CHICAGO – Chevrolet is relying on Nissan to provide it with a new entry in the small van market, the ’15 City Express unveiled today at the Chicago Auto Show and going on sale this fall to compete against the Ford Transit Connect.

The small Chevy van is based on Nissan's NV200 model, and Nissan is building it in Mexico with modifications specified by Chevy.

Why Nissan? Why isn’t General Motors building a small van on its own?

“It helps us get in quicker to what we consider a growth market with a good product,” Ed Peper, vice president-GM Fleet and Commercial Operations, says in an interview at the show. “It's their van, but we redesigned it, with a new front end, for example.

“It doesn't rule out someday doing a small van on our own,” he adds. “But this was a sound, smart, low-cost investment to quickly get in a segment that will account for about 40,000 sales now (and) is expected to rise to at least 110,000 to 120,000 units by 2017.

“It's a profitable investment for us.”

The City Express van will be sold at all Chevy dealerships but will cater to commercial and fleet customers specifically.

Retail buyers always can purchase one for the family, Peper tells WardsAuto, “providing they realize it only comes with two front seats and a large cargo hold in back.”

Chevrolet says the compact, front-drive van will have the maneuverability and cargo-hauling flexibility urban business owners and fleets need, with 122.7 cu.-ft. (3.5 cu.-m) of customizable cargo space, a 36.7-ft. (11.2-m) turning diameter and the ability to handle a 1,500-lb. (680-kg) payload.

“As the newest member of the Chevrolet Express family of vans, the ’15 City Express offers a smaller, more-efficient choice for businesses that don’t need the cargo volume or other capabilities of a fullsize van,” Peper says in unveiling the unit.

“It is an easy-to-maneuver van that makes the most of its compact dimensions with clever features, allowing business owners to maximize its space – and their resources – with a vehicle sized for their needs.”

The cargo area features 54 ins. (1,372 mm) of space from side wall to side wall – more than enough to load a standard pallet flat on the floor. It stretches 82 ins. (2,082 mm) from the rear doors to the back of the front seats. With the passenger seat folded, the length grows to 116 ins. (2,946 mm).

The tops of the rear-wheel housings are flat to enable tiered storage and maximize cargo space.

Additional features include a fold-down passenger seat that converts the seat back to a flat work space; center console designed for storage, including a standard file folder bin; 40/60-split rear cargo doors that open to 90- and 180-degree angles; left- and right-side sliding doors; mounting rings in the cargo floor and mounting points on the exterior roof rack.

Equipment also includes vinyl flooring; standard solid rear doors with optional tinted windows; driver information center; power windows; antilock brakes and electronic stability control; 15-in. wheels; 12V power outlet (standard LS); remote keyless entry with automatic locking feature (standard on LT); heated, power-adjustable outside mirrors (standard LT); cruise control (standard LT, optional LS); and backup sensors (standard LT, optional LS).

A Technology package available on LT models includes a 5.8-in. (14.7-cm) touchscreen, navigation, Sirius/XM Satellite Radio with a free 3-month trial, Bluetooth phone connectivity, a USB input and a rearview camera system.

The 2.0L 4-cyl. engine is rated at 131 hp and 139 lb.-ft. (188 Nm) of torque and features continuously variable valve timing. It is mated to a CVT. Mileage figures and pricing have not been released.

All 3,200 Chevrolet dealerships across the U.S. can sell and service the City Express.

Chevrolet also offers Express fullsize cargo vans in half-ton, three-quarter-ton and 1-ton chassis, in regular and extended lengths. Flex-fuel gasoline engines capable of running on compressed natural gas and diesel powerplants are available.

At the show, Peper also debuts the expanded lineup of Silverado pickups able to run on gasoline or CNG. While CNG was available on a limited basis in some extended and crew cabs, all heavy-duty 2500 and 3500 models will offer the option for ’15, he says.

Peper won’t disclose sales targets. But when asked what other GM vehicles may add CNG capability in the future, he says, “We'll start offering a CNG Impala in August.”

With CNG currently priced about 62% less per gallon than gasoline, a work truck that's driven 26,000 miles (42,000 km) a year can save more than $2,000 annually based on 75% CNG usage and comparable efficiency to gasoline, Chevy says in debuting the CNG vehicles here.

“With CNG capability to be offered on all Silverado HD cab configurations, customers have a wider range of choices when it comes to selecting the alternatively fueled truck that matches their needs,” Peper says.

The CNG option is available on all Silverado 2500HD configurations and Silverado 3500HD models with single rear wheels. The 2500HD double cab and crew cab models are on sale now, with 2500HD regular cab and all 3500HD models going on sale in July.

With the additional driving range enabled by a separate CNG tank, Silverado HD bi-fuel models have a total range of up to 650 miles (1,050 km), Chevy says.

A unique version of the 6.0L V-8 – identified by an LC8 engine code – features special hardened valves and valve seats that enable it to run on CNG or gasoline. It is rated at 360 hp and 380 lb.-ft. (515 Nm) of torque on gasoline, and 301 hp and 333 lb.-ft. (451 Nm) of torque on CNG.

A separate CNG fuel tank enables the driver to switch between fuels at the flip of a switch. When the CNG tank is depleted, the system automatically switches to gasoline.