The biggest surprise at the Commercial Vehicle Operator Show held at Birmingham’s National Exhibition Centre was the unheralded appearance of Piaggio. Now with a new UK importer in the shape of Piaggio LCV, it has facelifted the Porter, giving it a new front-end treatment and a reworked cab interior with a new dashboard.

The specification has improved significantly, with electric power steering, central locking and a CD player. Airbags look set to be added to the little load-lugger too.

What’s more, a 1.2-litre diesel is now being developed in conjunction with automotive engineers Ricardo.

With locations in Nottingham and Hanworth in Middlesex, Piaggio LCV is handling the three-wheeler Ape — Italian for ‘bee‘ — as well as the Porter. Ape wasn’t present on its stand, but the vehicles that were included the twin-rear-wheel Maxxi, with a 1.2-tonne payload capacity.

Growing interest should be sparked by the electric Porter, also on display, given the increased enthusiasm for zero-emission vehicles.


Smith Electric

Smith Electric Vehicles was displaying an electric Transit-based Edison bodied as a cherry picker and operated by Scottish & Southern Energy. The cherry picker draws its power from the Edison’s traction batteries, cutting the vehicle’s range by around 10 per cent.

Sitting close by was a 17-seater electric Edison minibus fitted with lithium-ion batteries. With a range of around 80 miles, the first one is going into service with Essex County Council in Harlow to transport people with learning difficulties.



Staying with electric light commercials, Aixam Mega was extolling the advantages of the AC motor drivetrain now being fitted to its unusual-looking Mega Multitruck. The AC motor upgrade increases the vehicle’s range by from five to 10 per cent depending on road conditions says the manufacturer and boosts acceleration times by around 10 per cent.



Nissan was exhibiting the van version of its redesigned Pathfinder 4×4 SUV as well as the NV200; What Van?’s Van of the Year for 2010. Pathfinder is converted into a light commercial in the UK by Northern Truck Bodies and Nissan expects to sell 50 to 100 annually on this side of the Channel says corporate sales director, Tony Lewis.

With an 86hp 1.5-litre dCi diesel, a 4.2m3 load area and a top payload capacity of 783kg, NV200 replaced the Renault Kangoo-derived Kubistar. Nissan should sell 2,000 to 2,500 in Britain this year says Lewis.

While the Japanese manufacturer is gradually moving away from re-badging Renault product, NV200 is a case in point, it will be taking the recently revised Trafic and putting a Primastar badge on it as it did with its predecessor. It will not be badge-engineering the latest Master as Interstar, however, as it did with the outgoing model. “That’s because we’ll have our own replacement for Interstar in 2011,” Lewis states.

He also revealed that the manufacturer is beefing up its commercial vehicle specialist dealer network by recruiting three Daf heavy truck dealers. “We’ve signed up Watts in Swansea, Chatfields in Birmingham — they’re setting up our first stand-alone Nissan light commercial dealership — and Imperial in Hull,” he reports.

Nissan has forged close links with Volvo and is represented at a number of outlets owned by the truck maker. “We’ve now also recruited the first independently-owned Volvo dealer to take our franchise in the shape of Crossroads at Rotherham,” says Lewis.



Fiat too has strengthened its network by appointing truck dealers. It was exhibiting the all-new Doblò Cargo with a payload capacity of up to 1,000kg and a load cube of up to 4.2m3.

The Italian automotive giant’s latest offering gets fresh interior and exterior styling. Two wheelbases are on offer and all models feature a cleverly-designed bi-link independent rear suspension system.

Under the bonnet you’ll find a revised range of Euro 4 and Euro 5 MultiJet diesels. Buyers can pick from a 90hp 1.3-litre, a 105hp 1.6-litre or a 135hp 2.0-litre. Also listed is a 95bhp 1.4-litre petrol engine.



Renault was energetically promoting the advantages of its new Master, with new engines, a choice of front- or rear-wheel drive and a major extension of the range.

Weights go up to 4.5 tonnes, higher than the previous model, while load cubes go up to a cavernous 17.0m3.

Power comes courtesy of a new-generation Euro 4 and Euro 5 2.3-litre diesel. It can be specified at 100hp, 125hp or 150hp with CO2 output averaging 200g/km.

Like the old model, Master is marketed by Vauxhall with different badges and a different front grille — including a huge Vauxhall griffin emblem — as the Movano. Vauxhall was exhibiting too.



