A combination of a resurgent light commercial market and a tendency for operators to downsize where possible to reduce costs and improve their carbon footprints is having a positive impact on the light van sector, which has also been buoyed by a raft of new model launches.

Chief among these is Ford’s new Transit Connect, which has settled in well as part of Ford’s much acclaimed revamped LCV line-up since its arrival in February. the manufacturer’s volume aspirations for the Connect reveal its belief that the light van segment is destined for growth. It claims to have shifted 6753 units in the year to the end of August – a month in which it says the Connect was the UK’s biggest- selling light van with a 21.8% sector share, having taken the number two spot in July. In the longer term, Ford aims to move sales on to 20,000 units a year. to put this into perspective, the biggest-selling light van in 2013, citroen’s Berlingo, shifted 13,531 units while Ford sold 5649 previous-generation connects in its run-out year.

Another brand to spot an expansion opportunity in light vans is Mercedes, which made its debut in the sector with the renault Kangoo-based Citan in 2013. Merc is to expand the range with the introduction of an extra-long, seven- seat traveliner variant in October. It claims the model can alternate easily between carrying crew members and cargo and is also well suited for use as a taxi. It has a GVW of 2.2 tonnes, is 4705mm long and offers a third seat row in the form of two individual seats. these are adjustable fore and aft and can be individually folded down or removed. With the third row removed the traveliner has a load volume of 2.2m3, which increases to 3.5m3 with the second row folded down. the vehicle is offered with two engines – the 90hp 109 CDI and the 110hp 111cDI – with prices starting at £17,810 (prices exclude VAT).

Meanwhile, Mercedes has secured its biggest single order for the Citan, with building maintenance firm brand energy and Infrastructure commissioning 152 109 CDI models. the firm has specified the citans with 62mph speed limiters, which, it claims, will enable them to achieve fuel economy of up to 62mpg.

Another deal has seen British Airways take delivery of 57 petrol- powered 112 114hp 1.2-litre citans for its staff at Heathrow Airport.

With its well-respected Caddy due for replacement within the next 18 months or so, VW has freshened up its line-up with a special edition model. The Caddy Black Edition is based on the flagship Highline trim but includes £2150 worth of extra kit. costing £17,860, it gets black pearlescent paint, black polished 17-inch alloy wheels, silver roof rails and radiator grille surround. It is only available in short-wheelbase panel van form and is powered by a 1.6-litre tDI engine, which produces 102hp and 250Nm of torque wedded to five-speed manual transmission. Dynamic suspension has lowered the ride height by 27mm, giving the black edition a sportier appearance, says VW.

Citroen, Peugeot and Nissan have added electric derivatives to their light van stables this year. In April the brands launched the Berlingo and Partner electric models, having initially displayed them at the 2013 CV Show in birmingham. the models cost £21,300, a price that includes the batteries, but once the Government’s Plug-in Van Grant is factored in a further 20% will
be lopped off the starting price, bringing it down to £17,240. both plug-in vans have a 636kg payload, so customers choosing to go electric do not lose out compared with those opting for a diesel engine.

To coincide with the standard fitting of electronic stability control on all Berlingo models from  July, Citroen replaced the EGS automated manual gearbox used in certain derivatives with its new ETG automated manual system. the brand says the optimised pedal mapping more effectively adjusts power for smoother start-ups and acceleration, and modulates gear- change speeds more precisely based on driver input. All Berlingo vans now get hill-start assist too.

Nissan’s e-NV200 arrived in UK showrooms in September. the entry-level Acenta van is available from £16,562 as an outright purchase once the Government’s 20% Plug-in Van Grant has been subtracted. Panel van prices peak at £19,325 for the flagship tekna rapid Plus. Nissan is also offering a Flex option, which enables customers to lease the vehicle’s battery from £61 a month for a 36-month period based on 6000 miles a year. this reduces the initial outlay for the base-level van to £13,393 and sees the top- of-the-range model come in at £16,156 with the Government grant included in both cases. the e-NV200 sits at the large end of the light van sector and can thus offer a payload of 770kg with a 4.2m3 load volume.

If load space is of paramount importance then operators may want to consider Vauxhall’s L2H2 combo, which the brand launched this summer. Like the Fiat Doblo cargo XL on which it is based, The high-roof LWb combo offers 5.0m3 load space to go with a 1.0- tonne payload.