Opting in or option out?

Date: Wednesday, September 14, 2011

As the equipment available on new light commercial vehicles continues to grow, it’s worth keeping an eye on the cost, and the value, of van options. Paul Barker reports.

Choosing options when speccing a new car is an emotional-led process that can be full of pride and passion for your new purchase. More frequently than not, this isn’t a procedure repeated on the workhorse commercial vehicle, but the wide variety of standard equipment, options prices and even availability of features on different models in the same sector means this is an area that should be taken seriously.
There’s a big difference in prices for kit many fleets deem necessary, and it means doing your homework is essential to get best value.
Using the figures that power the comprehensive What Van? data section, which can be found at the back of every issue, we have analysed the cost various manufacturers attach to key safety or comfort-orientated equipment; namely air conditioning, a passenger airbag, alarm, Bluetooth mobile phone connectivity, cruise control and rear parking sensors.

Air conditioning

Once seen as a luxury on passenger cars, it’s now essential for both comfort and resale value, and aircon is now heading the same way for commercial vehicles, particularly at the smaller end of the market. So it’s surprising that no light commercial vehicle model has aircon as standard across the range. Prices rise as you go up in vehicle size, with an average option price of just under £500 on small vans, rising steadily to an overall average of £811, with a high of £1000 for the VW Crafter, compared with  a £400 low on a Fiesta Van.
Air conditioning is a great example of a feature that is standard on some models in a range and not others. Virtually all models on sale have standard aircon at the top of their range, but it moves to the options list as you descend towards the cheaper end, so it could be worth looking at a better-specced vehicle to start with. In some cases, such as the Citroen Dispatch, Ford Transit Connect and Nissan Primastar, entry models aren’t even offered with aircon as an option, so beware, especially as a vehicle without such a basic feature will be trickier to sell in three or four years time.
Manheim Remarketing describes air conditioning as “highly desirable”, particularly on smaller vans.

Passenger airbag

While drivers’ airbags are now standard across the board, with the sole exception of the Land Rover Defender, the same level of safety isn’t afforded the passenger. The only vehicles offering passenger airbag as standard on the entire range are the car-derived Ford Fiesta Van, Fiat Grande Punto van, Peugeot 207 van and Vauxhall Astravan, plus Volkswagen’s Transporter, while some Ford Transit, Hyundai iLoad and Nissan Primastar models offer the safety kit as standard. As an option, prices range from £100 on the Citroen Nemo, all the way up to over £300 for some larger vans in the form of the Mercedes-Benz Vito or Iveco Daily. Looking after your employees can be an expensive responsibility.


Equally expensive can be the process of looking after your tools or merchandise. Only Nissan’s Primastar and the Volkswagen Crafter are generous enough to offer an alarm security system across their entire ranges, while you can’t even order one from the factory on any Vauxhall Corsavan or Citroen Berlingo. Small van to large, there’s only a £100 spread of cost in the sector averages, with even the large van sector averaging less than £260 where vehicle alarms are offered as an optional extra. A number of models, including Ford’s Fiesta Van and Transit, the Renault Trafic and its Vauxhall Vivaro half-brother and the VW Transporter have standard alarms on some models across the range, so it’s worth having a look at which ones if you’re keen.
According to Manheim, vehicle alarms are something buyers expect as standard equipment, though traditional security locks can be known to add value.



With the road safety campaign against drivers using hand-held mobile phones behind the wheel, the practice is becoming increasingly socially unacceptable. So the last thing you want is a branded van being driven by someone clearly flouting both the law and social convention. It’s not great for attracting customers to a responsible business. Aftermarket kits or Bluetooth headsets are both cheaper options, but a fully plumbed-in system, more often than not with steering wheel-mounted controls, is the ultimate answer. Ranging from £140-£350 on their own, or significantly more if built into a £1425 pack with satellite navigation as is the case with the Mercedes Sprinter, the average cost by sector is the closest of all the options focused upon here, as it should be for technology that’s transferable from one size of vehicle to another without extra costs incurred. Small vans average £137 to fit Bluetooth as an option, rising to £220 on the largest light commercials, though Fiat’s Doblo Cargo small van was the most expensive of the lot at £350 via the Blue&Me system.
But beware, if integrated Bluetooth is particularly desirable or even integral to your vehicles, there are a whole series of models where the option isn’t even available. VW’s Caddy and Transporter, apart from the Sportline range-topper, the Vauxhall Combo, Peugeot Partner and entry-level Base trim Ford Transits aren’t on the price list with telephone preparation as an option.

