You've heard it before: small businesses are what drive the economy. According to the federal government's Small Business Administration, small businesses employ about half of the U.S. workforce and pay 44 percent of the total income earned by private-sector workers. In fact, from the 1990s to the early part of this decade, small businesses accounted for 64 percent of new job creation.
Of course, in this economy, having a small business can be a struggle. While the Federal Reserve is reporting that banks are lending more to small businesses (due in part to competition for small business loans from surprising outlets, like Sam's Club), small business owners and employees still need to make every dollar count. That means that when getting a loan for new equipment, you'd better be sure that the equipment meets your needs.
For many small businesses, that equipment comes in the form of cars, vans and trucks. These vehicles are delivering flowers, hauling construction supplies and bringing workers to jobsites.
As small businesses go, so goes the economy. That's why we've assembled a list of cars, vans and trucks that have the features that small businesses need, and prices that help stretch the bottom line. When the economy recovers, you can be sure it'll be because of the hard work of folks on Main Street -- and these cars will be what they're driving.
Best For: Florists, Caterers, Drycleaners and Couriers
Until recently, the go-to vehicle for anyone who makes a lot of deliveries was a full-size van. Big vans are great, but small business that use them often end up paying for space and power that they just don't need. Enter the Ford Transit Connect. The Transit Connect is essentially a small van that drives like a car. It has a thrifty four-cylinder engine that's perfect for running around town and even gets 22 miles per gallon in the city. It has 135.3 cubic feet of cargo space, and Ford dealers can customize shelving systems in the cargo area for a business' needs. Finally, buyers can opt for the Ford Work Solutions system, which puts a computer and internet access in the Transit Connect's dashboard, so workers can check in at the office and create -- and print -- invoices right from the jobsite. For 2011, Ford is even making an electric Transit Connect which could mean big fuel savings for some businesses.
Best For: Plumbers, Electricians and Shuttle Services
While the Transit Connect is great for lighter deliveries, if a business has something heavy to haul, it will need to step up to a full-size van. The Chevrolet Express has a powerful V8 engine and beefy construction, so it's up to hauling heavy loads. Plus, you can get the Express as either a cargo van -- perfect for all the gear a tradesman needs -- or a passenger van, with seating for up to 15. The Express gets 13 miles per gallon in the city and 17 on the highway, which is pretty good for a full size van. The passenger van also has available all-wheel drive for safely transporting a crowd in all sorts of weather and standard side curtain airbags. What’s more, the cargo van can be outfitted with ladder racks and other systems for keeping tools organized.
Best For: Builders, Contractors and Landscapers
Ford has done some serious upgrading for its 2011 Super Duty series of trucks. The base engine is a 6.2 liter V8 that makes 405 pound-feet of torque, so even the least-expensive Super Duty truck should have no trouble getting under weigh, even while towing. Inside, the Super Duty can be a basic work truck, or a high-tech mobile executive suite with luxury touches like leather seating and the same Work Solutions computing system that the Transit Connect offers. Plus, the Super Duty is available with features like a tool management system that uses RFID tags to make sure nothing gets left at the job site, and Ford's Crew Chief system, which allows owners to track the location of multiple vehicles so they can be dispatched efficiently, saving time and fuel. The same system is available on the Transit Connect and includes vehicle diagnostics.
Best For: Cabbies and Salespeople
When a cabbie or salesman is stuck in traffic, he watches his fuel gauge drop and sees air being let out of his bottom line. With a hybrid car, however, fuel costs are less of a concern -- because while you're sitting or moving through slow traffic, the engine shuts off. The Toyota Camry Hybrid is becoming a common choice in the taxi fleets of many cities, and for good reason. It's comfortable and efficient, and can save a bundle on fuel costs. For cab and car hire companies, getting a hybrid is a no-brainer as interiors on hybrids tend to be more upscale than their gas-only counterparts. For high-end car companies, with clients who may be brand-conscious, check out the Lexus HS 250 hybrid. The HS hybrid has a luxury interior with a surprisingly roomy rear seat that should keep even picky clients satisfied. If you're in sales and do a lot of around-town driving, both the Camry Hybrid and the HS give you a fuel-efficient, comfortable ride that subtly exudes success -- and may even win you some business.