Vans at the 2023 Chicago Auto Show

Passenger and work vans have come a long way from the baroque conversion jobs of the ‘80s and ‘90s. Driving that change were two things: government regulation and world-wide competition. As the federal government tightened fuel-economy and safety standards and global competitors became readily available, the argument for updating aging traditional body-on-frame, rear-drive vans quickly fell apart.

The Chevy Express, Ford Econoline and the Dodge B-Series were quickly relegated to the scrap heap, replaced by new models called the Ford Transit and Ram Promaster. But sometimes change is a good thing and in this case, change was a great thing. Today’s crop of passenger and work vans are safe, efficient and more important significantly more versatile than vans of the past. They come in different sizes, configurations and with long and short wheelbases and multiple top heights. 

Today’s vans have also added technology and conversion-ready features that not only make them more useful, but make them more reliable. Other plusses include wider opening doors, lower -- and flatter -- cargo floors. Finally, you’ll notice that V8 engine options are gone. Replaced by significantly more efficient four- and six-cylinder (and even diesel) options. Today’s vans provide excellent fuel economy.

Though they may look a little strange, take a deeper dive into today’s vans, you might be surprised by how civilized they have become. You can find the following passenger and work vans on display at the 2023 Chicago Auto Show or at the Vehicles on Display section of the auto show Web site.