The A-Team van, the Mystery Machine, Van Halen… All of these are well-known and well-loved, so why is it that vans seem to be some of the most stereotyped vehicles on the road?
Particularly during the 1980s, the concept of the white van man became one of the most widespread and loathed stereotypes in Britain, continuing to this day to embody the ultimate in road-going vulgarity.
You’ll no doubt be familiar with the description of the archetypal white van man: overweight, mouthy and aggressive, with a penchant for cutting off other drivers and a rolled-up copy of the Sun lodged between his dashboard and his windscreen.
However, recent figures and trends have shown that the public might finally be beginning to separate themselves from motorists’ greatest pet hate, with van sales consistently rising.
Last year, the RAC reported that vans are becoming increasingly popular in the UK, with uptake two and a half times greater than for cars. Furthermore, one in ten vehicles on the roads as of May last year was a van or a light commercial vehicle.
Add that to the latest figures from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), released just today, which show that 24,567 vans and trucks were sold in the UK last month alone.
In total, 363,155 vans and trucks were sold in the UK throughout last year, boosting the market by 11 per cent and representing the greatest sales in the country for over seven years.
It’s pretty clear, then, that the old van myths are starting to finally be dispelled, and that more and more drivers are beginning to realise that vans aren’t just an alternative to cars, but can be genuinely exciting too!
Why a van?
So why is that? Why would you want a big lofty and awkward van when you could have a compact and luxurious car instead? Well, as it turns out, vans have come along quite a way since 20 or even 10 years ago, and they’re now better equipped, more comfortable and cheaper to run than ever.
In fact, modern vans are starting to get so good that their manufacturers are now starting to market some of them as genuine rivals to cars, rather than limiting them simply to traders or businesspeople.
As well as having levels of equipment and luxury that sincerely can give a car a good run for its money, buying a van also has the added benefits of being more flexible for the needs of drivers, larger and often more competitively priced.
Rather than simply being restricted to large sizes, there are also a range of smaller vans on sale, which range all the way from the size of a Ford Fiesta to a full-blown high-roofed cargo van and everything in between.
In particular, one of the key advantages of a van or light commercial vehicle is the sheer range of options, sizes and combinations available to drivers. Where cars tend to be restricted by shape, size and the number of doors, just one van model can come in a multitude of different formats.
Case in point, Renault’s new Trafic van can be specified in an incredible 72 different variations, divided between a choice of cabin sizes, lengths, heights and payload combinations.
It’s quickly becoming a cliché for car manufacturers telling buyers that they offer a near-limitless amount of personalisation options, but with vans like the Trafic that’s genuinely the case.
Buyers don’t have to just choose between which trims and equipment suits them best, they can literally tailor the shape of their vehicle to fit their lifestyle. Whether they’re workmen who need a dropside van to easily load materials on and off, or parents of a large family who need to pack their car with extra seats, the sheer versatility is mind blowing.
Are there any financial upsides?
Company drivers in particular will also benefit from a van thanks to the generous benefit-in-kind tax allowances granted to van drivers.
Benefit-in-kind (BIK) tax is applied to employees who receive perks as part of their job outside of their salary, which can include the use of company vehicles.
This can quickly work out as expensive for car drivers, as BIK tax is calculated from the sum of the car’s list price (including optional extras, VAT and delivery among other charges), multiplied by the BIK percentage banding that the car sits in.
As an example, a car that has a value of £18,915 and sits in a 14 per cent BIK band will have a BIK value of £2,646.
On the other hand, BIK tax for vans is much more straightforward. Vans are charged at a flat rate of £3,090, multiplied by your income tax banding, meaning that vans are often much cheaper alternatives to running company cars.
What’s more, electric powered vans, like the Nissan E-NV200, have a base rate of £0, and drivers are also often allowed ‘reasonable’ use of a van before BIK is even added. That means that if you only use it commute to work, no BIK is applied, though using it as a weekend run-around will incite charges
What should I look out for?
With all that in mind, what are the sorts of things you should be looking out for if you’re interested in a van or light commercial vehicle? Well, the first thing is to find the right van that suits you.
If you’re using it as transport for a family, something like your standard Transit or a flat-bed van will probably not be right for you. Likewise, if you’re a tradesman, businessperson or anybody else who needs to shift large amounts of hardware, equipment or tools then a small light commercial vehicle mightn’t be ideal.
Luckily, one of the many great things about vans is, of course, their versatility and flexibility, so the first thing to do is look out for which kind of van appeals to you the most.
Vans come in all shapes and sizes, from large high-roofed cargo vans to smaller models like the Vauxhall Corsavan, which retains all the manoeuvrability and everyday appeal of the regular Corsa, but with just a bit more room in the back.
Don’t forget that vans aren’t just restricted to business-style vehicles either; Fiat manufactures the Doblo van and Qubo mini-MPV, both of which can be specified with a range of body and interior styles to meet each driver’s need.
As a word of advice though, make sure that you take the physical size of the van into consideration, not just for how much space you’ll use, but how practical it will be to buy a vehicle that large.
If you live up a small country lane, a larger model can be tricky to manoeuvre, and so smaller versions will be better-suited to small driveways or more difficult terrain. Small vans also offer better fuel economy, but larger ones are often easier to maintain.
What sort of options can I get?
If you’re thinking of making the switch from a car to a van or light commercial vehicle, you’ll also no doubt be curious as to how a van can measure up against a car in terms of comfort, luxury and equipment.
While vans not so long ago might have had a reputation for being slightly bare-bones, the good news is that modern versions come just as well-equipped as cars, with some offering even better value for money.
Many now come with standard equipment that includes start-stop technology to boost fuel economy, plus air conditioning, electric windows, heated door mirrors and DAB digital radio.
Options available can include leather-trimmed steering wheels and upholstery, alongside a full range of infotainment options with smartphone connectivity, and even mod cons like storage areas specifically for pens, clipboards and mobile devices.
Alongside that, some manufacturers even offer special sport trims for their vans, which come with hotter engines, larger wheels and often the sort of performance styling you usually find on sports cars, like rear roof spoilers and even paintwork with go-faster stripes, if that’s what you’re into.
Aren’t vans kind of boring, though?
Not at all! In fact, the sheer versatility of a van is probably highlighted best by 25-year old Mike Hudson, a former electronics engineer from Sheffield, who quit his job to turn his van into a mobile studio flat.
Spending a period of five months fixing up the van and equipping it with a range of homely kit, from a fully-functioning shower system to an extendable bed and even a massive on-board music system.
Crossing the English Channel last March, Mike has transformed a simple van into a luxurious mobile home and taken it around Europe, going bear-spotting in Romania, surfing in Portugal and partying at free festivals in Spain, Hungary and Switzerland.
While there aren’t many vans you can buy on the market that come with pre-installed beds or shower systems, it just goes to show how versatile and genuinely exciting a van can be, whether you’re using it as a mobile flat, or just a run-around to get the kids to school.
I’m interested, how do I find out more?
We realise that with such a huge range of bodystyles and equipment options to choose from, it can be hard to even know where to begin looking for a van. Luckily, Perrys is on hand to help you out!
You can browse through our entire model range by using our website to see if there’s anything that takes your fancy, or you can call into your locals Perrys dealership to talk things through with our friendly and knowledgeable staff.
Perrys stocks a full range of both new and used vans at a range of fantastic price points, and we also offer competitive finance and part-exchange options. So, if you’re thinking of making the switch from a car to a van, or just want to know a little bit more, why not get in touch and see how we can help?