In a recent news article by Associated Press writer John Porretto, General Motors Corp. and nearly two dozen outfitters plan to spend more than $2 million in an effort to revive demand for big, souped-up conversion vans. No longer decorated with beads and shag carpeting, conversion vans have evolved into sophisticated vehicles for families and groups alike, reports Porretto. And GM, which helped form the Conversion Van Marketing Association (CVMA) last year to raise awareness of customized vans, wants to dispel perceptions of rough-riding vehicles decked out with wild paint jobs and crushed velour upholstery.
Reasons for van resurgence? Today’s vans typically cost less than a loaded full-size sport-utility vehicle and feature leather seating, air conditioning, home theater-quality sound and flat-panel televisions. According to the CVMA, conversion van sales peaked in the early 1990s and have fallen steadily in the last 10 years because of the popularity of hulking SUVs. Sales totaled roughly 181,000 in 1994, fell to 76,000 in 2000 and dropped to 38,000 in 2003, when Dodge stopped making its full-size Ram vans, resulting in Ford Motor Co. becoming GM’s chief competitor in this market.
Porretto reported that the CVMA’s goal is to boost sales of GM vans 25% in the next two years by promoting them with a website, direct mail and other avenues.
The timing for the push is ideal, say some industry sources, due to the evolution of vans over several years. After it upgraded the chassis in 1996, giving it a smoother ride, GM enhanced the styling and added an all-wheel-drive option in 2003, making vans more feasible for those in colder, icy climates.
Another trend in the conversion van market is to have new vehicles equipped with four-wheel-drive capabilities.
Quigley Motor Company, located in Manchester, PA, is a growing manufacturer of four-wheel-drive (4WD) conversions for full-sized vans. When William “Bill” Quigley opened for business in 1966, his primary source of income came from new and used truck sales and rentals. But as the business began to grow in the early 1970s, he began to sell recreational vehicles, too.
Initially, the lion’s share of Quigley’s business was with the non-commercial buyer: outdoor sportsmen, boaters and the weekend car racers. Soon after, the Quigley product line became known to a new buyer: the commercial and ambulance markets.
Today, Quigley Motor Company is an authorized up-fitter for GM and Ford to design, build and install 4WD units, as well as right-hand-drive systems. According to Quigley, its “Quadra-Version” 4WD system is not installed into any used vehicles. Rather, they specialize only with new vans. So these 4WD modifications only can be ordered through an authorized Chevrolet, GMC or Ford dealer in the U.S.
However, the good news is this trend can bring new opportunities to your shop. If your shop is equipped to perform 4WD modifications and similar customizations, you may want to look into offering these services for your customers’ conversion vans. Or, you may want to look into providing 4WD conversion service to used van dealers in your area.
Gee, all of this talk about conversion vans almost makes one wish for a sequel to Van Nuys Blvd., the 1979 movie about a small-town kid who hears about the wild nights of cruising the boulevard in Van Nuys, CA, and packs up everything and heads west.