Van-tastic innovations

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The UK has seen a surge of focus back on the van over the past few years as a result of a number of factors such as home shopping and the move to smaller drop sizes. The market this year has continued to increase with panel van registrations up 3.6 per cent to 155,648 in the year to August. It is a notable acheivement in a year when truck sales are down as are car-derived van sales. 

Panel (1.8-3.5 tonne) vans make up about three quarters of all commercial vehicle sales in the UK so it is no surprise that manufacturers such as Ford, Mercedes, Renault, LDV and Iveco have invested in making them more efficient and more comfortable vehicles to drive.

Ford still dominates the van market and the Transit name is to the panel van what Hoover is to the vacuum cleaner. This year, Ford released its new Transit with changes that it says are the most significant for six years. It has given the new van a “fresher exterior style”, which “underlines that this is a thoroughly contemporary commercial vehicle”.

New features appearing as standard include; a CD/radio, ABS with disc brakes all round, full steel bulkhead, front mud flaps, high-output alternator, upgraded starter motor and upgraded security systems. Other features include; a dashboard-mounted gearshift, disc brakes all-round and ABS as standard, a redesigned dash with extra storage space, boosted front-axle capacity, twin batteries and a completely new range of Euro IV- compliant TDCi diesel engines.

Steve Kimber, director of commercial vehicles at Ford says: “We are proud to have produced a new generation of Transit which improves substantially over the current model in so many areas and yet which will be sold at such a competitive price.”

Further refinements include a coded locking system with rechargeable waterproof ignition fob and the option of fitting a Bluetooth kit, cruise control, satellite navigation and leather trim. There are 60 basic structures and body styles in the new Transit range, which is now on sale.

Last month, Ford announced that its Electronic Stability Programme (ESP) would be standard on all diesel Transit panel vans from January 2007.

Under slippery road conditions or during extreme steering manoeuvres, ESP applies brake and torque adjustments as required to help avoid dangerous oversteering and understeering.  ESP stabilises the vehicle, and enhances the benefits of the standard Anti-lock Braking and Electronic Brakeforce Distribution systems.

Ford launched a series of improvements to the smaller Transit Connect at this year’s Commercial Vehicle Show. It is available in both long and short wheelbase form with a redesigned front bumper and grille and a choice of new colours. The engine line-up includes a higher-powered 110PS version in addition to 75PS and 90PS units.

Fully automatic transmission is gradually gaining acceptance in the market. London’s Evening Standard newspaper has taken delivery of some of Britain’s first new-generation Mercedes Sprinters with fully automatic transmissions. The Standard operates more than 150 delivery vans from Associated Newspapers’ printing plant at Greenwich. All 3.5-tonne 309CDI short models, have three 2.7-tonne long-bodied Vitos.

The Sprinters are equipped with the fully automatic transmissions, which are new to the range. Evening Standard transport manager Steve Howe said: “The decision by Mercedes-Benz to offer a conventional auto box is a huge bonus for us. Given the stop-start, multi-drop nature of our work, a two-pedal set-up is essential, because it’s less tiring for the drivers and leaves them free to concentrate fully on the congested streets, rather than having to worry about which gear they’re in. Sprintshift was okay, but we did have some reservations about it.”

He says that the new model “looks fantastic on the road, while the cab is more comfortable and has a higher standard specification which includes electric windows, a driver’s airbag and CD-radio.” The Evening Standard previously acquired its vehicles on operating leases but says that it now prefers to contract hire them.

Driver Dave Poole says: “The take-up from the automatic is much smoother than in my old van and I like the driving position, which seems to be higher. The seat is also a lot more comfortable, with a greater range of adjustment, and there are acres of storage space.”

Renault’s new Trafic and Master ranges both come with a host of new options and are available in two wheelbase lengths, two roof heights and three body types; the panel van, passenger vehicle and platform cab. With both vans, the interior and exteriors have been completely revised, adopting enhanced quality materials, improved ergonomics and room for greater storage including; new stowage facilities on the Master, two overhead parcel shelves with a five litre capacity.


The range also includes a number of Euro 4 engines from 90hp to 150hp. The Trafic starts at £13,950, while the Master starts at £16,450. Renault says the best-selling version of the Trafic is the short wheelbase with a low roof and has a load volume of five cubic metres with a load length of 2.41m and an interior height of 1.38m.

