Almost a third of company executives are turning to their drivers for advice on the most suitable replacement commercial vehicles, according to the 2004 Vauxhall Light Commercial Vehicle Trends report.
And an increasing number of new van models are being supplied to employees on an individual basis, says report author Professor Peter Cooke, of automotive industries management at Nottingham Business School.
He said: 'There is no doubt white van man is getting to be a more important factor in commercial life and our research has identified he now has more involvement and empowerment.
'In fact, our findings suggest he is having a significant input into the choice of vehicle specification and even the choice of marque. Indeed, we've found that some company van fleets are being run much in the same way as business car fleets.'
In an interview at the launch of his report, Cooke said: 'I have no doubt that the position of the van driver is perceived to be more important than it used to be and it is clear that most of them now feel part of the organisation they work for.
'Companies undoubtedly benefit from this – the ones that allow people to have input generally enjoy better accident statistics. It's also a fact that the more involvement people have in an organisation, the better they are likely to treat the vehicle, so the bottom line result of this approach is improved cost-saving.'
Cooke said information from more than 300 companies involved in the report highlighted a rising number of light commercial vehicles are being equipped with CD sound systems, automatic transmission and air conditioning.
He said: 'Not so long ago, items like these were regarded as luxuries in this market, but what goes into vehicles by way of convenience features will get more important in the next 10 years as traffic continues to worsen and drivers spend more time in their cabs. Comfort is a vital issue, and more LCVs will offer car-like comfort levels.'
One third of the companies said employees were involved in choosing the van they drove and 48% said they allocated vans to individual drivers.
According to the report, 61% of the companies interviewed carry out annual checks on their LCV driver licences.
Cooke said: 'This is no longer sufficient – people can lose their licences and keep on driving, but of course, their vehicle is no longer insured. Having the plastic photo-card as well as the paper licence makes it all too easy to fail to undertake adequate checks. I think we are reaching the situation where licences have to be checked every three months in order to protect the management.
'It is all too easy for a driver not to inform the employer of penalty points. Checking will be a big issue in future. I also feel that attitudes toward alcohol and drug abuse will have to become more focused.
'We found that 12% of employers still do not have a formal policy regarding alcohol abuse and companies need to tell their employees what their policy is about this.
'Another area where senior management should set an example concerns the use of mobile phones while driving. Legislation still needs to be enforced by the employer and the fact that 20% of respondent organisations still do not have formal, published policies suggests a certain cavalier attitude.'
On the issue of parking fines, the report says that while 74% of respondents expected drivers to pay them, 12% said they would pay fines depending on circumstances.
Cooke said: 'One operator in the Greater London area told us that the number of parking penalties involving his company had risen by 30% since the introduction of congestion charging.
'Is this an accepted business cost these days? It would seem that parking fines are part and parcel of doing business and retaining staff.'
Cooke's findings show that more than one-third of respondents plan to increase the size of their LCV fleets by 2007.
The independently compiled report also concludes that the issues likely to be of greatest significance up to the end of the decade are fuel prices and business cost pressures.
Companies involved in the survey operate more than 100,000 vehicles, ranging from car-derived vans and pick-ups to medium-sized panel vans.
Vauxhall pulls out the stops with new Movano demo fleet
VAUXHALL has already responded to findings in the second Nottingham Business School report on LCV trends, which it sponsored.
The company has lined up a 'substantial' demonstration fleet of the new Movano heavy panel van range which has just been launched.
National commercial vehicles sales manager Ian Hucker told Fleet News: 'The size of the fleet is comfortably into three figures – that indicates how seriously we view the fact that drivers now play a bigger part in the decisions that involve fleet replacement.
'We all know that initial price and servicing costs are the big factors, but there's no doubt that the views of drivers are starting to be taken seriously. It seems companies don't like having to take the flak if they choose the wrong products.'
He said the Movano demo fleet would be supplied for two-week periods but vehicles would be made available for up to three months if longer evaluation was needed.
Hucker said: 'We are delighted that more firms are using our demonstrators and asking their drivers for feedback. I think this is one of the reasons why the Vivaro is doing so well in the small business sector. Compared with 9.7% in 2001, our current 16.2% share of the market up to 3.5 tonnes reflects a meteoric rise.
'The Vivaro has won praise for having features that make it car-like and we hope that standard items such as anti-lock braking, electronic brake force distribution and a driver's airbag should earn similar praise for the Movano. We're keen to get as many drivers as possible to try it,' he added.