Fleet News

Special feature: What future for white van man?

The professor has been looking at the van industry as part of a concerted effort by Ford to dispel the myths that surround white van man and improve the image of Britain’s army of professional van drivers.

The findings make interesting reading and provide a fascinating insight into the light commercial vehicle industry.

UK registrations of vans under 3.5-tonnes gross vehicle weight have risen dramatically in the past 10 years. In 1995, a total of 194,167 vans were sold, compared to 343,024 in 2004. This year, it is predicted that a total of 357,000 vans will be sold – an 85% growth in a decade.

Van drivers themselves can be split into two main categories – professional drivers working for large companies who spend most of their time making deliveries and tradesmen whose vans are toolboxes and a means of getting to and from work.

It is interesting to note that although 20% of van sales are to the large delivery companies, those firms make up 80% of total van miles travelled in the UK.

Some 93% of vans sold are indeed white, but this is likely to fall soon in favour of silver metallic paint.

Some 75% of drivers operate locally but few have any specialised driving experience and most are male.

Owner-operators usually start a business with a used van, only acquiring a new model as a symbol of their firm’s success. They therefore see their vehicles as an item of pride and tend to have a high loyalty towards one brand.

There are five main factors in choosing a van: cost, practicality, reliability, comfort and appearance. Prof Clarke found that the van industry is a fast-changing place.

There is a huge increase in the number of UK households, which is leading to a growth in home deliveries. In 2000, customers bought a total of £4.9 billion worth of goods on the internet, as opposed to a predicted £11 billion this year – which will lead to a predicted £42 billion worth of deliveries by 2006. Of 420 million home deliveries in 2004, 90% were small packages delivered by vans under 3.5-tonnes gross vehicle weight.

One problem is that an amazing 60% of all small package deliveries fail – mostly because the customer isn’t at home at delivery time. This leads to more trips than ever.

By the year 2021, the number of households in the south east, East Anglia and the south west is predicted to rise by 25%, while London will be up 20% and the north east 8%.

Prof Clarke said: ‘This rise in households will lead to more home deliveries and a greater demand for plumbers, electricians, decorators and the like who, of course, all use vans. In other words, there will be a need for more vans and more drivers.’

The Working Time Directive, introduced in March this year, will also have an effect on the industry, says Prof Clarke.

It requires drivers to work a maximum of 48 hours per week over a 26-week period.

The implication is that operators will need to run more vehicles and employ more drivers.

However, around 60% of firms have not yet organised a strategy to cope with the changes.

The ‘Just In Time’ manufacturing culture first introduced in Japan in the 1980s is also likely to impact on the van industry. It means that fewer large HGV consignments will be made, to be replaced by more smaller van journeys. Once again this will lead to an increase in demand for both vans and drivers.

Looking to the future, Prof Clarke sees more regulation ahead to cope with the extra vans and drivers on the roads. And he warned: ‘We need more self-regulation. Our industry needs to respond by improving operating practices, not just for the public image but for sensible cost reasons too.

‘White van man is playing an increasingly important role in our economy. He needs to be the subject of more serious research, not derision.’

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