Ford is set to strengthen its hold on a sector that is struggling to break out of its niche, James Dallas reports
Light commercial vehicle buyers largely overlooked the niche small van sector during the two years of record growth that continued into the beginning of 2017, but, somewhat perversely, sales have pepped up as the market overall has slowed down in recent months.
In June, demand for small vans weighing less than 2.0 tonnes rose by 2.3% to 3,452 year-on-year, although during the first half of 2017 volumes were down by a more substantial 20.5% to 15,605 compared with the same period in 2016.
While traditionally the preserve of car-derived vans like the Ford Fiesta Van and Vauxhall Corsavan it seemed that the emergence of compact cubed vans in 2008 would transform the segment. Highly manoeuvrable and with load space optimised it seemed these nimble vans were ideally suited to city life, with their compact dimensions making it easy for drivers to dodge down side streets and squeeze into tight parking spaces.
But the market didn’t warm to the little vans with the expected enthusiasm, and a couple of players, Citroen with its Nemo and Peugeot with its Bipper – both of which are rebadged versions of the Fiat Professional Fiorino – are preparing to cash in their chips.
Neither of those PSA brands implemented the facelift Fiat gave the Fiorino last year, although they did install the Italian manufacturer’s Euro6 1.3-litre Multijet engines into their models.
The bottom line is financial viability. Neither Citroen nor Peugeot believe the residual values of the Nemo and Bipper are strong enough and admit their larger light vans, the Berlingo and Partner respectively, make better contract hire prospects. Both the Nemo and Bipper, therefore, will be withdrawn within the next couple of years.
But Fiat insists there is still a role for the Fiorino to play as a city van and puts a brave face on the PSA brands’ decision to pull out of the platform-sharing deal, claiming it opens up room for the Fiorino to grow market share.
The immovable object in its path, however, is Ford’s Transit Courier. The company stopped manufacturing its car-derived Fiesta Van in April and is expecting the Courier to plug the gap. Last year, the enduringly popular Fiesta van outsold its younger sibling, which arrived in 2014, shifting 4,076 units versus 3,050.
But Ford’s plan has always been for the Courier to take priority as the smallest member of its Transit-badged family, and to ease the transition from the Fiesta Van it revealed a Transit Courier Sport Van at the CV Show in April just before it went on sale the following month. It is available with either the 100hp 1.0-litre Ecoboost petrol engine or the 95hp 1.5-litre TDCi diesel engine.
Chinese microvan manufacturer DFSK is making another attempt to break into the UK market with a new distributor. Bassadone Automotive, which owns Ssangyong’s importer Ssangyong Motor UK, has set up a new company, Vehicle Import and Distribution, to bring the budget vans to the UK.
It claimed four models would be available going into the second half of the year: the C31 single-cab minitruck, the C32 double-cab mini-truck, the C35 panel van and C37 minivan. The range is expected to have a sub-£10,000 starting price and to be powered by a 1.5-litre Euro6 petrol engine.
DFSK UK (part of Vestatec Automotive) stopped importing the microvans to the UK last year.