The steady recovery in the new commercial vehicle market ran out of steam in July after 17 consecutive months of growth.
According to the SMMT, in the medium van segment (covering CVs weighing from 2.0 to 2.5 tonnes) registrations dropped by almost 6% year-on-year to 2432 units.
In the first seven months of 2011 sales remained comfortably ahead of the equivalent period in 2010 – up 18% to 18,826 – but if the recent dip continues into the autumn manufacturers and operators may begin to get the jitters about the economy’s apparently sluggish recovery from recession – particularly in the retail sector.
The SMMT acknowledges that the recovery phase in the sector has subsided, with boss Paul Everitt saying the July drop in the volume of vans reflected “a more uncertain period for the economy”.

Silver linings

George Alexander, chief commercial editor at Glass’s Guide, reckons lessons learned from the 2008 recession should stand businesses in good stead.
In spite of the economic outlook looking grim, Alexander says there could be a silver lining for the used commercial vehicle sector. With money getting tighter he argues that quality used vans will become more appealing, with prices propped up by the slowdown in supply as a consequence of the lack of new sales in recent years. Alexander even saw a bright side to the recent riots that lay waste to city centres across the nation. He says demand for commercial vehicles from the emergency services had increased, as had the workload of van users involved in the clean-up operation, such as demolition workers, scaffolders, glaziers and builders.
“Whether it’s police vans taking looters to station cells, a prison van taking them to court or the fleets of minibuses that will be required to transport them to various places of incarceration, more commercial vehicles will be called for,” Alexander says.
“As for rebuilding trashed city centres, commercial vehicles will have a key role in making it happen.”
Focusing on the market for used medium-sized vans, Alexander reports that after several months of mixed fortunes for the Fiat Scudo, Citroen Dispatch and Peugeot Expert, prices are recovering. Over recent weeks, he says the L1H1 90hp versions of the vans produced by the PSA brands and their Italian collaborator have been selling to guide trade prices as long as they are late plates with sensible miles. However, the L2H1 model is less popular unless in mint condition or offered with a 120hp engine.
For Renault’s Trafic and its close relation, the Vauxhall Vivaro, Alexander says buyers were spoilt for choice by having too many late-plate, lower-powered examples to choose from and had backed away. However, he notes that trade buyers saw older stock as a “good price-range proposition”.
Although the large volume of distressed stock arriving in auction halls in the first half of the year as a result of the turmoil in the leasing sector has now just about washed through, there remains an oversupply of some mid-sized vans such as Ford Transit 280s and the aforementioned Trafics and Vivaros, which “are invariably offered in hard-use condition and inevitably struggle”, Alexander says.
Nevertheless, good quality Transit 260s and 280s are still hitting guide trade prices with ease, and with more late-plate models up for grabs franchised dealers are showing interest both online and at auction.
Glass’s reports tidy, 85hp short-wheelbase, low-roof Transits on 2005/2006 plates are also attracting interest. But it adds that Volkswagen’s Transporter still sets the benchmark for others to aspire to with demand particularly strong for 102hp and 130hp derivatives. Latest-shape T5s from last year are now filtering into auctions and selling to top condition guide price without difficulty. A slight weakness however is with the 84hp models that sometimes lose their lustre through appearing in uncomfortably high volumes.
Despite looking like a match for the Volkswagen on paper, Alexander says the Mercedes-Benz Vito is still not performing so strongly in the auction halls, with the 109CDI Compact in particular falling short. He suggests most of the best, low-mileage stock is probably retained within the brand’s dealer network, leaving the poorer quality examples for disposal at auction.
Both German brands have refreshed their medium van line-ups recently. Mercedes’ flagship sports versions of the Vito went into production this summer and are now available. List prices for the Vito Sport start from £23,300 for the 116CDI Sport Compact. The top price for this engine is £25,725 for the Sport long Dualiner. The 122CDI engine starts at £26,830 in Sport Compact guise and rises to £29,255 for the Sport Long Dualiner. The 122CDI is the only engine offered with the higher specification Vito Sport X. The Compact comes with a £32,295 price tag and the Long Dualiner version is available from £34,720.
Both Sport and Sport X models include features such as new-design chrome sidebars, driver and passenger airbags and Comfort single driver’s and front passenger seats. Sport X Vitos also boast Xenon headlights, leather seats with contrast stitching, 18-inch Brabus alloys and a custom-designed Brabus spoiler, which can be ordered with Parktronic sensors as an option.
Volkswagen’s Transporter Sportline (drive on page 13) has now arrived in showrooms with prices starting from £28,220 excluding VAT for the T32 SWB panel van. The 2.0-litre BiTDI 180hp engine powers all models and is mated to a six-speed manual gearbox as standard. VW’s famed seven-speed DSG transmission is offered as an option across the line-up for a premium of £1400.
Sports styling includes a gloss black grille with chrome detailing and revised headlights. Below this the reworked colour-coded bumper houses front fog lights positioned either side of the lower grille element. The Sportline also features stainless steel sidebars and 18-inch alloys finished in silver or black. Smoked rear light units and a rear roof spoiler also serve to set the Sportline apart from the rest of the Transporter range. Sportline models are available in metallic silver, black pearlescent or white with a black roof.
The cabin is finished with two-tone leather upholstery and additional kit includes semi-automatic air-conditioning, a multimedia system with seven-inch touch-screen satnav, rear-parking sensors, built-in Bluetooth and electric windows.
The long-wheelbase Sportline panel van with DSG is priced £30,110 excluding VAT. Kombi prices range from £30,100 to £31,990 excluding VAT.
Volkswagen expects to introduce Bluemotion technology to the Transporter portfolio from October this year.

High fives

Most manufacturers have now rolled out Euro5 engines across their medium van line-ups or have plans afoot to do so.
Market leader Ford unveiled its Euro5 compliant Transit at the Commercial Vehicle Show in April. It claims the 260 SWB Econetic Transit delivers fuel savings of £1077 over 80,000 miles compared with the Euro4 model. Production started last month, and the new vehicle is tested on page 10.
Vauxhall moved to boost its green credentials with the addition of Ecoflex Vivaros earlier this year in the guise of 90hp and 115hp 2-0-litre versions, which are fitted with speed limiters to restrict top speeds to 64mph and deliver CO2 emissions of 185g/km.
The next-generation Vivaro will go into production in Luton in 2013.
Fiat introduced the 2.0-litre Multijet 163hp Euro5 engine to its Scudo line-up for the 2011 model year but is also continuing to sell Euro4 versions throughout 2011.
Peugeot is phasing in Euro5 FAP (exhaust particulate filter) engines across its Expert line-up, and Hyundai put 2.5-litre 116hp Euro5 engines into the iLoad last December.
Citroen has been comparatively slow to introduce Euro5 engines but has been quick out of the blocks to announce its attendance at the 2012 Commercial Vehicle Show, which it says will come “hot on the heels of the introduction of its complete
2011 Euro5 engine range”.
Citroen says its Euro5 engines will be offered with manual gearboxes as well as an increased number of EGS automated manual transmissions and stop/start technology.