“This is a golden era for vans”

Light commercial vehicles are not only crucial to the way we shop now but also standard bearers for the switch to electric power, says Dean Gibson…

It's fair to say that the past few months have been a boon for the UK van market. With everybody locked down at home, the only shopping that anybody has been doing – beyond supermarket trips – is online, and a fleet of vans has been fulfilling these orders across the country. And while coronavirus has seen a fall in new van registrations, the decline hasn't been quite as severe as in the new car market: the Ford Transit Custom and Mercedes Sprinter both saw more registrations in May than the top-selling car, the Tesla Model 3 (903 and 899 respective vans, compared to 852 Teslas).

To quote a past Ford marketing campaign, vans are proving to be the backbone of Britain, offering an essential link to the outside world for locked-down households across the country. But van manufacturers have big plans for their vans well beyond the remit of the home delivery network.

Ford is looking to increase the potential of the Transit and smaller Transit Custom by adding SUV-inspired versions. The Transit Trail models are still pitched as work vehicles, but the Transit Custom Active lines up alongside the Fiesta Active and Focus Active models, with the same rugged styling cues designed to turn it into a lifestyle vehicle. With five-seat double cab and multi-seat Tourneo Custom versions on offer, there's plenty of scope for a model such as this to fill the void being left by ever-declining sales in the MPV sector.

Buyers looking for a car with more practicality than an SUV can offer will be well served by a van-based MPV. For starters, you get a high driving position that's taller than you'll find in any SUV, and while there's no trace of carpet to be found in the load area, that does mean they're easy enough to clean when they get filthy. Inside, you benefit from all of the same connectivity, safety and infotainment options as you'll find in a conventional car, making the van-driving experience far more upmarket than many people might expect. There's serious potential for the van-based MPV to take a foothold in the family car market as the king of load- and family-carrying duties.

Electrification is also a big focus, because adding an electric drive system to a van doesn't have as big an impact on space as it does in a car: simply sling the battery under the van's floor (so it doesn't compromise load volume), replace the heavy diesel engine and gearbox with a compact electric motor and transmission, and you're on your way. The new electric Citroen Dispatch/Peugeot Partner/Vauxhall Vivaro variants are a great place to start, and because they can trace their roots to the PSA Group's car range (they use the same EMP2 platform as the Peugeot 308/3008 family) they are surprisingly car-like to drive, with all of the same hi-tech safety features.

With lifestyle vans on the rise, electric vans available from Renault and Nissan, as well as new EVs on the way from Mercedes, Volkswagen, Ford and Maxus, plus the plug-in hybrid Ford Transit Custom and forthcoming LEVC VN5 range extender, soon there will be a van available to fit every niche possible. This really could mark the golden age of the van in all its forms.

Do you agree with Dean? Let us know in the comments section below...

Recommended

Cheapest vans on sale 2020
Vans

Cheapest vans on sale 2020

Businesses need vans to do the job without costing an arm or a leg. The UK’s cheapest vans should fulfil both criteria...
25 Sep 2020
Long wheelbase vans: payloads, licences and how to choose one
Vans

Long wheelbase vans: payloads, licences and how to choose one

If you want to carry a lot of cargo in your van, a long wheelbase model could be just the ticket, we explain all...
22 Sep 2020
Mitsubishi L200 Barbarian X: long-term test review
Long-term tests

Mitsubishi L200 Barbarian X: long-term test review

Third report: Does our Mitsubishi L200 pick-up live up to its predecessors?
10 Sep 2020
New Volkswagen Caddy California officially unveiled
Vans

New Volkswagen Caddy California officially unveiled

Volkswagen has launched the dinky Caddy California campervan – and it’s loaded with clever space-saving technology
4 Sep 2020

Most Popular

New 2021 BMW M3 launched with huge grille and 503bhp
BMW 3 Series M3 Coupe

New 2021 BMW M3 launched with huge grille and 503bhp

The new sixth-generation BMW M3 Competition saloon gets a 503bhp straight-six engine and four-wheel-drive
22 Sep 2020
New 2020 Volkswagen ID.4 electric SUV revealed with up to 323 miles of range
Volkswagen ID.4

New 2020 Volkswagen ID.4 electric SUV revealed with up to 323 miles of range

The new Tiguan-sized Volkswagen ID.4 electric SUV becomes VW’s second ID. model, rivalling the Tesla Model Y
23 Sep 2020
New Range Rover Velar PHEV launched with 33-mile electric range
Land Rover Range Rover Velar

New Range Rover Velar PHEV launched with 33-mile electric range

Land Rover has given the Range Rover Velar an update, with a new plug-in hybrid powertrain and an improved infotainment system
23 Sep 2020