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The Big Picture: Van retailers face tough times

It’s often said that as soon as retailers start making a bit of money from a particular franchise, the manufacturer launches a new corporate identity and investment programme. Bang go the margins.

Well, this is certainly starting to happen in the van sector. Light commercials have been a good money earner for retailers – whether that’s via a specialist network focusing on heavier panel vans or through pick-ups like L200 sold through car retailers. The L200, for instance, has, together with the Shogun, held together Mitsubishi dealers’ businesses for many years, although that dominance is diminishing with the launch of more cars.

Now, the van dedicated retail networks are coming under pressure from manufacturers to start investing in shiny new facilities.

Fiat, LDV, Vauxhall, Mercedes and Nissan are all looking at, or have launched, new programmes intended to raise performance. Typical requirements are extended hours and mobile repairs, but some, like Mercedes, are asking dealers to invest in showrooms.

Reaction from dealers to an AM survey shows that while 40% expect van sales to improve this year on the back of an unprecedented number of new model launches, only one fifth anticipates an improvement in profits. One third believes profits will fall.

Asked about issues facing their companies, many respondents pointed to rising manufacturer standards, as well as supply issues on new vans.

There are profits still to be made from vans, particularly for those retailers who sell add on accessories. But the margins from new van sales will start to be absorbed by investment demands, so taking advantage of the additional areas will become paramount.

Want to know more about vans? AM sister publication Fleet Van has details of all the new models (

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