts at $26,765.

The Sprinter won't be available in Canada until late 2003. Read more about the Sprinter here.

Also from DaimlerChrysler, a new cargo version of the Dodge Caravan minivan is now available . The Caravan C/V comes with solid window panel covers and a decontented cargo area.

Chevrolet Express/GMC Savana

Another line that's worth a second look is the Chevrolet Express/GMC Savana twins from General Motors. The 2003 models offer a significant new design, upgraded powertrains, new V6 and V8 engines, enhanced safety, improved reliability, more power, more doors, more drive wheels and more braking power.

Unique to the full-size van segment are available all-wheel drive models and a left-hand-side 60/40 split entry/load door, both industry firsts. Nifty street-side flip-up panels on the work-oriented Express Access and Savana Pro models allow access to tools and parts from both sides of the vehicle. As well, a wide range of interior storage systems are available.

Express and Savana vans are available with 135-in. and 155-in. wheelbases. GVWRs range from 6,200 lb in the 1500 Series to 9,600 lb in the heavy-duty 3500 Series. Engines range from a 200-hp V6 to a 300 hp V8. The payload rating is 2,430 lb. Base prices start at $26,625. Read more about the Express/Savana vans here.

Ford E-Series Commercial Full-Size Vans

It's more of the same with Ford's E-Series Commercial full-size cargo vans, the E-150 and E-350, although 2003 models have minor changes, including a new grille and new colours. Engines range from a 4.2-litre V6 to a 6.8-litre V10 in regular- and extended-length models, as well as a Super Duty version. The hinged doors on the passenger side split 60/40. A sliding side cargo door is a no-cost option.

There is up to 256.5 cu ft of cargo space in the standard van and 309.4 cu ft in the extended model. An available EconoCargo System combines insulation and a plastic liner to help protect cargo. A Racks and Bins System also is offered, with steel shelving, drawers and cabinets, and a safety partition. The base price is $26,480. Read more about the E-Series van here.


Innovations in cargo vans for 2003 are certainly highlighted by the introduction of the newly designed Chevy Express and GMC Savana models from General Motors. They offer many new features that should appeal to contractors. But the one to watch out for is the Dodge Sprinter, with its class-leading headroom and capacity.

© Copyright Bill Roebuck, 2002.

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