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Perceptions in the van market are all important

Despite the long-standing stability of the light commercial vehicle market, there may be dangers ahead for the unwary in terms of future residual values.

Interesting trends are now developing which are going to affect the future performance of the various sectors within the market.

The new 3,500kg panel van market has grown rapidly which is likely to lead to oversupply in the used market, putting downward pressure on prices. Relatively few businesses which purchase used commercial vehicles will require a van of this type, with demand being stronger for Luton, dropside and tipper variants.

A large number of versions of panel vans are available. Most manufacturers offer a choice of at least two wheelbases, two roof heights and two or three engine options. This can lead to lower residual values for versions which prove to be less popular in the used market.

The so-called 'large' small van market which emerged in 1996 is represented by Scudo, Dispatch and Expert and to some extent by Berlingo, Partner and Kangoo.

There has also been a move away from the traditional car-derived van, with many new models being designed as purpose-built vans with a passenger car version following as an alternative.

These larger vehicles are currently enjoying success in the used market, but the likelihood is that a major volume manufacturer is going to introduce a new competitor in the next 18 months. This is likely to result in diluted residual values across the whole sector.

The words 'common rail' on a manufacturer's specification sheet leads operators to assume the vehicle will have excellent driveability, performance and fuel economy. The opposite is also true: if a diesel does not have common rail, they expect inferior standards.

This perception has been driven by the passenger car industry since most used van buyers are also car drivers.

The recently introduced electronically controlled manual gearboxes give ease of driver operation without a performance or fuel consumption penalty.

Perceptions are all-important and the sceptical used van buyer will tend to view this as something else to go wrong that can only be fixed by a franchised distributor.

Many buyers can ill afford to pay the premium labour rates involved and they will steer clear of technology that they believe, rightly or wrongly, will bring more drawbacks than benefits.
John Watts is editor of Cap commercial vehicle monitor

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