VW is gearing up for a renewed assault on the sector but it will face stiff competition from the established players in a tough market. James Dallas reports
After the raft of new and revised models that came to market last year, including the Ford Transit, Iveco Daily, Peugeot Boxer, Citroen Relay, Fiat Ducato, Renault Master and Vauxhall Movano the next big beast to hit the heavy van sector will be the VW Crafter in 2016.
The Wolsburg-based brand has reacted decisively to the decision by Mercedes to stop building the Crafter alongside its own Sprinter at its plants in Dusseldorf and Ludwigsfelde in Germany by starting work on a new factory in Poznan, Poland to build the Crafter’s successor, which the brand promises will be a completely standalone VW product.
UK boss Carl Zhudona says: “It will be an outstanding, independent project. We have aspirations to grow our market share,” – an acknowledgement, perhaps, that the Crafter has been overshadowed by its main rivals.
Despite growing sales by an impressive 40% in the UK last year to 6744, the Crafter still lagged behind the Sprinter (22,897) and the Transit (25,511).
VW has invested EURO 800m in the new plant, which it expects to churn out 100,000 units annually once it opens in September 2016.
With the Transit having bedded into the market following its launch in April 2014, Ford unleashed its phase 2 programme of conversions in October.
The complete Transit Chassis Cab line-up comprises five different lengths for the single cab (L1-L5) and four for the double cab (L2-L5), with gross vehicle mass ranging from 3.1 to 4.7 tonnes. In addition to the factory-fit dropside body options, the manufacturer claims they provide the ideal platform for box bodies and tippers, or other tailored solutions from refrigerated bodies and mobile workshops to emergency services vehicles or campers.
Included in the conversion range is the extra-long L5 chassis cab – the longest production Transit ever built with a load length of 5.2m included in an overall length of 7.8m. Ford says the L5 has a reasonably tight turning circle of 15.8m and, when fitted with a dropside body, it offers 11.5m2 of load space. The L5 chassis cab is priced £27,000 and the range overall starts at £20,000 for the L1 SWB single cab and rises to £34,000 for the L4 curtain slider, excluding VAT.
In the UK Southampton-based VFS is partnering Ford to build the tipper, dropside and curtain slider while Ingimex is producing the Luton and dropside.
Sticking with conversions, Citroen has changed the name of its Relay ready-bodied vehicles arm from Relay Specialist Models to Relay Ready to Run.
As before, the range includes tippers, dropsides and Luton vans, which are available to buy through Citroen Business Centres and other Citroen dealers. The move separates these off-the-shelf models from the more specialist, niche conversions that now belong to the Ready to Run Specialist Range, comprising of products built to individual customer requirements.
Citroen has also introduced the higher specification Enterprise trim to Relay Ready to Run chassis cabs. Available from April, the upgrades include:
Teletrac Smartnav and Trackstar stolen vehicle tracking telematics, air conditioning, cruise control with variable speed limiter, a perimetric alarm, five-inch colour touch screen/DAB digital radio, Bluetooth, audio streaming and an MP3 compatible CD player.
Citroen confirmed its plan to roll-out Euro6 engines across its Relay line-up with the first examples on display at the CV Show in April.
Peugeot’s Boxer enjoyed a sterling year in 2014 with sales rocketing by 89% to 8566, according to the SMMT, making it the third best-selling large van and the 11th most popular LCV in the market overall.
Peugeot says it has increased to nine the number of Boxer versions with the high level Professional trim and expanded choice to meet customer expectations.
“We have drastically improved specification levels,” a spokesman says, “and placed itcompetitively in the market. Customers want options and to tailor a van to their needs.”
Peugeot has achieved the sort of volume with the Boxer that Fiat Professional covets for its Ducato. It must be particularly galling for the Italian brand to see the Boxer soaring so high because it, as well as the Relay from PSA partner Citroen, is built alongside the Ducato at Fiat’s plant in Sevel Sud, Italy.
The Ducato also has claims to being the superior model – its excellent 2.3-litre Multijet 11 engines are more economical than the 2.2 units employed by PSA.
Nevertheless, the Ducato is making steady progress in the UK – it claims to command 6.3% share of the heavy van sector now, its highest share ever.
A significant development for Iveco is the addition of its eight-speed Hi-matic auto transmission to its Daily range.
This is the ‘box that will be the preferred choice of the Daily’s largest customers, supermarket giants Tesco and Asda.