The large van segment may have slipped behind the lighter-weight medium category when it comes to volume but it still contains some of the light commercial vehicle industry’s biggest hitters within its ranks.
Last year the overall LCV market crept up by 1.0% to hit a new record of 375,687 registrations, according to the SMMT. A strong performance from market leader Ford was largely responsible for this marginal increase compared with 2015, and the heavy van sector was no exception, with the Transit extending its lead over the competition. Ford sold 29,965 Transits last year, which was a 14% rise on the previous year’s 26,186 and gave the model a share of the whole LCV market of just under 8%.
The only large van even remotely in the same sales orbit as the Transit is the Sprinter, but the Mercedes’ model lost ground with 21,966 units sold – an 8% dip year-on-year.
Next up was the Boxer, trailing a long way back on 13,074 registrations, although this represented an encouraging sales hike of almost 17% for the Peugeot van, meaning the top three repeated the previous year’s standings. There was a change in fourth place with the Renault Master (7,616 sales – just eight fewer than 2015) taking over from the VW Crafter, which dropped out of the top five. The Citroen Relay on 7,469 (7,016 in 2015) was fifth in the segment.
The daunting prospect for the opposition is that Ford has moved to improve its Transit further with a 2.0-litre Euro6 engine that it claims is 13% more frugal than the outgoing 2.2-litre unit. From February of this year, the model has also been available with six-speed automatic transmission on front-wheel drive versions.
One manufacturer that will be expecting to upset the established order in the large van segment is VW. While the aforementioned current-generation Crafter has historically failed to punch its weight, the brand will be confident its first model developed in-house, which goes on sale in May after appearing at the CV Show in April and is based on the Mercedes Sprinter platform, will make a far bigger splash.
Like the Transit, the new Crafter will be offered with automatic transmission, eight-speed in its case, as well as a six-speed manual. The addition of an auto ’box is likely to see the van appeal to supermarket delivery fleets, which are now largely the preserve of auto versions of the Merc Sprinter and Iveco Daily.
The Crafter also comes with electromechanical steering – a sector-first that further improves refinement and ease of driving, the manufacturer claims. The vehicle will be offered in three roof heights, three wheelbases and as a single- or double-cab chassis cab. It is powered by a 2.0-litre diesel unit with four outputs – 102hp, 122hp, 140hp and 172hp – and prices range from £23,920 to £29,220.
With legislative pressure growing on diesel vehicles, VW is one of a growing band of manufacturers to produce an electric large van, revealing its E-Crafter concept at the Hanover CV Show last September. The brand says the model, with a 125-mile range, is close to production-ready, and initially indicated it would come to market this year. The company has retreated slightly from this position and now says customer trials will take place later in 2017 before the model is confirmed for the UK market.
Iveco product manager Martin Flach believes the time is right for large electric vans to break into the UK market in urban environments. Iveco introduced a 3.5t electric Daily in right-hand drive mode at the end of 2016, but Flach believes that, because of the payload penalty caused by the weight of the battery, the real opportunity lies with heavier vans (the Daily goes up to 5.0t). He has taken a prominent role in lobbying the Government to extend the permitted weight limit for drivers holding regular licences from 3.5t to 4.25t for EVs, a change he thinks could come this year.
A third brand preparing to enter the large EV van market is Renault, which has adapted its technology for the Kangoo ZE light van to produce a Master ZE it will bring to market before year-end.