Cool Tools: Work Vehicles

Ford Transit cargo van

When evaluating work trucks, owners and managers of electrical contracting firms consider load capacity, power available, durability, suitability for upfits and service. In addition, current models feature many safety and convenience options.

Ford Motor Co.

“Vans remain the most popular work truck for electricians,” said Cary Shapiro, marketing manager, Ford Motor Co., Dearborn, Mich. “The high-profile Ford Transit cargo van is the most popular model. Being able to stand up inside the van has been a game- changer for electricians and contractors. The high and medium roofs mean electricians can have a mobile workshop, not just a rolling tool box.”

The Transit has a new, all-wheel-drive option for enhanced traction on icy, snowy or muddy roads.

“Electrical workers always are looking for ways their vehicles can make their jobs easier,” Shapiro said. “A standard cargo van seats two people, but a new crew van configuration has five seats, so it can carry a bigger team plus a full load of equipment.”

While vans remain most popular with electricians, trucks also have a place in many fleets, often towing heavier loads, and they can be upfitted with tool boxes, racks and other options.

Shapiro said Ford customers prefer gasoline engines in their cargo vans. The 2020 Transit offers a new standard, 3.5-liter, port-fuel/direct injection (PFDI) V6 gasoline engine that’s more fuel-efficient than the 3.7-liter engine it replaces.

“We also offer the proven 3.5-liter EcoBoost gas engine that now includes auto start-stop technology,” he said. “Both engines are paired with a new, class-exclusive, 10-speed transmission that is designed to further contribute to improved fuel efficiency.”

Diesel engines are available, as are alternative fuel-prep packages for compressed natural gas conversion on Super Duty trucks.

Coming in the 2022 model year is an all-electric Transit to help businesses achieve their sustainability goals and lower cost of ownership while helping improve air quality and reduce noise levels.

“For upfits,” Shapiro continued, “customers have a choice of ordering from any of our network of ship-through upfitters near the Ford Kansas City Assembly Plant, where every Transit is built, or upfitters who work with local Ford dealers. The upfitter would install the equipment. Ford Motor Co. does not make upfit equipment.”

From a technology standpoint, Shapiro added, some commercial vans have added a wide range of driver-assist technology including precollision assist with automatic emergency braking, forward-collision warning, post-collision braking, lane-keeping assist, auto high-beam headlamps, blind spot information system, reverse and side sensing systems, enhanced active parking assist, adaptive cruise control, cameras and adjustable speed-limiting devices.

“Driver-assist technologies like these can decrease the likelihood of a traffic accident and increase uptime,” he said. “Connectivity is also increasingly important. The Ford Transit, for example, comes standard with an embedded FordPass Connect modem with 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot and connectivity for up to 10 devices. Fleets can also choose Ford Telematics or Ford Data Services to access an array of tools for optimizing their businesses.”

Ford’s work truck line includes the Transit cargo van; Transit crew van; Transit Connect cargo van; Ford F-150 truck; Ford Super Duty pickup trucks F-250, F-350 and F-450; and Ford Super Duty chassis cabs F-450, F-550 and the new F-600.

General Motors

General Motors (GM), Detroit, offers a plethora of options for electrical contractors, said Heather Vu, assistant director of commercial product and midsize trucks. These include the Chevrolet Express and GMC Savana cargo and cutaway vans and low cab forward, and Silverado and Sierra trucks in 1500–6500 configurations.

“We believe customers still place strong value on low-roof designs like the Chevrolet Express and GMC Savana,” Vu said. “Customers appreciate their flexibility to access parking garages, excellent drivability, lower price point and other features.

“Electrical contractors typically gravitate to Chevrolet Express cargo vans. They offer excellent upfit customization opportunity from a truly reliable and versatile architecture. The 2021 Express and Savana will offer a new 6.6L V-8 gas.

“Trucks may be required when electrical work is performed in remote or rural areas where off-road capability is needed.”

Vu said vehicle upfits are available through dealers with products made by select specialty manufacturers. GM also offers upfit accessories that can be ordered through a dealer.

“Capability, dependability and cost are always paramount for customers, small or large,” Vu said. “GM prides itself in building reliable vehicles that require little maintenance over a vehicle’s lifetime.”

Looking ahead, she said, General Motors is committed to an all-electric future, and that includes the commercial vehicle space.

