Over the past decade, items once regarded as luxuries have become standard on mainstream passenger cars, but van specifications have remained, at best, basic. Vans also lag way behind in security, with manufacturers coming under fire from the British Vehicle Rental and Leasing Association for their reluctance to deliver theft deterrents to protect cargoes which can be worth much more than the vehicle.
Bob Bucknell, owner of Cambridgeshire-based Speedy Couriers, who has a fleet of 24 light vans, is typical of the small to medium operator who is still close enough to the sharp end to appreciate what his drivers have to endure. 'Commercial vehicle drivers are treated like second class citizens and that is totally wrong because we are professionals,' said Bucknell. 'It's not an image issue as it might be with company cars. This is about safety in the workplace.'
Bucknell said features like central locking would be useful to a van driver, who is in and out of his vehicle all day. He added that ABS could be a real life-saver on vehicles whose weights vary dramatically according to the payload. 'The latest French vans are such an advance on the opposition and although there's still some way to go, this will put some pressure on the established manufacturers like Ford and LDV,' he said.
A Ford spokesman rejected the criticisms, saying the company had increased cabin comfort on its van range in response to increasing demand for better-specified vehicles. An LDV spokesman said cost, practicality and reliability were uppermost in operators' minds. He said the uptake on extras like ABS, central locking and air conditioning was still minimal.