Vans are essentially practicality over anything else and this comes across in the often boxy, uniform design.
The need for large load space, plenty of power and low running costs often pushes any stylistic considerations to the back of van maker’s minds.
However, in Frankfurt three concept vehicles in particular caught our eye not just for the futuristic technology, or the steps taken to increase versatility and practicality, but for the sheer attractiveness of the package.
Can a van be a stylish vehicle but remain ideal as a workhorse commercial vehicle? According to Citroen, Renault and Land Rover, it certainly can.
The Citroen Tubik may look familiar to some people. This is because the sheet-metal style front end comes from the slightly squarer Citroen TUB van built by the manufacturer after the Second World War right up to the 1980s.
The new Citroen Tubik has a face resembling a pig, with a snout-like grille and narrow headlamps that more than resemble eyes.
At the rear it has a sort of shell-like body which houses some innovative – which could be translated as unlikely to ever be seen in a production model – solutions.
These include a ‘cyclotron’ area for the driver and nine seats in three rows. The middle row can be folded into a table and the seats can swivel to face each other. The door, which opens upwards and downwards in two parts allows access to the passenger seats.
Although the Tubik is unlikely to make production some of the styling could conceivably be resurrected in the DS Line and the MPV-like seating arrangements could influence future takes on flexible seats.
The Tubik also used Peugeot’s (Citroen’s sister company) diesel-hybrid technology, a feature already appearing in Citroen cars in the shape of the Citroen DS5.
While the Tubik used the past for influence, Renault took a look into the future and like its French rival, decided commercial vans and people carriers can both influence a large van-like vehicle.
Renault has designed the Frendzy concept with a single brief – to create a van that can be used to lug loads around on workdays but can quickly be converted into a family car at weekends.
This duality, says Renault is the future of the commercial vehicle and the results are impressive.
The Frendzy looks great. It takes a front end directly from the DeZir electric supercar and its split tailgate and rounded, van-like features are stylish and well put together.
As a van, the Frendzy boasts plenty of practicality with ties to hold luggage down, a flexible roof for awkward-shaped objects and seats that fold into the floor.
An LCD screen on the sliding rear door also allows businesses to display advertising or messages if required.
However, once the van has done its work, the seats can be flipped up, ambient lights change colour inside and a host of technology such as rear seat touch screens can be used to entertain the kids.
Renault has highlighted the need for dual-purpose vehicles in future, but it also boasts modern technology in the use of the same electric powertrain set to debut on the all-electric Renault Kangoo Van Z.E. this year.
The first mass-produced all-electric van is based on the standard Renault Kangoo van, which in turn is the sibling of the Renault Kangoo people carrier. The Renault Frendzy blends both the van and the people carrier aspects into a single vehicle in a very neat way.
Another, perhaps unexpected van maker to introduce a vancaroff-roadon-road vehicle is Land Rover. Despite matching its off-road champions such as the Freelander 2 with on-road luxury such as the Range Rover Sport, the DC 100 concept is sure to shock purists.
This is because it is Land Rover’s take on the next generation Land Rover Defender van, the model which typifies the off-road ability, simple practicality and durability of the brand.
Having remained relatively unchanged for over 60 years, the task to replace the Defender is a difficult one for Land Rover.
The DC 100 is the first step to doing this with an eye on a finished model in 2015. Luckily for purists, the car looks like a Defender, albeit with modern lights and grille and some rounded edges.
Land Rover says it will be as practical as ever, bringing in soundbites from the likes of the Red Cross as proof it will still be capable of taking on some of the world’s least hospitable environments.
However, it has also introduced a topless concept designed as more of a lifestyle choice. Based on the DC 100 concept, the DC 100 Sport will be a more stylish but less practical version designed to bring new, typically on-road buyers to the brand.
It looks great and is clearly influenced by the success of the recently launched Range Rover Evoque, but Land Rover will have to go some way to convince Defender supporters of the new direction it is expected to take.
While the Frankfurt show was a haven for sports cars, supercars and luxury SUVs, it also showed us the humble van is evolving.
In a few years time, the next generation of vans in the UK could be built for work and play, and if they’re anything like these concepts, we’re all for it.