LCV focus pays dividends for VW
Monday, November 05, 2007
It's a good illustration of the extent to which VW has established itself as a major player in the British van market, albeit one that's considerably behind Ford and Vauxhall in sales volume terms. “We're still aiming to sell over 30,000 units this year nonetheless,” says UK head of commercial vehicle marketing, Ralf Shueler.
Next time the gas man pays you a visit, there's every chance that he'll be driving a Volkswagen Caddy. VW is supplying British Gas with 1,000 of them — all 69hp 2.0-litre SDIs — between now and December.
That will of course depend on product availability. Lead times remain a serious issue across the industry with customers of some manufacturers having to wait ages and ages for the vans they've ordered to be built and delivered. At the time of writing VW was quoting a 10 to 12 week wait for Crafter but was hoping to shorten delivery times during the coming months.
Much of the manufacturer's success is attributable to the strength and relative youth of its line-up. Both Caddy and Transporter — the first Transporter was launched 60 years ago — have been redesigned in recent years, while 2006 saw LT replaced by Crafter.
The line-up is continuing to evolve says Shueler. The next new van to appear will be Caddy Maxi, a long-wheelbase version of the existing offering and an addition to the range. The newcomer made its exhibition debut at this year's Amsterdam Commercial Vehicle Show and go on sale here during the first quarter of 2008.
Scheduled for launch on this side of the Channel before the end of the year is a turbodiesel Caddy with 140hp on tap using an up-gunned version of the existing 1.9-litre engine.
Despite the fact that VW has at times been a little dismissive of alternative fuels, the company is also bringing over a dual-fuel Caddy for operator assessment that will run on either compressed natural gas or petrol. It employs a suitably modified 103hp 2.0-litre petrol powerpack. “It should be exempt from the London congestion charge,” says Shueler.
Conscious of the success enjoyed by vehicles such as Mitsubishi's L200 and Nissan's Navara, VW is also planning to re-enter the purpose-built pick-up market after a long absence. “That's unlikely to be before 2010/2011, however,” he says.
VW has been careful to address the aspirations of owner-drivers — the audience the 140hp Caddy is aimed at — by offering them some well-equipped and stylish special editions.
The 2.5-litre TDI Transporter Sportline What Van? sampled last autumn is a case in point. With 174hp on tap it had been lowered by 30mm thanks to a combination of Eibach springs and 18ins Borbet five-spoke alloy wheels shod with low-profile 235/50R18 tyres.
It featured colour-coded front and rear bumpers, door handles and mirrors, a deep front spoiler and a roof-top spoiler too. Air conditioning was among the standard internal features.
Having a sound product range is only part of the equation, however. In VW's case it's underpinned by a network devoted exclusively to light commercials; car sales are handled separately.
“We've got 69 van centres at present and we aim to increase the total to 85 over the next couple of years,” Shueler says. Recent recruits include Gilder in Sheffield and Hartshorne in Shrewsbury.
Its ability to bring a dedicated network to bear on the market makes it a lot easier for the manufacturer to market specialist conversions.
Earlier this year it decided to launch a selection of ready-to-go-to-work chassis cab conversions under the 'Engineered to Go' banner.
Based on the Crafter CR35 3.5-tonner, they consist of a dropside, a tipper and a Luton. The first two are sourced from Ingimex of Telford while the last-named comes from Congleton, Cheshire-based Boalloy.
At the time of writing VW had sold well over 100 of these vehicles, with the Luton and dropside outpacing the tipper.
“We'll be looking at doing something on Transporter next, but it is early days,” he says. “At present the Crafter 3.5 tonne chassis forms the core of the programme.”
In addition VW has accredited around 30 converters under its 'Engineered for You' scheme that it believes are capable of producing specialist non-standard conversions. They include conversions carried out on Caddy and Transporter as well as on Crafter.
“We're continually looking at what other converters have to offer and we're finding that more and more of them are approaching us,” Shueler says
Unlike its predecessor, Crafter can be ordered with an automated manual transmission marketed as the Shiftmatic. Acceptance is slow, with vehicles fitted with Shiftmatic accounting for no more than 2.0 to 2.5 per cent of total Crafter volume. “But it is gaining momentum,” he insists.
Rather more successful in terms of percentage of sales is the DSG (Direct Shift Gearbox) available as an option in Caddy. Employing two wet clutches, in effect turning it into two gearboxes rolled into one, it can be used either as a manual or as an automatic. “Over 10 per cent of the Caddys we sell in Britain are fitted with it,” Shueler says.