Cruise control

Proven to cut fuel consumption at a steady speed versus a driver’s right foot, cruise is both a fuel-saving device and a comfort feature that can help delay fatigue on inter-city motoring. Costing between £90 and £250 where offered, it’s another feature that is slowly creeping into standard specification, though only the Mercedes Sprinter can claim it as universal at present. All diesel Ford Transits above the Base entry level have standard cruise, while the Nissan Primastar range either offers it as standard or not at all. Renault Masters in the new Sport spec also have it as standard, as do the well-equipped new N-tec level Nissan NV200s. But many manufacturers don’t even see the point of offering cruise control on smaller vehicles, which are less likely to leave their urban safe havens and venture onto the motorway.
According to Manheim, used buyers find cruise control “popular on larger vans for courier or delivery work, particularly when paired with satnav.” The firm says it is also desirable for both lifestyle and working 4x4s, especially mated to an automatic gearbox.

Rear parking sensors

Viewed by many as an essential feature that will pay for itself by saving a single parking scrape, rear parking sensors average between £191-£266, though the high cost for the Mercedes Vito at £435 skewed the medium van segment’s average. Like most features, rear parking sensors are expected to creep across from optional to become standard fitment in time, which means that in the future increasingly savvy used buyers will be on the look-out for vehicles that have more going for them. But more importantly, a single reversing incident will likely cost more to repair than the initial outlay, so operators or buyers will have to be very confident in the quality of their drivers to make it worth the risk of not choosing them. Hyundai’s otherwise rather underspecified iLoad and the Nissan NV200 are the only models to offer reversing protection across the admittedly small ranges, with a reversing camera rather than audio warning for the Nissan. Almost every model has rear sensors as a factory-fit option, the exceptions being the relatively tiny Citroen Berlingo First, Fiat Grande Punto, Peugeot 207 and Vauxhall Combo.
Though this is just a snapshot of the choices to be made when acquiring new vehicles, appropriateness for use is key. There’s no point spending money on features that won’t pay for themselves, or can’t be justified on driver comfort and convenience or employee duty of care grounds, but dabbling in the options list a little, or revising a buying decision in favour of vehicles that are more generous on standard equipment or the way their optional kit is priced, could end up being quite the moneysaver. Or it may just help in the bargaining with the manufacturer that supplied the last round of new vehicles. Either way, a little more knowledge is a very useful thing.



Don’t think you’ll see it again

Don’t think the price paid for options at the beginning will be recouped in any way at resale, warns residual value expert Andy Picton, commercial vehicle editor for Glass’s Guide.
“People need to be able to see it, airbags are things people assume they will get and
an alarm is not something people will pay for,” Picton tells What Van? “It’s difficult to say with these things in commercial vehicles, but there’s no guarantee they will be worth anything.”
He says people’s expectations in the used market carry over from their passenger car experience, and they are surprised to find not all vehicles are kitted out with what could be seen as quite basic equipment. “Aircon has become a pretty standard feature, and it’s difficult to say people will pay more for it,” he continues.
Picton says rear parking sensors should be viewed as essential, because there is a residual value benefit in protecting a vehicle from damage. “That sort of thing is worthwhile but not very expensive to start with so we can’t expect much of an uplift, maybe £50-£100,” he says. “The important thing is that you need to find the right buyer, the trade is not willing to pay much more for these items, if anything.”


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