Putting the ‘you’ in utility transportation

Warren Brown
Columnist July 22, 2011

This is an accidental review. The 2012 Nissan NV 2500 HD van arrived in my driveway. It was a big commercial van — square of face, long of body, bereft of passenger amenities other than a front seat covered with washable fabric.

I planned to leave it where Nissan parked it until Nissan came back to pick it up. Mary Anne, my wife, had different ideas.

Warren Brown is a columnist who writes about autos for The Washington Post. View Archive

The yard needed topsoil, a couple of tons of it. The basement needed to be cleared of obsolete office equipment and seldom-used exercise bikes. And there was the matter of dormitory junk brought home and “stored” by daughters who have long since finished their studies and moved on to professional careers.

For Mary Anne, the van presented the perfect opportunity to do these often-delayed jobs. For me, it symbolized a ruined weekend — until, quite by happenstance, it became a journey of discovery.

We live by different meanings of “work” in this country. For many of us, especially those living in the Washington area, it means moving words from one computer screen to another in the discussion and formulation of “policy.” For others, it means constructing, servicing and supplying the buildings and offices in which policy is discussed and formulated.

The people who do the gritty physical labor usually rely on pickup trucks and commercial vans to get through their day.

For decades in the United States, those vans have been supplied by Ford, General Motors and, at one time, the Dodge division of what is now the Chrysler Group. Models such as the Chevrolet Express cargo van and the Ford E-series van are so prevalent on the American commercial landscape, we tend to ignore them.

Nissan, however, has been paying attention — especially to the needs and desires of those people who drive commercial vans for a living. If the unsolicited reaction to the NV 2500 HD van in my possession is any indication, Ford and GM should start paying attention, too.

There are simple things in a commercial van, such as illumination inside the cargo area, or the way the rear doors open, that make a difference in daily labor. On Ford and GM vans, the rear doors tend to swing open and lock at 90-degree angles, often forcing workers to move around those doors to load and unload supplies.

The rear doors on the NV 2500 HD can swing open and lock at angles of 90 degrees. But if more utility is needed, they can be made to open and lock at 243 degrees on flat land and hills. That makes loading and unloading stuff a lot easier.

Mary Anne and I opened those doors at a big-box hardware store in Northern Virginia, much to the delight of several workmen who were looking on. Theirs was a collective “Wow!” followed by numerous inquiries about the NV 2500 HD. Had we been working for Nissan, we could have taken several orders right then and there.

Also, employees at the big-box hardware store were delighted by the ease of loading forklifts with pallets of topsoil, driving up to the rear opening or the right-side sliding door of the NV 2500 HD, and quickly unloading. Others marveled over the ability of the rear doors to serve as self-contained storage compartments. It’s small stuff, but apparently very important and appreciated stuff in the lives of people who sweat for a living.

Some laborers, such as self-employed plumbers, work at night. They’ll take a paying job wherever they can find one. But many of them say they dread the lack of standard illumination offered in Ford and GM full-size vans. In the NV 2500 HD, Nissan takes care of that problem with three standard roof-mounted lamps — center, center-rear and rear.

Another thing: Working people hate bending down while moving around the inside of their vans. Nissan offers an optional high-roof version of its NV 2500 HD that takes much of the bending and stooping out of ingress and egress, thus removing much of the physical stress from daily labor.

And, of course, there are all the electronic communications necessities of modern life, including iPod, iPad, laptop and Bluetooth connectivity.

Some of the innovations in the NV 2500 HD are so simple it’s amazing that no one else thought of them. Take the matter of assist handles. In its van, Nissan places them everywhere, well, they might be of assistance. It is as if Nissan’s engineers visited every FedEx, United Parcel Service and U.S. Postal Service facility, talked to all the employees, and came up with a working van that works better than any van currently produced in Detroit.

Regular readers of this column can imagine how much it pains me to say this. I love Detroit. I have spent much of my career rooting for Detroit. But facts are facts. And the fact is, for working people, Nissan’s NV 2500 HD is now the van to beat.

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