The company van’s job has traditionally been a functional one; it has been designed to be a tool above all else, with luxury generally coming a long way down the list of priorities.
However, times are changing. In recent years there’s been an increase in the number of vans that go above and beyond the role of mobile workstation, with more manufacturers offering special editions and high-end trim levels that bridge the gap between van and car. Even Vauxhall, which has traditionally not offered a highly equipped model, is now bringing out a new top-tier trim, called the LE Nav, with kit such as satellite-navigation, alloy wheels and bespoke graphics.
There are several reasons behind the trend towards the raising of specification standards; it’s partly a push from manufacturers, and partly a response to buyer demands.
“Vans now are so much more like cars to drive, regardless of make, and the customer is expecting more from us,” says Steve Bryant, Vauxhall’s head of commercial vehicle brand. “There will always be the entry-level need, and there is still the rental business out there, but those customers that are using the van as a calling card for their business want to turn up in something that represents their company.”
“People who have previously had two vehicles want one to do all jobs.”
Ford Transit product manager David Petts says that there is an increasing demand for a one-size-fits-all vehicle, as smaller companies and tradesmen look to cut costs but not lose out on the sort of equipment they might get from a car.
“A lot of people who have previously had the expense of two vehicles want to have one to do all jobs; they want to be able to carry their family, and they want the car-like features,” says Petts. “They get rid of one vehicle’s-worth of insurance and tax and so need one vehicle to do both jobs.”
This has resulted in a big push towards higher trims such as the Limited, which accounts for around 40% of Transit sales. However, the strength of the values means that these customers are not out of pocket, says Petts. “Residuals are strong so sometimes it can work out at only around £2 a month more for a Limited over a Trend series.”
Meanwhile, the pick-up sector is by far the fastest-growing in the LCV market, with sales in 2016 as much as 17.6% higher than the previous year. Toyota’s Hilux is a prime example of how the buyers in that market are also treating the pick-up as a dual-use vehicle.
“People are buying them for their lifestyle as well as for their work,” says Gareth Matthews, Toyota GB LCV Manager.
“The biggest selling grade of Hilux is the Invincible, which is highly specified and accounts for about 75-80% of sales.
“Those vehicles are fetching big values through the auctions. People are spending a lot of money on them and so they take care of them.”
Matthews also points to the favourable taxation system that allows tradesmen to run a high-value vehicle and pay a flat rate of benefit tax. “Pick-ups at the top end of the market are a bit of a tax loophole,” he says.
Matthew Davock, head of LCV at auction firm Manheim, confirms that the increased initial purchase price is not dead money. Not only do owners of higher-spec models look after their vehicles with more care, and treat them more like a car, there is more demand for them once they come to remarketing
“As consumer expectations have increased in terms of technology and design, manufacturers have responded with an ever-increasing number of derivatives and options,” he says. “Vans with high specification, including leather seats, alloy wheels, air-conditioning and satellite-navigation are all becoming high on our buyers’ shopping lists, and tend to receive a positive return in terms of residual value.”