The natural habitat for small vans is town and city centres where their agility, manoeuvrability and comparatively low emissions come into their own.
It is a continuing source of frustration for manufacturers and operators therefore that Transport for London still refuses to set an example and exempt low-emission light commercial vehicles from the London Congestion Charge. The Ford Fiesta Van led the way in achieving CO2 output of less than 100g/km and inclusion in the tax break would surely encourage others to follow suit. Passenger cars under 100g/km that meet Euro5 emissions regulations are currently exempt from paying the London charge.
The sector, however, may receive a slight boost with the widening of the London Low Emission Zone (LEZ) in January 2012 to take in older, larger vans. With this encouragement from London Mayor Boris Johnson, most manufacturers are offering incentives across their line-ups to entice customers to switch to newer, cleaner vans.?However, it is doubtful many punters would swap, say, a Transit for a Fiesta Van.
Nevertheless, sales continue to recover in this niche sector in line with the market overall following the slump of 2008/2009. The SMMT reported that sales of vans of under two tonnes increased by almost a quarter year-on-year in June. Meanwhile, values of car-derived vans in the used market continue to rise steadily. According to Manheim Remarketing, values were up 2.4% in June to £2623.

French outpost

On the back of the contract it secured with the Royal Mail fleet in 2009, Peugeot topped small van sales in 2010 with its Bipper, which doubled volumes to 4969. But both the Bipper and 207 vans are getting a bit long in the tooth and sales have tailed off slightly so far this year.
With its strength in the small van segment Peugeot is well placed to meet the European Parliament’s target for manufacturers to have 70% of their fleets emitting 175g/km or less by 2014. The 207 van has CO2 emissions of 110g/km from its 1.4 HDi 70 engine and 115g/km from its 1.6 HDi 92 unit. The 1.3 HDi 75 Bipper with stop/start technology emits 109g/km and boasts fuel economy of 68.2mpg. The vans got Euro5 engines in September 2010.
Citroen expanded its Euro5 Nemo range in the first half of the year with the introduction of the most economical model in the line-up, the Nemo HDi 75 EGS (Electronic Gearbox System) Stop and Start 660 LX. The two-pedal EGS has cut CO2 emissions by 3.5% to 109g/km compared with its five-speed manual stablemate’s 113g/km. Fuel economy is improved by 4.6% on the combined cycle to 68.9mpg.
Citroen has upped the standard specification on the top-of-the-range 660 Enterprise with the addition of a new dual-function Connecting Box, which includes Bluetooth and a USB socket. This piece of kit replaces the solus Bluetooth mobile phone connectivity previously offered. It is also available on Nemo LX models as an option. Citroen claims best-in-class load volume of 2.8cu/m for the Nemo and a turning circle of 9.95m, which is only matched by Renault’s Kangoo Compact. Maximum payload is 660kg, which is equalled by the Peugeot Bipper and Fiat Fiorino Cargo but not bettered in the segment.
Renault streamlined its offering in the small van segment at the end of last year. As a result its smallest commercial vehicle, the Kangoo Compact, is now only available as a Freeway dCi 70. It comes in two trim levels, Aircon+ and Convenience, and with features such as a swivelling bulkhead and sliding rear roof flap up for grabs.
Renault is to unveil a concept small commercial vehicle, the Frendzy, at the Frankfurt motor show this month, which gives indications of its future plans for the Kangoo Compact and its Kangoo big brother. Crystal balls at the ready.

Flexing its Eco muscles

The big news from Vauxhall is that it claims to have seized the greenest van in class mantle from arch rival Ford following a series of tweaks to its Corsavan Ecoflex to improve efficiencies. The 1.3 CDTi 16v 95hp Ecoflex with start/stop now achieves CO2 output of 95g/km, the Luton-based brand says, 3g/km less than the Fiesta Van. A lowered chassis, a variable geometry turbocharger, aerodynamic wheel covers and optimised gear ratios with shift-up indicator have helped pull emissions below the 100g/km barrier. The Euro5 Ecoflex also packs an official fuel economy figure of 78.3mpg.
Vauxhall claims Corsavan sales were up 20% in the first half of the year, but this has to be set against a 33% drop in sales in 2010 as a whole to 1634 units.
Meanwhile, the news from the Blue Oval is that it will undertake an overhaul of its commercial vehicle line-up over the next three years on the back of what UK boss Nigel Sharp has said will be its “biggest ever investment” in vans.
The Fiesta Van will soon get a mid-life revamp alongside its car donor vehicle. The current version continues to set the pace in terms of performance and scooped the What Van? Small Van of the Year award for the second year running. For several months the Econetic was the only van to boast sub-100g/km emissions until Vauxhall’s Corsavan belatedly caught up. All 2011 engines meet and exceed Euro5 demands and power has been boosted across the line-up.
The Fiesta Sport Van picked up insurance research centre Thatcham’s inaugural Green Van Award last year in recognition of its low carbon emissions (110g/km CO2) coupled with high security standards. It comes with anti-burst door locks with strengthened mountings, Ford’s patented passive anti-theft immobiliser and standard perimeter alarm.
Where the Fiesta Van does lose ground to its competitors, such as the Nemo, Bipper and Fiat Fiorino, is in its payload and load volume capacities, which go up to 513kg and 1.0cu/m respectively.
Fiat Professional has added
a 1.3-litre Multijet diesel 75hp Euro5 engine to the Grande
Punto to join the Euro4 version, which will continue to be sold until the end of the year. The Fiorino range has also got Euro5 engines to go with a refreshed interior. A new 95hp drivetrain is now available and all Euro5 units come with stop/start as standard.
Fiat has also introduced new Adventure derivatives based on the Fiorino SX. These are kitted out with Traction Plus, higher ground clearance, 15-inch wheels and under-engine protection. Payload has increased 50kg to 660kg.