Fleet News

Soapbox: Van man needs creature comforts too

And indeed why shouldn’t it? Commercial vehicle drivers are important and valued members of the business community, often highly technically qualified, customer facing and destined to spend many miles behind the wheels of their vehicles. They should be entitled to benefit from the same creature comforts that their company car driver counterparts enjoy – and increasingly fleet operators are waking up to that fact.

Many fleets these days are prepared to specify what would once have been costly optional extras in the knowledge that there will be pay-back in terms of wholelife cost savings over the life of the vehicle.

These early adopters are reaping the benefits of higher residual values for their vehicles when specifying additional features such as air conditioning, CD players, satellite navigation and enhanced communications systems, as the price guides and leasing companies recognise that they will carry a premium in the resale market. The trickle-down effect from passenger cars to commercial vehicles in terms of technological developments and specification enhancements is much faster these days.

Take the complete audio programme first introduced on the new Vauxhall Astra, for example, which included the new DAB digital radio. This became available straight away on Corsavan and Combo, and these days it seems no time at all before sophisticated features on cars appear on the equivalent van.

Base specifications, too, are improving all the time with safety and security features to the fore. Some 12 months ago, it was unusual for any commercial vehicles to be fitted with ABS braking systems. Now several manufacturers, including ourselves, offer ABS as standard on their complete commercial vehicle model ranges.

It is a similar situation with drivers’ airbags, and while not long ago they would have been very rare items on CV specifications, now they are almost uniformly standard. And security features, too, have passed across from the latest car lines, so that modern CVs are at least as secure as their car equivalents, with immobilisers and central deadlocking common features.

As the functionality of base level CVs has improved, the market trend and the next step forward is towards the ‘touchy-feely’ end of the specification range, with initiatives taken to attract and retain drivers in much the same way that company cars are used as a retention tool.

Take the last very hot summer we had two years ago. It was not good for the corporate image for a sweaty engineer to turn up on the customer’s doorstep looking stressed and appearing to have come direct from the sauna!

And for this reason, air conditioning has started to become a very important part of the CV specification mix. British Gas, for example, has specified 100% air conditioning across its entire commercial vehicle fleet as all of its engineers are customer facing. And the move makes sense from a wholelife cost point of view, too. Many of these specification enhancements now finding their way on to fleet vehicles started out life in the owner-driver market, where buyers are less likely to accept basic specifications as a result of the implementation of an overall fleet policy.

For example, when we launched the Sportive version of the Astravan aimed at combining style with comfort and boasting air conditioning, CD player and electric pack as standard, they were fantastically successful in the more discerning owner-operator market. Today they account for almost half of all our sales to small businesses, and we have now added the Vivaro Sportive in the same style to our model range.

Satellite navigation is the latest car-derived innovation to gain ground in the fleet market, and we have recently seen fleets such as OCS and Coca-Cola Enterprises specify sat-nav for their CV-driving engineers as an aid to finding their way to customers’ premises and for route planning.

Such innovations generate returns to operators in terms of saved hours, although a global perspective often has to be viewed as the fleet department may only see the extra cost. When sat-nav is included as part of the standard package, however, as we introduced on our Astravan Envoy last year, there was a phenomenal repose, showing demand was there at the right price. There have also been great strides forward in terms of passenger comfort, with a general acknowledgement that a passenger in a CV should be every bit as comfortable as a car passenger.

Historically, fleet customers buying CVs regularly added rear passenger seats after the event, resulting in often-haphazard seating quality, safety and comfort. Increasingly, manufacturers are offering more of a finished turnkey solution direct from the factory. And the demand from fleet customers for these more comfortable options is certainly there, as shown by the 1,000 demonstration requests we have so far received for our stylish new Vivaro Doublecab.

The additional consequence of this trend towards factory-finished vehicles and an added bonus for fleet operators, is that they typically carry a residual value premium over the equivalent after-fit conversions. And fleets also benefit from an extra comfort factor and peace of mind as these factory-finished vehicles also conform to the same safety standards as passenger cars.

The days of basic, no-frills CVs are thankfully a thing of the past. Now when it comes to CV specification developments, ‘van man’ need no longer be the poor relation to his company car colleagues.

By Ian Hucker
National van sales manager, Vauxhall Motors
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