Volumes in the heavy van sector are going from strength to strength but is the long-time market leader starting to come under pressure? James Dallas investigates
With the raft of new models that came to market last year having settled into the groove the battle for volume in the big-selling heavy van sector has intensified.
In the first eight months of the year registrations in the dominant 2.5 to 3.5t segment increased by more than 20% to 130,883 units, according to the SMMT, although numbers in the quiet month of August were up by a more modest 14% to 8452.
The Ford Transit remains the UK’s most popular large van but there are signs that its position is coming under more pressure since the manufacturer moved to make a more distinct division between the model and its medium-sized stablemate, which is now badged the Transit Custom.
It’s fair to say the critical reception given to the jumbo 2t Transit, which Ford seems to have styled with its introduction to the US market in mind, was lukewarm compared to the universal praise heaped upon the Custom and the smaller van is the clear leader in sales terms.
In the year to the end of August Ford sold 14,795 big Transits, compared to 25,861 examples of its more compact sibling.
Perhaps more worrying for the blue oval brand is that the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter is hot on its heels with 12,992 units sold in the same period.
In 2014, Transit sales reached 25,511 compared to the Sprinter’s 22,897.
The Sprinter made its debut in 1995 with the second generation model coming in 2006 and the third incarnation, the first model in its class available with Euro 6 emissions technology, arriving two years ago. Mercedes is marking the van’s 20th anniversary with the introduction of a limited edition version with a production run of up to 1200 models. These vans feature “Sprinter 20” badging on the front wing
and come with what the brand dubs a “unique option bundle” that includes air-conditioning, sat nav, a Driver’s Comfort seat with arm rest, wheel trims and a chrome grille. Mercedes claims this bundle of kit is worth £2000 but is available on the limited edition van for just £750.
Together with the Sprinter, the Iveco Daily is the only other large van available with automatic transmission, but Martin Flach, the Italian manufacturer’s product manager, is anticipating growing demand for auto ‘boxes. Iveco’s two big supermarket customers, Tesco and Asda, have already specified their Daily vans with the eight-speed Himatic system and Flach reckons it will become the default choice of most customers within a year.
It would be a surprise if Volkswagen’s standalone successor to the current Sprinter-based Crafter, which is due to come to market next year, is not offered with automatic transmission because its slick DSG system is already an option on the mid-sized Transporter and Caddy light van.
With its facelifted Master launched in 2014, Renault has augmented the line-up this year with a series of conversions. These include a welfare bus, a Ready4Work panel van with made-to-measure shelving, a pair of catering vehicles based on the Master Luton Loloader, a horsebox from the Master platform cab, single and double cab tippers and a chassis cab groundskeeping vehicle.
With Euro 6 legislation now in effect for passenger-carrying vehicles Vauxhall has upgraded its nine-seat Movano Combi and 17-seat Movano minibus to comply with the rules. They are available with 2,3-litre bi-turbo diesel engines with the manufacturer’s urea-based Blueinjection exhaust after-treatment system.
The Combi gets outputs of 145 and 170hp while the Minibus just gets the 145hp version.
Both models deliver 42.8mpg and emit 173g/km CO2, according to Vauxhall.
The new engines come with start/stop along with a manual six-speed transmission. A driver assistance package includes high beam assist, lane departure warning, fog lights and an on-board computer.
Fiat Professional added a flagship Sportivo trim to its Ducato line-up following the CV Show in April. Based on the Tecnico specification it adds a painred grille, strip lights and alloy wheels to the mix. The cabin comes with sports seats and leather trimming on the steering wheel and gear stick. Sportivo is available with the most powerful 150hp version of the 2.3-litre engine.