The shrinkage of the conversion vehicle market the last 10 years has been shocking, but there is a bright future for conversions of the GMC Savana and Chevrolet Express full-size vans, according to a spokesman for St. Louis, Mo.-area dealership Behlmann Pontiac & GMC, perhaps the largest conversion vehicle retailer in the country.
The Behlmann dealership, in Hazelwood, Mo., typically inventories 100 conversion vehicle units compared with five or six conversions stocked by the typical new car dealer, said Jim Mager, assistant van and used car sales manager at Behlmann’s.
The Savana and Express are only in their second model year and they include contemporary features such as all-wheel drive, gross vehicle weight ratings ranging from 9,600 to 12,000 pounds, room to carry seven passengers comfortably and “a fourth door” providing easier access to the rear seats than was the case with older converted cargo vans, Mager said.
The GMC Truck Division, on its website, describes the fourth door as “industry-first optional driver-side 60/40 swing door.”
Additionally, conversions of the Savana and Express are priced around $10,000 less than a comparable sport utility vehicle (SUV), Mager said.
GMC, on its website, lists $25,443 as its MSRP for a converted Savana full-size van.
Consequently, sales of converted Savana and Express vans could grow, although Mager said advertising support from General Motors Corp. would help.
Mager added that he does not know whether GMC plans to supply more “seat-delete” Savana chassis to conversion companies.
Of course, it was the introduction of SUVs that caused the dramatic shrinkage of the conversion vehicle market, Mager said.
According to the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA), there were 259,600 converted vans, pickups and SUVs shipped from the manufacturers to dealers during 1994, but only 57,000 units were shipped in 2003.
In the case of van conversions alone, there were 192,400 units shipped in 1993, the most recent peak, compared with only 38,800 units delivered in 2003, the RVIA also reported.
One reason for the 17.6% decline in van conversion shipments in 2003, when compared with 2002, was DaimlerChrylser Corp.’s permanent closure of its Windsor, Ontario, plant, where the Dodge Ram full-size van was produced.
Dodge has discontinued the Ram van and replaced it with the Sprinter, which is assembled in Dusseldorf, Germany, and shipped as a kit to DaimlerChrysler’s Freightliner plant in South Carolina, where it is re-assembled for use as a delivery truck.
DaimlerChrysler’s plan to build a Sprinter assembly plant in North America is on indefinite hold and the availability of “seat-delete” versions of the Sprinter is uncertain.
Meanwhile, the Ford Econoline van is the only other available full-size van conversion platform, but Mager estimates it is 15 years old and has a tough time competing against the Savana and Express, which Mager described as being “up with the times.”