Ford stopped production of the Fiesta Van in February. Such a move was especially surprising given its announcement last autumn that it was launching a face-lifted model with an optional 48V mild-hybrid power train featuring the 123bhp EcoBoost 1.0-litre petrol engine.
However, the reason behind the decision has more to do with developments on the car rather than the light commercial side of the Big Blue Oval’s activities. Ford has decided to cease making the three-door Fiesta car on which the van was based because the five-door outsells it by a wide margin. It has concluded that it would not be cost effective to produce a Fiesta Van based on the five-door body shell, despite the fact that the ability to access the cargo area through a hinged door on each side of the vehicle could potentially increase its appeal.
It is not the first time Fiesta Van has been given the chop. Ford last swung the axe in 2017, but reintroduced the compact load lugger the following year in response, it said at the time, to rising demand for small petrol vans among urban businesses.
Admittedly what was the smallest light commercial in the Ford line-up was never a big-volume seller. With less than 1.0m3 of cargo space and a gross payload capacity that barely exceeded 500kg, it scored just under a modest 4,600 registrations in the UK in its best-ever year, which was as long ago as 1997.
Purpose-built compact vans such as Ford’s own Transit Courier with a 2.3m3 load area are more practical, although it is worth noting that with a gross payload capability that falls just short of 600kg, Transit Courier is not able to transport all that much more weight.
Notwithstanding Ford’s decision, car-derived vans still have an enduring niche appeal. They are manoeuvrable, easy to park in the street and in a domestic garage, and do not stick out like the proverbial sore thumb on a householder’s drive if the employee who has been issued with one works from home. As they are based on a car chassis, they also offer the highest maximum legal speed of any commercial vehicle: 70mph on motorways.
Renault certainly believes they still have potential, especially if they are zero emission. Its battery-electric five-door Zoe Van E-Tech Electric (pictured, left) comes with a 1m3 load box. Gross payload capacities range from 435kg to 457kg depending on the specification, with a claimed maximum range of up to 245 miles between battery recharges.
Renault is clearly aware that operators treat range claims with some scepticism. It suggests therefore that the top range in winter conditions is likely to be closer to 150 miles.
Zoe Van’s 80kW electric motor relies on a 52kWh lithium-ion battery. Use a 7.4kW wall box and you should be able to recharge it fully in 9.25 hours, says Renault. Employ a 22kW charging point and the time taken falls to no more than three hours, it contends. Resort to a DC 50kW quick-charge facility, however, and the battery should hit 80% of its capacity in 70 minutes.
Zoe Van’s cargo area represents familiar territory for anybody with experience of car-derived models. Gone are the rear seats; a load floor has been installed, and a half-height bulkhead topped off by a full-height mesh grille has been fitted to protect the driver and passenger from shifting loads under heavy braking. In any event, loads can be tied down to four lashing points and rear side door windows are opaque and cannot be wound down.
Toyota used last year’s Commercial Vehicle Show to introduce a van version of its five-door Corolla Touring Sports 1.8 Hybrid car (pictured, top left). Corolla Commercial can either run on zero-emission battery power, or on a combination of petrol and electric power. Because it is fitted with a self-charging hybrid system, there is no need to plug the battery into a charging point.
Full specifications of the newcomer have yet to be unveiled, but a guesstimate would suggest a cargo area cube of 1.7m3 to 1.8m3 and a gross payload capacity of 500-550kg.
Corolla Commercial is being marketed with a single level of trim – and quite a high one at that. The specification list includes a reversing camera, dual-zone air-conditioning, a heated driver’s seat with power-operated lumbar adjustment and multi-media dashboard display.
Another vehicle with the Toyota badge points to an interesting similarity; an impressive number of car-derived light commercials are four-wheel-drive. Toyota markets a van version of its 4x4 Land Cruiser powered by a 201bhp 2.8-litre diesel engine married to either a manual or an automatic gearbox, both six-speeders. It is produced with a three-door short-wheelbase body with a 1.6m3 load bay and a five-door long-wheelbase body with a 2.2m3 cargo area. Gross payload capacities are 593kg and 756kg, respectively.
Evidently unconcerned that nosing into the van sector will dent its prestige image, Land Rover produces Discovery as the Discovery Commercial. It comes with a 2m3 cargo box and a gross payload capability of up to 784kg, and boasts a 296bhp mild-hybrid 48V 3.0-litre diesel with an eight-speed automatic box.
Listed elsewhere in the Land Rover portfolio is the latest Defender Hard Top (pictured, below left). Two versions are produced: the three-door 90 with a 1.4m3 load area and the more-capacious five-door 110, which offers 2.1m3. Payload capacities are 670kg and 800kg, respectively. The 3.0-litre mild-hybrid diesel it employs delivers 197bhp, 246bhp, or 296bhp. Again, an eight-speed automatic is standard.
Each of the Land Rovers comes with a high price tag, with Discovery Commercial potentially landing purchasers with a £50,000-or-thereabouts invoice.
A significantly cheaper, though considerably less prestigious alternative is Dacia’s humble Duster Commercial, pictured above. Launched last October, and based on the latest version of the Duster five-door SUV, it comes with a 1.6m3 cargo area, and can be ordered as a 4x4 powered by a 113bhp 1.5-litre diesel, or as a 4x2; three petrol versions are 4x2 only. A six-speed manual transmission is standard on most models apart from the 148bhp petrol which features a dual-clutch six-speed automatic transmission. Gross payload capacity goes up to 503kg.
Set up in the mid-60s in Communist Romania, Dacia suffered from appalling product quality back in the days when it was marooned behind the Iron Curtain.
For the past 20 years, however, Dacia has been owned by Renault, has made extraordinary strides in all areas, and its line-up equals anything that possibly more-familiar brands have to offer.