The market has been booming, but vans have to pay their way with price and payload at the top of the critical list, says Malory Davies.
The UK van market has been growing dramatically over the past few years driven largely by the growth in online shopping and the consequent need for home delivery vehicles.
However, 2017 has seen the market slip back slightly. The panel van sector (2.5-3.5t) which accounts for some 60 per cent of the total van market was down 4.2 per cent to 92,197 registrations in the first five months, according to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders.
Even so, SMMT chief Mike Hawes pointed out that the decline was expected given the stellar growth of recent year.
“To put this performance into context, overall demand remains strong with year-to-date registrations up 51.2 per cent compared with the same period five years ago, and we expect demand to remain stable at similar levels throughout the year.”
The market is dominated by Ford. The Transit Custom alone moved 21,751 units in the first five months. And that was followed by the Transit with 10,768 registrations. Volkswagen took third spot with 9,243 registrations followed by the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter (7,930) and the Vauxhall Vivaro (7,390). But van buyers are a hard-nosed bunch – price and payload are critical issues in this market.
Visitors to the Commercial Vehicle Show earlier this year got the chance to see MAN’s new TGE, the first van ever produced by the company, which up until now has been focused on the truck market. The company said the moved “represents a response to the demand from many long-standing customers in the logistics, courier and parcel service, after-sales and trades sectors.
“The main reasons for the increasing use of large vans are the expansion of online shopping, harmonised driving licence regulations, the wide-ranging versatility of the vehicles and their car-like handling and performance. Increasing urbanisation, especially, is driving demand for a broad range from 3 tonnes gross vehicle weight rating upwards.”
Perhaps not surprisingly MAN is targeting its existing truck customers and emphasising the van’s robustness. The plan is to sell about 20,000 vehicles a year, according to Dennis Affeld, MAN’s senior vice president sales van. UK deliveries are due to start on the Autumn.
The TGE offers up to 18.4 cu m of loading volume and offers engines from 102PS to 177PS. It comes with a manual six speed gearbox or an eight speed automatic transmission. There are both front-wheel and rear-when drive versions as well as an all-wheel drive variant. The rear-wheel driver version has a maximum overall weight of up to 5.5 tonnes.
The first vans started rolling of the production line at the newly constructed plant in Wrzesnia, Poland in April, where it is being build alongside the new Volkswagen Crafter.
Speaking at the start of production, Jens Ocksen, chief executive of Volkswagen Poznan, said: “Our recently established plant in Wrzesnia is setting new quality standards. I am therefore delighted to be supplying the MAN brand with a model of such high value added as this first TGE.”
MAN’s sister company Volkswagen unveiled its new Crafter van to a UK audience. Up to three different vehicle lengths are available, depending on the model chosen: 5.9 m, 6.84 m or 7.39 m. Panel van variants also come with one of three different roof heights: 2.35 m, 2.59 m or 2.79 m.
All new Crafter models are powered by a new two litre TDI (Euro 6) engine, developed specifically for commercial vehicles, which is available with four power outputs: 102, 122, 140 and 177 PS. The choice of engine depends on which drive system is selected. Customers can also choose between front, rear and all-wheel drive, as well as between a manual and automatic gearbox.
Market leader Ford has been developing its strategy to strengthen its market position. It has introduced a new automatic version of the Transit with the express aim of increasing its penetration in the home delivery market, where automatic transmission is becoming essential.
And it is also planning to trial a plug-in hybrid Transit Custom van in the autumn in a multi-million project. The project, supported by Transport for London, features a 12-month trial of 20 new Ford Transit Custom PHEVs that reduce local emissions by running solely on electric power for the majority of inner-city trips. The vans use range extenders, the fleet is not limited by battery range, making them capable of the longer journeys that may be required by businesses and “blue light” services.
Five fleets have so far signed up for the trials including: Transport for London; Metropolitan police; Clancy Plant; Addison Lee; and British Gas.
The Transit Custom PHEV van is planned for commercial introduction in 2019. It is, part of Ford’s $4.5 billion investment in electrified vehicles by 2020 as it expands to be an auto and a mobility company, including leading in electrified and autonomous vehicles and providing new mobility solutions.
Ford is also opening a dedicated Ford Smart Mobility Innovation Office at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in London giving close proximity to trials of its plug-in hybrid Transit fleet project which start later this year. The campus is already home to the Advanced Propulsion Centre, which Ford has worked with on powertrain research and the plug-in hybrid Transit development.
Alternative fuels are on the agenda at Iveco as well. It now has both gas and electric versions of the Daily. The gas version, the Daily NP, has a 3 litre, 140 horsepower engine. There are models from 3.5 up to 7.2 tonnes.
The electric Daily was launched last year, with a range of up to 150 miles. But electric vans suffer the twin disadvantages of payload and cost. Iveco’s alternative fuels guru Martin Flach highlighted the issues earlier this year.
A single battery Daily with a range of 50 miles can cost £60,000 while the cost for a three battery van with a range of 150 miles is in the region of £100,000.
Manufacturers are pressing the government to extend the car driving licence limit up to 4.25 tonnes for alternatively fuelled vehicle which would give them some 350 kg of extra payload. This with government “plugged-in” van grants could start to make economic sense for some operations.
Mercedes-Benz has just signed a deal with Hermes in Germany under which the home delivery specialist will deploy 1,500 electric Vito and Sprinter vans in urban areas.
As part of the deal, Mercedes-Benz will implement services that facilitate optimal route planning with the use of information on the vans’ batteries and remaining range. It will also contribute intelligent cargo-space solutions and innovative mobility services to the partnership.
By 2025, Hermes plans to carry out deliveries in the inner-city areas of all major German cities completely free of emissions. It aims to use only electricity from 100 per cent regenerative energy sources to charge the batteries.
Ford targets urban delivery market with automatic
Ford gave a sneak preview of the new automatic transmission that it is using on its Transit vans on the eve of the CV Show – providing an opportunity to compare the manual and automatic versions of the vehicles. The six-speed SelectShift automatic transmission can be specified in combination with the 130 PS and 170 PS versions of the Ford EcoBlue engine, and Auto-Start-Stop is standard on all variants.
The transmission has been specially engineered for the Transit applications, including a new torque converter. Typical shift times are less than half a second. The calibration ensures that the transmission is matched to the torque delivery of the EcoBlue engine.
The transmission can detect when the vehicle is on a road with a steep gradient, or carrying a heavy load, and adjusts the shifting strategy for optimal efficiency.
The Auto-Start-Stop feature has been tuned to suit the needs of commercial vehicle customers.
There is an on-demand electric pump to maintain transmission pressure so that the driver can pull away quickly as soon as the engine has re-started.
Electrics on a charge
Charge Automotive has taken 111,560 sq ft at Logicor’s Banbury Cross logistics warehouse which it will use to assemble electric trucks and vans. Charge is developing vehicles from 3.5 tonne vans to 26 tonne trucks. They are due to go on sale later this year. The man behind Charge, entrepreneur Denis Sverdlov says: “We are removing all the barriers to entry for electric vehicles by pricing them in line with conventional trucks.”
The vehicles are built using lightweight composite materials that reduce weight. The company says that this, together with custom built power electronics and motors, means they can reduce the cost of operating by more than 50 per cent. Charge says that design simplicity is reflected in the ease of assembly; it will take one person just four hours to build an entire Charge truck. Thus ten people working two shifts a day could assemble 10,000 trucks a year.