Chevrolet Express

Mercedes-Benz USA

Vans often are preferred over pickups because of their ability to hold and stow more, said Richard Webber, general manager of marketing and product management, Mercedes-Benz USA, Atlanta. Vans can be worked out of like a mini shop. Then, at the end of the day, a worker can simply park it and lock up tools and equipment. Vans offer safety, security, convenience and the opportunity to use the side panels as moving billboards.

“With Mercedes-Benz and Freightliner vans, we have always held our place at the top when it comes to total cost of ownership/operation (TCO), safety and reliability,” Webber said. “Our vans are known as some of the safest in the world, providing reliable and long-term use. We feel these are some of the highest valued assets we can offer to all of our customers who use our vehicles as tools for their trade.”

For electricians, full-size Sprinter and mid-sized Metris vans offer versatility as well as convenience and comfort.

“With easy access from the cab to the cargo area in our Sprinter, not to mention the ability to stand and walk through our cargo area with the ‘hi-roof’ models, this van fits the needs of most electricians,” Webber said.

“For smaller jobs and those requiring access to commercial garages, private-access neighborhoods or other restricted areas, the Metris has all the benefits of full-featured van in our only midsize model.

“The Worker model offers maximum capability and customization potential for aftermarket van interiors and exteriors. Furthermore, our vans offer the safety, reliability and best-in-class service intervals expected from Mercedes-Benz, all at an affordable and approachable starting price.”

The split between gas and diesel is approximately 80% diesel to 20% gas. The gas option has only been on the market for about 12 months.

“We are reviewing our powertrain strategy and considering the inclusion of an electric option in the near future,” said Webber. “Currently, we do not offer a natural gas model.”

Mercedes-Benz dealers offer upfit options through the Master Solutions program, which provides access to national upfitter partners that operate on Mercedes-Benz standards and body and equipment guidelines.

“We require that upfitter partners make sure each customer [feels] that Mercedes-Benz experience with every facet of the ownership life cycle,” Webber said.

Mercedes-Benz family of cargo vans


Ram’s best-selling vehicle for the electrical market is the high-profile ProMaster cargo van, said David Sowers, head of Ram trucks commercial marketing, Auburn Hills, Mich.

“High-profile cargo vans are highly customizable and our vans in particular are designed to exceed the demands of commercial customers and upfitters,” he said. “Features include standard interior cargo height, lower load-floor height, wide cargo space between wheel wells and maximum cargo width. Cargo lengths are 8, 10, 12 and 13 feet to maximize flexibility and cargo carrying capacity.

“The longer cargo lengths are great for electrical contractors carrying 12-foot lengths of materials that need to be enclosed and secure. The result is a purpose-built, highly customizable van designed to exceed the demands of commercial customers and upfitters.”

Sowers said primary purchasing considerations for ECs are cargo space, payload capabilities, reliability and efficiency. Ram ProMaster offers the best cargo box, with best-in-class standard cargo height, cargo width and lowest step in height. The Ram ProMaster payload rating is 4,680 lbs.

“Van buyers are showing increased interest in active safety,” Sowers said. “For 2021 model year, Ram ProMaster adds available forward-collision mitigation with emergency braking and blind-spot monitoring with cross-path detection. Every avoided accident means lower liability, less cash out of pocket, and more time on the job for technicians and vans. We also know that better visibility around the van is one of the No. 1 unmet needs of an electrician in crowded work sites, so Ram is making available a digital rear view mirror for enhanced visibility around the van, in addition to our already available a backup camera and rear-park sensors.”

Electrical vocation-specific shelving packages and some select upfitter options are available through Ram dealers who are supported by 75 commercial sources nationally.

“Ultimately, we build our vehicles to be easily customized through a wide variety of aftermarket options,” Sowers said.

Gasoline engines are standard on Ram vans, with gas hybrid and diesel options on the 1500.

“We see a higher demand overall for gasoline-equipped vehicles, but diesel serves a purpose for businesses who cover a lot of ground during the work week.”

Ram vehicles marketed to electricians are the ProMaster for large jobs, Ram ProMaster City for maintenance techs and tight urban environments, Ram 1500 Tradesman pickup for multi-use technicians, and Ram 2500 for uses that require a more accommodating payload and towing.

Ram ProMaster high-profile van


About the Author

Jeff Griffin

Freelance Writer

Jeff Griffin, a construction and tools writer from Oklahoma City, can be reached at

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