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http://us.ft.com/ftgateway/superpage.ft?news_id=fto050620081157062555&referrer_id=yahoofinance

Judging from the way the van market is changing, the days are numbered for white van man, our rule-flouting friend in the unmarked Transit.

This year will see an unprecedented flurry of van launches, including vehicles from Peugeot, Citroën, Fiat and Renault. And these vans could not be further from the utilitarian boxes-on-wheels of the past.

Instead, vehicle makers are applying the same principles to vans that they apply to their cars - attractive styling, good road handling, comfortable and practical interiors.

The market is changing. White van man still exists - but he's really only in the market for a secondhand vehicle these days. Instead, the market is being driven by professionals - large fleet customers or entrepreneurial small businesses. Both groups of customers realise that a smartly turned out van is a key element in putting across a good image for their business.

What's more, there's no shortage of customers these days. Last year, the UK van market hit a new record level of 337,741 units sold, up 3.2 per cent on 2006, and order books remain strong, providing "a solidly reliable business and economic indicator", according to Paul Everitt, chief executive of the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT).

Several broad factors are driving the van market. The growth of the internet means that we are more likely to shop online - which means we expect the goods to be delivered to our homes. Whether retail businesses have their own delivery fleets or outsource, that means more van sales.

The 2012 Olympics, a big infrastructure project that will require large numbers of commercial vehicles to complete, will also boost demand for vans around London.

Not so long ago, most manufacturers offered a limited range. Now a manufacturer such as Peugeot has six van models in its range, offering everything from a modified 207 hatchback, ideal for a courier company, to a high-volume 3.5-tonne Boxer delivery van.

And most of this range is new - the new Bipper and Partner light vans were unveiled at the recent Commercial Vehicle Show at the Birmingham NEC, while the larger Expert and Boxer models were launched a year or so ago.

Many of these vans have equivalent, near-identical models in the Citroën and Fiat ranges. In order to cut development costs, many manufacturers have teamed up with competitors.

PSA Peugeot Citroën and Fiat have collaborated for 25 years, and currently share three basic designs. More recent alliances include Mercedes-Benz and Volkswagen, and Renault-Nissan (NASDAQ:NSANY) and General Motors (NYSE:GM) . So the Renault Trafic, Nissan Primastar and Vauxhall Vivaro are all the same basic van - designed in France, but built in Britain, at Luton.

These vans, launched in 2001, are seen as the start of the change in the van market. With their striking styling and high levels of comfort they acknowledged that van customers wanted the same things as car buyers.

When Ford (NYSE:F) launched its new Transit in 2006, the die was cast. The "Tranny" was once the archetypal "white van" - but the new model, with its user-friendliness and cab comfort, and its wide range of options, changed the game.
 

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Looking at the advanced design of light commercial vehicles coming out of Europe, it really makes our ancient Econolines and Savanas, rooted in late-60s design principles, look like the inefficient dinosaurs they are.

How anyone could suggest that a Transit, Boxer, or Movano are uglier than Ford's and GM's domestic vans baffles me.
 

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Buick Century wagon > E350
 

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Looking at the advanced design of light commercial vehicles coming out of Europe, it really makes our ancient Econolines and Savanas, rooted in late-60s design principles, look like the inefficient dinosaurs they are.

How anyone could suggest that a Transit, Boxer, or Movano are uglier than Ford's and GM's domestic vans baffles me.
No one says they are pretty but they do a great job. Time will tell what will happen but a 3/4 ton Van with a bin package and roof racks is a great value. Vans need to generate income not look good.
 

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No one says they are pretty but they do a great job. Time will tell what will happen but a 3/4 ton Van with a bin package and roof racks is a great value. Vans need to generate income not look good.
It's not that I find the E-series or Savana particularly ugly, it's more just that they're such ancient relics. Other than styling, they're not one bit different from the '75 Econoline or '71 Vandura! And their styling is just the old '75 and '71 themes slightly updated. I mean GM's had only two van designs in 38 years! I know vans shouldn't be slaves to fashion like cars are, but I reckon I'm just disappointed that once again Detroit gets shown a clean pair of heels by the Europeans.

It would be interesting if GM designed a new global large van, letting Opel sever ties with Renault. They could be assembled at Wentzville and exported globally. Between the weak dollar, and the high price Europeans are willing to pay for large vans, GM could make out like bandits!

If you see the attention Euro vans pay to the "Driver's Workstation" you'll see just how ancient America's two offerings are in comparison.

At least they're sturdy, and relatively cheap!
 
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