Sales of light vans weighing between 2.0 and 2.5 tonnes felt the strain last year, falling by 2.5% in a market that increased overall by a marginal 1%, according to the SMMT.

One reason for the drop is that most operators prefer to plump for the reassurance of the extra space and payload offered by medium vans even if this is, in many instances, a ‘just in case’ decision. Meanwhile, the margins between the sectors have recently become further blurred with PSA Peugeot Citroen and Toyota adding compact versions to their new, respective, Expert, Dispatch and Proace mid-sizers, which provide similar load capacities (5.1m3) to the biggest light vans like Fiat Professional’s Doblo Cargo XL.

In terms of the overall market, the Ford Transit Connect leapfrogged the Citroen Berlingo to finish 2016 as the UK’s best-selling light van, with 15,494 finding homes – 869 more sales than the French brand’s model. The Peugeot Partner from Citroen’s fellow PSA manufacturer was close behind on 14,038, before a yawning gap opened up to the fourth-placed model – the VW Caddy – on 7,757. The Vauxhall Combo, with 5,982 vans shifted, made up the top five.

The Connect got off to a flyer in 2017 too – it was the UK’s third best-selling van in January with 1,288 units shifted, completing a clean sweep of the top three for Ford. Surprisingly, the light van sector bucked the trend in the low-volume pre-plate-change month of February, registering the only growth in the market. According to the SMMT, sales of vans weighing between 2.0-2.5t rose by 9.0% to 2,156 units.

Sue Robinson, director of the National Franchised Dealers’ Association, gave this explanation for the rise: “These vehicles are usually used in the service industry, which tends to be less affected by the volatility of consumer demand.”

The light van sector has traditionally pioneered the development of electric vans and the trend is gathering pace in 2017. Manufacturers pioneering plug-in vans may be about to move in from the margins as the anti-diesel lobby gathers momentum and urban-based operators are forced to find alternative solutions.

At the Brussels motor show in January Renault unveiled a new Kangoo ZE with an extended range, which will come to market halfway through 2017. With a new 33kW battery coupled to a 44kW 60hp engine the brand claims the ZE’s range is 168 miles under the New European Driving Cycle test – a 50% hike on the current model.

In real-world driving conditions Renault reckons the ZE will be able to cover 120 miles on a single full charge, which now takes six hours compared to its predecessor’s eight. What’s more, Renault says a one-hour top-up, which could be undertaken during a lunch break, can add 22 miles to the range. However, Renault believes the ZE will most commonly be used by fleets that will recharge at their HQs overnight.

The product line-ups of Peugeot and Citroen are increasingly closely intertwined and both launched electric versions of their long-wheelbase L2 light vans in February. The Citroen Berlingo Electric L2 550 LX and the Peugeot Partner SE L2 Electric join the existing L1 Electric derivatives.

The longer vans offer 250mm more load length than the L1 (2,050 compared to 1,800mm) and the load volume goes up from 3.3m3 to 3.7m3. With the folding passenger bench seat utilised, load length extends to 3,250mm and volume increases to 4.1m3. Payload is 552kg and both L2 vans cost £22,180, excluding VAT but with the Government’s Plug-in Van Grant included.