exceptional demand has driven up van sales volumes over the past couple of years with delivery firms in particular working at a brisk pace to keep retail customers (including online shoppers) satisfied.

So it was perhaps inevitable that at some point the market would pause for breath, and it is difficult, as yet, to gauge to what extent the late spring/early summer political and economic uncertainty has contributed to the downturn.

Light commercial vehicle sales fell in May by 5.3% overall to 26,982 year-on-year, according to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT). Volumes in the biggest sector of medium and large vans weighing from 2.5 to 3.5 tonnes, which gives the most accurate barometer of economic health, however, experienced a sharper drop of 10.1% to 17,007 units.

SMMT boss Mike Hawes says the sales figures indicate a market stabilisation following a period of “stellar growth”, and over the first five months of the year the 2.5-3.5t segment recorded a gentler year-on-year decline of 4.2%, from 96,241 to 92,197 units.

The Ford Transit remains the UK’s biggest-selling large van, and the second best-seller overall behind its medium-sized sibling the Transit Custom, followed by the Mercedes Sprinter and the Peugeot Boxer, both of which also feature in the overall top 10.

Automatic for the people

It’s been a surprisingly long time coming but the roll-out of automatic transmissions into the large van sector is now gathering pace. Since February this year the Transit has been available with a six-speed auto ‘box, a fact Ford promoted at the Commercial Vehicle Show in April.

Another major brand to join the automatic party is VW, which offers an eight-speed system on its new Crafter, which went on sale in FWD mode in May, with rear- and all-wheel drive variants to follow.

Ford is also expanding its Transit-based Mobile Service programme, following a trial around Greater London. More than 100 Mobile Service vans run by Ford qualified technicians will operate from 90 Ford Transit Centres across the country, including Northern Ireland and Scotland. The scheme aims to reduce vehicle downtime for operators by carrying out maintenance work on their own premises.

The vans specified for mobile service use are 130hp six-speed manual Transits, with front-wheel drive. They are fitted with a racking system designed by Edstrom, including custom shelving, storage and compartments to hold the tools required to carry out servicing. Equipment includes a 2.5t jack and axle stand to allow technicians access to the underside of vehicles.

Once more VW is keeping pace, with its introduction of a Crafter-based mobile service clinic van designed to deliver to operators’ doors aircon servicing, MOT repairs and minor warranty work. With a body built by Winton Engineering, kit includes air jacks and a handwash basin. Seven are already in service with three more coming soon.

Conversions is an area where VW is determined to up its game with the new Crafter, with both its factory-built Engineered to Go and bespoke Engineered for You programmes. At the CV Show the brand displayed a three-way tipper in left-hand drive format built at its plant in Wrzesnia, Poland.

Citroen’s Ready-to-Run conversion scheme is already well established and has just been augmented by the addition of a car transporter based on a 3.5t Relay built by Advanced KFS, which can handle a payload in excess of 1,500kg.

Vauxhall has kept its Movano large van in the spotlight with the introduction of a motorsport-inspired concept. Designed to celebrate the brand’s commercial vehicle partnership with the British Superbike Championship, it will be on display at all UK BSB meetings throughout the season. Developed with racking company Sortimo, the Movano race van concept includes racking, workbenches and an awning to allow teams to work on their motorcycles.

The large van sector will welcome a new name into its fold in September when Volkswagen-owned HGV manufacturer MAN launches its first 3.5t LCV ,the TGE, which is a rebadged version of the new Crafter. The TGE will be supported by 65 service points, offering extended opening hours, and covered by a three-year unlimited-mileage warranty. MAN says it will add tipper, Luton and dropside conversions to the range in 2018.