New for the 2014 awards is the opening of the What Van? Hall of Fame. Every year we will be adding another light commercial vehicle star to the WVHoF, commending a vehicle, person, event or product that has contributed to the commercial vehicle market and deserves commendation.

The Hall of Fame opens its doors for the first time to let in a medium van that makes the largest contribution of all to UK light commercial vehicle manufacturing.

Built at the firm’s GM Manufacturing Luton plant, the Vauxhall Vivaro was launched in 2001, and more than 900,000 units of the van and its Renault Trafic and Nissan Primastar siblings have since rolled out of the factory, previously known as IBC due to the tie-up with Isuzu that ran for most of the 1990s. The plant supplies mainland Europe, where Vauxhall’s van is badged the Opel Vivaro.

The final first generation Vivaro will soon roll off the Luton assembly line but production has been secured into the next decade because a new Vivaro will replace the first-generation model during 2014, with an appearance at next year’s Commercial Vehicle Show pretty much guaranteed. The current model is now showing its age, and a replacement is certainly due, but the second-generation model will have to hit the ground running to enjoy the same level of achievement managed by its predecessor, the debut entry into the What Van? Hall of Fame.


UK number one

In transforming Vauxhall into the nation’s leading producer of vans when it launched in 2001, it is hard to overestimate the importance of the Vivaro to the brand’s commercial vehicle operation in the UK.

Vauxhall had been making vans in Luton since 1987 but it was the arrival of the Vivaro, together with

other manufacturers’ decisions to move production abroad, that confirmed its prominence.

Thanks to the Vivaro, Vauxhall has been established as Britain’s largest van maker for a dozen years.

The numbers are impressive: by the end of November 2013 UK sales since 2001 had reached 160,631 units with a high point in 2007 when 18,231 models went into domestic service out of a total production run of 97,000 units. Last year the Luton plant built 58,000 vans.

As well as its popularity with blue chip fleets, emphasised by the fact that the Vivaro-platformed van number 900,000 built at Luton (which, fittingly, bore the Griffin badge), went to the AA, Vauxhall is

proud of the van’s success in the retail sector, that of customers with under 25 vehicles, where it claims to have been best seller in 2011 and 2012.

Says Steve Bryant, Vauxhall’s CV brand manager: “Physically the Vivaro looks very different, it was one of the first vans to be car-like, it has good whole life and SMR costs and economic engines.”


Sharp looks

The collaboration between Opel/Vauxhall and Renault actually preceded the launch of the Vivaro in 2001. The GM brands sold the original Trafic as the Opel/Vauxhall Arena from 1997 to 2000.

Its celebrated successor was designed by Renault in Paris and, of course, manufactured by Vauxhall in Luton with some versions built by Nissan in Barcelona.

Just before its unveiling 12 years ago, a Vauxhall spin doctor tried to capture the essence of the Vivaro by describing it thus: “If Batman drove a van it would look a bit like this.”

The design was certainly radical in 2001 and to its credit, the front-wheel drive van still cuts a stylish dash today – it hasn’t dated to anywhere near the extent critics warned it would, and indeed, now appears to have been ahead of its time in emphasising design values in the light commercial sector – a trend that other manufacturers have since followed.


Under the bonnet

The Vivaro’s exterior has remained largely unchanged throughout its lifecycle but there have been changes under the metal. Vauxhall launched the model with a 1.9-litre diesel engine with power outputs of 82hp and 100hp. It was also up for grabs with a 2.5-litre, 135hp drivetrain and was one of the first vans to come with a six-speed manual gearbox.

A 2006 facelift saw a 2.0-litre common-rail diesel engine with power outputs of 90 or 115hp replace the 1.9-litre unit. The 2.5-litre diesel was retained but the manufacturer increased power to 145hp. This engine survived until 2011 when Vauxhall decided not to upgrade it to the Euro5 emissions standards.

Also in 2006 Vauxhall introduced Tecshift automated-manual transmission as an option.

A What Van? Road Test from 2008 said: “Tecshift is a remarkably easy ’box to get used to. Switching from automatic to manual and back again is a doddle and so are manual gear changes.”

Tecshift provides a button on the dashboard to select the right gear to pull away in on slippery surfaces and a switch to choose the right gear when the van is heavily laden.

ESP became an option as part of the 2006 upgrade too.

Minor visual changes saw the introduction of a new V-grille and revised front light clusters, with

indicators integrated into the lenses to give a bolder front, while clear rear lamp lenses and revised clusters freshened up the back end.

New bumpers front and rear, along with a revised range of wheel covers and paint colours, completed the styling changes.

With a load cube extending from 5.0m3 to 8.7m3 the Vivaro comes in short and long-wheelbase formats and with a standard or high roof.

Payload capacities range from just over a tonne to beyond 1.2-tonnes and the van is available with gross weights of 2.7 or 2.9 tonnes.

Dropside, nine-seat Combi and 12-seat minibus variants are sold, along with a LWB nine-seat Vivaro Combi with extra load space. It also comes as both a short and long-wheelbase double cab.

Vauxhall offers the Vivaro Sportive as a rival to models such as the VW Transporter Sportline and the Ford Transit Sport Van. It features sporty styling and alloy effects in the interior plus extra kit such as 16-inch five-spoke alloy wheels, front fog lights, a radio/CD player with Bluetooth connectivity and body-coloured mirror housing and rear light clusters.

Operators wishing to cut down fuel consumption can opt for the Ecoflex model. The first Vivaro Ecoflex got its green tag merely through being fitted with a speed limiter to restrict its top speed to 62mph. Revised in 2012 the SWB, standard roof derivative now also features exhaust gas circulation cooling, improved thermal management, low rolling-resistance tyres, an aerodynamic under-tray and optimised gear ratios.

It delivers official fuel consumption of 40.9mpg and CO2 of 180g/km compared to the standard model’s 37.6mpg and 198g/km.

Looking to the future, Vauxhall/Opel presented the Vivaro e-Concept at the 2010 Hanover CV Show. The prototype plug-in hybrid has an extended range of 250 miles and includes lithium ion batteries to enable a 60-mile pure electric driving range.

2014 promises to be an exciting year for Vauxhall with the launch of the new Vivaro (codenamed X82) …but it’s got a hard act to follow.