Making life easier and safer for drivers is becoming increasingly more important. For example, the Renault Trafic now has automatic wipers with rain sensors and automatic headlights with light sensors. The new ranges also come with a three button key with selective area opening and RAID (Renault Anti-Intruder Device), which automatically locks the doors while the vehicle is in motion.

Earlier this year, Iveco launched its new version of the Daily. Like a truck, it is built on a steel chassis, enabling it to come in some 3,000 different configurations from vans to chassis-cabs and mini-buses. The styling of the cab is by Georgetto Giugiaro and has a raised bumper for better protection. The Daily has two engine specifications at Euro 4 – a 2.3 litre at 96, 1167 and 136 hp and a three litre at 146 or 176 hp. The engines are a common rail EGR design and have a choice of five or six-speed manual gearboxes or a six-speed automatic. Iveco says fuel consumption should be comparable with previous models as improved aerodynamics generally offset a slightly less fuel efficient engine.

There is also a CNG-engine available. Iveco is promising a hybrid diesel/electric version which, it reckons, could cut fuel consumption by 25 per cent. Internally, the cab layout has been redesigned with a dashboard-mounted gearchange which also allows better cross-cab access.

And Volkswagen has launched the Crafter, which replaces its LT van. Formally known as the LT3, The Crafter is the biggest van in the Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles’ range. The design comes with a choice of four five-cylinder engines, delivering 88, 109, 136 or 163 PS. A six-speed manual gearbox is fitted as standard, although Volkswagen says that an automated manual transmission will be optional.

Majestic 500

Majestic Wine Warehouses has taken delivery of its 500th Citroën van, over a 16 year partnership. The latest addition to Majestic’s 140 vehicle fleet is the new Berlingo 1.9D 800 LX. The vans are operated on three-year contract hire agreements, with maintenance from Ogilvie Fleet. Majestic has 129 stores throughout the UK and uses the vans to provide a free delivery service. Fleet manager Nigel Thomson says: “We have found that Citroën Berlingo and Dispatch vans provide the reliable low whole life costs we require for our liveries.”

Mail fleet

Royal Mail has added 350 Fiat Doblò Cargo vans to its delivery fleet, which have been prepared and delivered from Walon UK. The special edition ‘Royal Mail red’ Fiat Doblò Cargo vans are imported into the UK through Portbury Dock in Bristol.

Walon fits a lightweight plastic lining to the inside of the vehicle and applies the Royal Mail livery. In addition, Walon also manages the storage and handling and onward delivery of the vans to Royal Mail depots throughout the UK and Northern Ireland.

Royal Mail said it selected the Fiat Doblò vans because of to the projected life costs of the vehicles as well as comfort and safety for drivers. The vans have twin side opening for urban delivery work and the rear door 60/40 split provides flexibility for opening in tight spaces. Walon’s technical services managing director Steve Berry said: “Commercial vehicle enhancement is a growing market for Walon and we are able to offer customers, such as the major utility companies, a cost effective and highly efficient one-stop service.”


Russians move in on LDV

At the beginning of August, GAZ group, the Russian commercial vehicle manufacturer, acquired LDV for around £50m. GAZ is expecting to expand the production of the Maxus range into Russia, at its plant in Nizhny Novgorod with plans to distribute it across the Russian and CIS markets.

LDV has launched its Maxus Platinum range, in both long and short wheelbase variants. LDV is offering the model in three weights including; 2.8t, 3.2t and 3.5t and in both roof heights. As well as the standard features of alloy wheels, air conditioning, steel bulkhead, privacy glass, the specifications can be enhanced by the addition of two option packs. The safety and security pack includes an adjustable driver’s seat, anti-lock brakes, passenger airbag, perimetric alarm and front fog lamps. The professional trade pack adds Hexagrip flooring with load lashing eyes, a multi-wall lining kit and a rear step.

The Maxus is available in two wheelbase lengths, three roof heights, 2.8t, 3.2t and 3.5t GVW.

Extras include; alloy wheels, air conditioning, privacy glass, steel bulkhead, electric windows, electric mirrors, CD player, drivers airbag, industry leading 5 year/100,000 mile manufacturer’s warranty.


Ford takes van prize

The new Ford Transit has been awarded the title of International Van of the Year 2007 in what was described as “one of the closest fought battles ever”.

The jury said it was “particularly impressed by the fact that Ford’s engineers have taken one of Europe’s best vans and made it even better”.

“2006 has been a bumper year for new light and medium commercial vehicles which has made this competition tougher than ever,” said John Fleming, president and CEO, Ford of Europe.

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