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A year in vans 2013: Part one

  • 23 December 2013
  • By George Barrow

It has been a busy year for vans in 2013, with two manufacturers in particular making big waves in the LCV market.

Ford looked set to be the year’s big player, while Mercedes-Benz began the year by preparing for its massive assault on the small van sector, with the impending arrival of the Citan. Billed by cynics as a badge-engineered Renault Kangoo, the miniature Merc – the smallest in the company’s LCV portfolio – proved to be far more impressive than expected. Pricing was understandably at the more premium end of the market compared to the Renault Kangoo when it was announce in January, with the 108 CDI Compact starting the range at £13,095. In the run up to its launch, the Citan was promoted heavily throughout the UK, with billboard, filling station, radio and even a series of unusual TV adverts, all bigging-up the new van.

The madness didn’t stop there, though. Commercial Motor was also the first to drive the Citan in the UK, taking a long-wheelbase model on a traumatic 850-mile eco-journey from Land’s End to John O’Groats, whilst delivering a mystery part between their Truro and Inverness dealerships. The Citan mastered the journey with ease, recording a creditable 66mpg in the 14 March issue, which is more than can be said for the fragile co-driver. January also saw Toyota announce its tie-up with the PSA Group in launching the Toyota Proace, a mid-sized van based on the Citroen Dispatch and Peugeot Expert chassis.

Renault revealed its first information on their updated Kangoo van in February, Ssangyong introduced a panel van version of its 4×4 Korando, while Peugeot updated its Partner and Expert ranges with minor facelifts. The big news of the month, however, was the relaxation of European Whole Vehicle Type Approval regulations. Minor modifications to light commercial vehicles, were deemed acceptable by the Department for Transport and the Vehicle Certification Agency. Basic modifications to vans up to 3.5 tonnes, including racking and protective ply lining, no longer had to meet legislation that was due to come into force from 29 April 2013. Instead these alterations would be considered as part of the payload. Larger and more complex additions such as tail-lifts and roof beacons also received a break from the rules, with a more simplified approval process.

March and April were months of new product launches and information, starting with Volkswagen’s e-Co-motion concept at the Geneva motor show. The futuristically styled van was said to give a hint of future VW products and intentions, with an all-electric powertrain and a flexibly body configuration to allow panel van, pick-up or passenger models.

Developments at Ford have moved at quite a pace since the Transit Custom was announced in Spring 2012. A year on, and the Blue Oval had announced a new large Transit van – effectively splitting the traditional range of 2.5 to 4.4 tonne vans in two – as well as re-launching its Transit Connect model and revealing plans for an all new model city van model, sporting the Courier name.

The Birmingham CV Show was the location for this raft of new releases, with the two-tonne Transit, Transit Connect and a high roof version of the Transit Custom making their first UK appearances in front of the public. Ford also allowed the media up close and personal with the aforementioned Transit Courier, a Fiesta-based commercial vehicle measuring 4.16m,with a load volume of 2.3m³. The fourth and final new model to take the Transit name, Ford said the Courier will help the brand realise ambitious sales targets of 400,000 units per annum within the next three years in Europe.

High profile guests are few and far between at the CV Show, but you can always count on the revolving door at the Department for Transport to slingshot a Minister into the NEC. Secretary of state for transport Patrick McLoughlin found himself behind the wheel of a Nissan Leaf having been talked through the development of Nissan’s star attraction, the forthcoming eNV200 van, which was making its UK debut at the show. Speaking exclusively to CM,  McLoughlin said: “This was my first experience of an electric vehicle. It’s an emerging technology which is suited to the big cities. Having a range of electric vehicles is important, but there needs to be more charging points.”

Not to be out-done, Mercedes played its first cards in the race to win hearts and minds ahead of Euro-6 regulations for LCVs, revealing its new Sprinter van. Featuring intelligent ESP-based safety features like Cross Wind Assist, and a moderately revised front end, it was announced that the Sprinter would be the first vehicle on sale to meet Euro-6 emissions regulations thanks to a reworked engine using SCR technology.

It was an interesting and busy start to the year, but one what would continue unabated after a brief summer lull, when many of the new products would hit the roads and our test tracks.

Contined tomorrow…


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