New vans are available with a wealth of standard and optional equipment, but which features are worth having? James Dallas investigates
Operators choosing new vans nowadays are faced with a bewildering array of trim levels and paid for options to wade through before deciding upon the vans that suit their requirements.
The choices of large fleets and small businesses or owner-drivers can differ greatly – traditionally the fleet manager buying a batch of delivery vans would plump for base models with no frills included, after all they wouldn’t be getting behind the wheel themselves, whereas the buyer spending more time in the van – either just for work or perhaps choosing a vehicle to double up as the family transport, would look for something more luxurious and stylish.
When it comes to safety equipment the lines become blurred – companies have a duty of care to look after their employees and if drivers are injured or vans damaged they will lose money through them being off the road.
More and more safety kit is becoming standard and, after prolonged lobbying, Electronic Stability Control (ESC), which helps to prevent skidding, became mandatory under EU law in November 2014. But it is up to manufacturers how many more additional features they lay on as standard or offer as extras.
Mercedes-Benz, a pioneer of safety in general and ESC in particular, includes Crosswind Assist as standard on its Sprinter but if you want to add features such as Blind Spot Assist, Lane Keeping Assist and Collision Prevention Assist you will have to pay extra for them.
Mercedes tends to offer its vans with limited trim levels but a great deal of options that can be bolted on. Air-conditioning on its new Vito medium van, for example, costs £895 (all prices exclude VAT), while a reversing camera can be had for £450 but may be considered an unnecessary luxury on top of the standard parking sensor.
A spokeswoman for the brand explains its strategy concerning specification and options.
“Option packs offer the customer a greater opportunity to tailor the vehicle to their individual requirements. Vehicles with option packs can be more attractive propositions in the used market. Options are bundled together offering a cost-effective solution for customers.”
She adds that safety and functional features are the ones LCV customers value the most, pointing out that all Mercedes vans come with wood floors as standard to protect against damage and drawing attention to the standard twin side loading doors on the new Vito, which increase loading practicality.
But Mercedes is also seeing an increase in demand for air-conditioning, which indicates that fleets, as well as owner-drivers, are taking more interest in driver-comfort, satellite navigation and cosmetic, stylish features such as metallic paint, which the spokeswoman says boost used value. On a new van metallic paint is likely to set you back a few hundred pounds – it cost £400 on a Renault Trafic, for example.
In contrast to Mercedes and other commercial vehicle manufacturers such as Iveco, which also concentrates on option packs, Volkswagen has a well-defined band of trim levels (introduced in 2012), which it maintains group together the most desired options in terms of safety, functionality and style.
“Customers interested in these options pay less by choosing a trim line than selecting these options individually,” claims product marketing manager Jenny Maeckelmann.
“If you are interested in air con and alloy wheels on a Caddy panel van, it is a good opportunity to have a closer look at our Highline.”
The Highline also includes items such as front fog lights and a Thatcham Category 1 alarm as standard.
Maeckelmann believes trim levels offer customers more clarity than option packs by providing a simple and complete package to aid decision making and uphold resale values, although she concedes option packs serve an important role in allowing customers to personalise their vans according to their priorities.
Accordingly, the brand says most large fleets opt for the trim level that matches the majority of their requirements while smaller buyers look for more bespoke solutions.
VW says the most popular features are air conditioning, wheel upgrades, infotainment systems, parking aids and connectivity devices.
“Based on our analysis of the current generation Caddy and Transporter, we have taken these customer choices into account when tailoring our trim lines on the new products,” says Maeckelmann.
She says entry-level Startline models are most popular with large fleets, which may then enhance this configuration with optional items. Retail customers and owner-drivers on the other hand are more inclined to go for Trendline or Highline in the first place.
VW argues that over the last five years demand for items such as air con, cruise control and sat nav, which were previously considered luxuries, have move into the mainstream and are increasingly expected to be included by customers within standard specifications.
The brand also points out that commercial vehicle drivers are no longer prepared to accept the sort of rough and ready interior environments, with their inherent lack of comfort and refinement, which passenger car owners would not tolerate.
Noise suppression has become an important consideration, says Maeckelmann, and features such as DAB radio, air con and Bluetooth are now standard on all models.
Vauxhall also bands its LCVs into trim levels and a spokesman argues this is important because customers now “expect similar levels of specification and creature comforts in a van as a passenger car. We were one of the first to recognise this and now offer the Sportive trim across three of our four models (Corsavan, Combo, Vivaro). On Movano, retail customers get a free of charge option pack.”
He adds that the flagship Sportive trim is well established so that customers know what to expect.
“The specification reflects what many of our customers are looking for in an up-level trim,” he claims.
He says functional items tend to be selected as options so that customers can get exactly what they need for the job whereas higher trim levels focus more on refinement, style and comfort. Sportive buyers, for example, expect to get air con and Bluetooth as standard while the most popular options are parking sensors, integrated sat nav, passenger airbags and speed limiters.
The increased focus on safety is illustrated by the six air bags that come standard on the new Corsavan.
Ken Brown, the editor of Cap’s Red Book for LCV values, says retailers will attempt to upsell higher specification used vans on the forecourt but reckons it is a different matter when it comes to what they will pay for such vans when re-stocking at auction. This is because unless features are included as standard, the reserve price at auction will be determined by Cap’s value for the basic van.
Brown claims manufacturers that offer “endless lists of optional extras” can miss out when it comes to residual values because they can get overlooked by both auctioneers and buyers at auction.
He says ply-lining in vans and load liners in pick-ups are essential to protect bodies and panels against scrapes and dents.
“Vehicles without them tend to sell for less money not so much because they don’t have them but because of the damage they are likely to have sustained,” he says.
Brown says air con is highly prized on the right vehicles but warns that it carries little advantage on a van without a full bulkhead to seal in the driver.
He claims air con can add up to £1500 to the value of a used VW Transporter T5 that is destined for conversion in the leisure market but says if the rest of the spec is wrong for that market it may only increase value by £150 to £200.
Jayson Whittington, manager Commercial and Leisure Vehicle Valuations for Glass’s Guide claims air con is the most desired feature on used vans because “almost all new cars come with this as standard and it now seems out of the ordinary to drive a vehicle without it.”
While Whittington admits sole traders buying a van to double up as family transport will place a high priority on safety features he says: “In the main vans will be bought based on their practical application such as load capacity and fuel economy rather than safety features.”
He says options that increase weight and reduce payload, such as internal racking, will often put buyers off unless they fit the requirements of the second user.
Like Cap’s Brown, Whittington argues that buyers are likely to prefer a van with features fitted as part of a recognised trim level rather than as options.
“As it is made to standard specification, delivery times are likely to be quicker,” he says and adds that if the model carries a desirable badge, such as VW, it is likely to command a higher value than a model packed with similar features as options.
Options – The top 5