Peugeot had a number of interesting vehicles to shout about, including an electric Expert converted by Allied – present in its own right at the show – and a Boxer 3.5-tonner based U-tail conversion executed by Thetford, Norfolk-based Roadload. The use of hydraulic lifting arms and stub rear axles allows the box bodies it carries to be lowered to ground level for ease of loading and unloading.

Buy a couple of the interchangeable boxes and it could be possible to load the second one while the contents of the first one are out being delivered to a customer. Costing around £3,500 apiece, the boxes offer up to 12.3m3 of space and can handle a 1,100kg payload. The vehicle itself is priced at from £32,000.

Nearby was a diesel Bipper in Royal Mail livery. Peugeot is busy supplying 2,000 of them to Postman Pat’s employer, with low fuel consumption and thus low CO2 emissions the key reasons behind the fleet’s choice.

Another reason is that full and thus efficient use can made of the available space by the posties says Peugeot. Use a larger van and it’s likely to run round only partially loaded; and that’s a waste.

While pure electric vans have their place, they only represent one part of the alternative fuels jigsaw contends Peugeot fleet director, Phil Robson. Diesel-electric hybrids have a role to play too, he says.

Peugeot is developing diesel hybrid passenger cars and there’s no reason why that technology cannot be transferred to light commercials, he points out. “Stop-start is just around the corner on our vans too,” he adds.

Stop-start kills the engine automatically if the vehicle is idling at the lights or in a traffic jam, saving fuel. To restart it, the driver simply dips the clutch pedal.


Van Code

Van owners look set to be saddled with much tighter regulations over the next few years governing what they can and cannot do with their vehicles yet are not adequately represented when it comes to making their views known to government. That’s a situation the Freight Transport Association (FTA) hopes to change with the advent of its Van Excellence Code; a code of conduct for light commercial operators.

“Before they can hope to be taken seriously and have an effective voice they have to adhere to an agreed set of standards,” says Gary Whittam. A former commercial vehicles director at Ford of Britain, he’s acting as an adviser to the FTA.

Supported by a whole host of big-name van fleets, including DHL, the Royal Mail and United Utilities, the code addresses everything from maintenance and loading to towing. It’s an initiative What Van? applauds, especially given that the plan is for the code to be presented to government as an alternative to the formal legislation being widely advocated in some quarters.

Firms that are not FTA members can be accredited to the code, says Whittam.


Best Practice

At the same time the Department for Transport is busy promoting its Van Best Practice programme. It’s resulted in a whole host of handy publications including the Safe Vans Guide which, as it title suggests, is full of advice on how best to improve safety.

Among the more specialised exhibitors at the NEC was Tamworth-based Strongs. It makes fully-recyclable bodies from engineering-grade plastic suitable for anything from a pick-up to a fire-engine.

Trukrax was displaying its new Toploader ladder loading system for tall vans. Using a combination of gas springs and dampers it allows ladders to be lowered down the side of a vehicle then put back onto the roof after they’ve been used without anybody having to leave the ground.

One of the most impressive products we saw at the show was a newly-launched pneumatic roller bed designed to make palletised cargoes transported in vans easier to load and unload. Known as the Vanloda, and exhibited by Liverpool’s Joloda Hydraroll, it can handle three or four pallets weighing up to 1,000kg apiece.

The roller bed is powered by a 12v compressor that can be operated off the van’s cigarette lighter socket. The rollers rise when the pallet is to be moved, then fall back into place once it has reached the required position. Vanloda will set you back £1,900.

Present too was Eberspacher, with a range of electrically-powered insulated containers. They can prove invaluable to an operator faced with having to transport perishable goods — and that includes blood samples and pharmaceuticals as well as food — in a standard, unrefrigerated van.

New from Rhino Products is the SafeClamp. Using composite materials, and designed to hold ladders in place on a van’s roof rack, it’s said to be five times faster to fit than standard ladder clamps.

After a hard day tramping around a show, visitors are sometimes tempted to head for the nearest bar. That’s when VDO’s latest product could prove useful. Made by Alcohol Countermeasure Systems Corporation of Canada, it’s a breath alcohol tester called the Alert J5. It gives you your result in seconds and if it’s positive, don’t even think of driving home.



Despite being a cut-down version of the Commercial Vehicle Show, the CVO Show was on the whole pronounced a success and there was certainly enough new LCV product present to keep visitors happy. Plans are afoot for the return of the full CV Show in 2011.