One of the 'new-again' elements in the car business is the fragmentization of offerings by both Detroit and the importers.

Just a few years back, say five or six, it looked like the industry was getting increasingly homogenized.

Now the game has blown wide open again.

Take two items to illustrate that thesis: the once drab and lowly van and the step-side pickup.

Some 531,000 vans were sold during 1976, plus another 119,000 equipped like stations wagons.

Production of the light duty trucks - that's what they really are - is at a record rate everywhere they're built.

Why? No one making them is quite sure. Some vans are strictly second-car substitutes. Others get split use as commercial and personal transportation.

Some, not as many as it would appear but still a surprisingly large number, are simply ego trips. Printed, repainted, landscaped, be-rugged floor, wall and roof, the van to some degree has become an empty canvas.

The hot-rod of the 1950s is now a . . . van.

Similarly the step-side pickup. (the fleet-side pickup has flat sides and no place to step up on.)

Barely three years ago they were nearly dead in the water. Most manufacturers other than Chevrolet stopped making them.

Now they're the genuinely hot vehicle among those same people who led in the popularity of the van.

Theodore McGee, director of market analysis at General Motor Corp., said "Somewhere in California the motorcycle crowd" began buying the stepside pickups, putting on baloon tires, painting them bright orange. "Now it's the hottest thing you ever saw."