The Chevy Express and GMC Savanna commercial vans have been in production with virtually no changes for 20 years and General Motors seems in no hurry to replace them. The vans have proved to be durable in commercial use, a feature that tradespeople value highly. They do have a problem, though. They get lousy gas mileage. The 6.0 liter V-8 most of them come with is rated a measly 11 mpg in the city, 16 on the highway. and 13 mpg overall.
Despite competition from new commercial vans from Ford and Dodge, the Express/Savanna twins continue to sell well. 100,000 were sold in 2014 and another 85,000 in 2015. “The Express and Savana still have a lot of legs,” GM fleet boss Ed Peper said in an interview last month. He says there are plenty of customers who prefer GM’s “tried and true” vans to the Euro offerings, according to Automotive News. I know that is true. I have a neighbor who is a carpet installer who just retired his Chevy Express after 11 years of service. His van has 394,567 miles on it.
In order to extend the life of its commercial vans a little further and address the fuel economy issue, GM now says it will offer its 2.8 liter Duramax diesel in the 2500 and 3500 versions of the Express and Savanna starting with the 2017 model year. That one move will nearly double the fuel economy of these workhorses. The Duramax is rated at 22 mpg city, 31 highway and 25 mpg combined when installed in the Chevy Colorado and GMC Canyon mid-size pickup trucks, according to Pickup Trucks.com. That’s even more than the small Renault designed Chevy City Express van GM introduced last year.
The baby Duramax uses an iron cylinder block with dual overhead camshafts. It generates 181 horsepower at 3,400 rpm and 369 pounds-feet of torque at 2,000 rpm. Once fitted to the larger commercial vans, the engine will be backed up with GM’s 8 speed automatic transmission. GM’s mid-size pickups and its commercial vans are all assembled at the Wentzville, Mo., plant, near St. Louis.
How long will GM be able to continue building these ancient commercial vans? Ed Peper says, “We’re always looking at opportunities to be disruptive.” Nothing says “disruptive” like building the same product on the same line every day since the Clinton administration, does it?