Chevrolet is jumping into the quickly blossoming small-cargo-van sector with its upcoming ’15 City Express at the urging of its fleet customers, officials say.

The City Express is based on the Nissan NV200 and will be built by the Japanese auto maker at its Cuernavaca, Mexico, plant under a deal announced earlier today.

Like the NV200, the City Express will be sold with a 2.0L, twin-cam 4-cyl. engine mated to a continuously variable transmission. Other features it will share with the Nissan model include 4-wheel antilock brakes, electronic stability control, six airbags, power door locks and mirrors and remote keyless entry.

The new van will be backed by Chevrolet’s 5-year/100,000-mile (161,000-km) powertrain warranty and 3-year/36,000-mile (58,000-km) bumper-to-bumper protection plan.

The Chevrolet City Express, which will hit the market in fall 2014, will be distinct from the NV200 from the A-pillar forward and feature brand treatment at the rear and on the interior, as well, says Dean Perelli, vehicle chief engineer-next-generation vans.

“The vehicle totally represents the Chevy theme in brand character, inside and outside” he says.

In a conference call with media to discuss the new model, Ed Peper, General Motors vice president-fleet and commercial sales, says the City Express puts Chevrolet into what is expected to be an expanding segment in the U.S. and answers a call from its customer base.

“We see this as a growing segment we want to play in, and want to play in very quickly,” Peper says. “Really, this was a request of our customers. We’re trying to listen very carefully to what our customers want.

“They told us they had a need for this product, something that has a lot of cargo space, something that gets great fuel economy,” he adds. “There are customers out there that want to buy all their (vehicles) from us. They want us to be a full-line carrier of products.”

Peper declines to reveal the length of the supply contract with Nissan, nor will he disclose expected volumes or capacity, but the van will be sold through all Chevrolet dealers in the U.S., as well as in Canada.

He says the collaboration with Nissan has been in the works for some time and is allowing Chevrolet to get its hands on a “quality product, fast,” with a North American supply line. GM offers similar vehicles in Europe and other markets, but has no North American capacity in place for such a model.

“Speed to market here was something we considered to be a great asset,” Peper says. “So we think this product makes all the sense in the world for us.”

Production at Nissan’s Cuernavaca plant means GM can funnel shipments of the vehicle through its Ramos Arizpe, Mexico, operations, Peper says.

“Ramos has been one of our absolute best plants in terms of shipping,” he says. “They do a fantastic job, and we think that’s a big strength for us.”

GM officials decline to put a number on the market potential for City Express-sized vehicles in the U.S., but say they’re convinced it is a growing sector.

“You’ve had one competitor in the marketplace, and by end of 2014 there will be four,” notes Peper. “So if all manufacturers are getting in to this segment, it has to grow.

“We think this is a market that’s expanding and ready to take off.”

The Ford Transit Connect had the U.S. segment to itself until February, when Nissan launched sales of the NV200. WardsAuto data shows Chrysler will enter the fray about the same time as Chevy, with a ’15-model Ram small cargo van based on the Fiat Doblo.

Mercedes also hasn’t ruled out offering a similar model in the U.S.

Chevrolet executives acknowledge the brand’s commercial-van lineup could be expanded further with larger models that offer the same high-profile body style as the City Express.

“We’re centered on customer,” says Charlie Klein, executive chief engineer-global product programs. “And as we see trends or, more specifically, (hear) the voice of our customer tell us there’s a unique need we need to fill, we’re going to move quickly in a way we just did to address that need.”

But the market isn’t ready to give up on Chevrolet’s more conventional Chevrolet Express/GMC Savana, executives say.

“We have great large vans,” Peper says, pointing to GM’s current models. “Our customers are used to them, (and) they like them. They keep asking us, ‘Are you going to keep building them?’

“Yes we are,” he says. But the City Express “gives us an opportunity on the low end to come to the market with a smaller cargo van.”

dzoia@wardsauto.com