When ‘Transit’ vans took a stylish turn for the better
Unless you drive one as part of a daily grind, highlights Iain P W Robertson, you would never comprehend the vast changes that have taken place in the light commercial scene and donning an egg-stained string vest and grubby flat cap, he set out to blend with the traffic.
Having been ‘rear-ended’ by a WVM, I can tell you that, while I am hardly one of their most ardent supporters, at least I know to get out of their way, as, assuredly, when money is their core motivator, it could happen again. White Van Man has come in for heaps of criticism over the years, although I do feel for a lot of the wrong reasons.
When politicians tired of toying with Mondeoman, they sought another scapegoat for the ailments on our roads and WVM was not just available but was almost crying out for attention, usually twice, judging by the number of fingers waved cheekily from behind the lowered sun-visor. To be fair, most of those archetypal white vans are peppered with teensy dents and dings, which usually occur within the confines of a restricted space delivery zone and the van driver is under instructions (frequently with financial implications attached) to make his deliveries regardless.
The typical specification of a WV is that its front bumper is usually attached by tie-wrap. It features four rusty, non-identical wheels, on which four rubber items of various questionable tread depths reside. One headlamp is cocked at a jaunty angle and the bottoms of all doors, both on the sides and at the rear, are rusted through and covered with gaffer-tape to hold them together. Only the nearside tail-lamps work, as the indicators never have. The cabin looks as though an IED had performed its intimate explosive duty around the dashboard and floor-covering, clearly taking with it the contents of a corner-shop.
As long as I dig deeply enough, I might just about find some sympathy for what WVM does. However, it seems as though van makers have been listening all along, which makes me presume that the only reason so many WVMs are arrogant, rude and brash, is because they are unhappy with their work environments. Let’s face it, how many of the rest of us have not wanted to set about the photocopier with an axe, just after running through the PC with a bandsaw and spreading the company car park with a Sony Bravia’s worth of multi-coloured paints? Plenty, I shall warrant.
To delight them, Vauxhall and its van partner, Renault, introduced the Vivaro and Trafic models respectively in 2001. Whether it coincided with any temperance behaviour on the part of WVM is not noted but the models opened my eyes somewhat. I recall the original launch exercise, which was shared by both brands and took place in Copenhagen, Denmark, crossing the fabulous 7.5-miles Oresund Link (consisting of both a tunnel and a bridge over the entrance to the Baltic) to Malmo, in Sweden.
For the first time, a van maker had invested in producing a commercial vehicle that was genuinely car-like, not just to drive. Ford’s Transit had paved the way and became a generic in the process, much to the annoyance of other van makers, who always suffered at rental offices, because nobody would ask for their vans by name…even though they might have been known. “Canivatransit?” remains the consistent hire-van request.
WVM had never been served so well. A decent stereo, clips for clipboards and deep retainers for in-cabin refreshments (flasks and 2.0-litre pop bottles) were notable enhancements. However, the view outwards from deep side windows, plus large door mirrors and even the provision of buffer protection for the rear lamp units would give even the most destructive of drivers a series of fresh challenges.
Having been a visible part of motoring life for the past 13 years, it is inevitable that a good design needs to be revitalised and both Renault and Vauxhall have introduced brand new versions of their vans. Nissan is no longer part of the three-way relationship (despite its partnership with Renault and its new vans will be seen later in the year).
The detail changes in the metalwork are more than obvious, although the key elements remain largely unaltered. Beneath the skin, Renault has developed an outstanding twin-turbocharged diesel engine that displaces only 1.6-litres but promises not far off 45mpg in its cleaner and more frugal guise. Naturally, this new ‘supervan’ is also a lot more accelerative, a factor that is sure to appeal to WVM, a lot.
Conclusion: Stop buying cars. There will soon be no point. A Vauxhall, or Renault, van will satisfy both economical and performance drives and, should you wish not to receive the flashing headlamps, blaring horn and wild gesticulations of the terminally ailing WVMs at the controls of either make, or model, my suggestion would be to acquire a van and beat them at their own game.