Big Sales for Van-Derived MPVs in Europe
By Andy Bannister
One of the big sales growth areas in Europe in recent years has been the small van-based MPV.
These vehicles, mainly cheap-and-cheerful car conversions of essentially purpose-built small commercial vehicles, started off in southern Europe as a solution to the need to alternate between moving cargo and carrying people; sometimes combining both at once. After a slow start this concept took off and now accounts for a sizeable proportion of the market right across the continent
Much cheaper than the more sophisticated purpose-built MPVs, and more compact than the larger box vans like Ford Transit and VW’s Transporter, these little van-MPVs are now offered by a surprisingly large range of European manufacturers.
One of the most successful examples is the Citroen Berlingo Multispace, which dates back to 1998, and has an identical corporate twin, the Peugeot Partner Combi. This pair is effectively delivery vans with windows in the rear panels, rear seats, better soundproofing and more car-like interior trim
I bought one of these Berlingos early on as a cheap second-hand vehicle to help with a house move. Mine was metallic gold with a full-length electric canvas sunroof and just two front passenger doors, so rear cabin access was somewhat difficult (they have since introduced sliding rear doors). The Citroen salesman hadn’t come across one before and wasn’t sure what to make of it – with its tall slab-sided looks and that sunroof he commented on the test-drive it was rather like being in the Popemobile.
Look beyond the styling, though, and the sheer usefulness of these tough little vehicles shines through. Far from inhabiting an obscure niche market, the Berlingo and Partner have spawned a whole range of competitors which are now to be found on every European high street from Aberdeen to Zagreb.
French rival Renault has a long and narrow van called the Kangoo, with a car spin-off which has also been a big sales hit. Fiat, another early pioneer in this field, currently offers the oddly named and thoroughly odd-looking Doblo.
Ford half-heartedly marketed a modified Fiesta called the Courier Kombi, which was literally a box stuck on the back half of a Fiesta car, but followed it up with the much more acceptable looking Tourneo Connect, which looks quite handsome but is pricier than most, despite being built in a factory based in low-wage Turkey.
Even the Germans are at it with passenger versions of Volkswagen’s Polo-derived Caddy van and the Opel Combo Tour, which if painted black would make an ideal little hearse
The unlikeliest effort of all in this field, however, is the Mercedes-Benz Vaneo, a model which has recently disappeared, apparently without being replaced. It combined the ungainly looks of many of this breed with a very Benz-like price tag of up to £20,000 ($40,000) which explains its almost complete lack of success.
The latest contender to join the fray is the Skoda Roomster, which is unusual in the fact that the car version has come first (the van, called Practic, has yet to go on the market). The Czechs have gone for a slightly funkier appearance than most, while retaining the traditional van-MPV trademark of managing to make their offering look like two unrelated vehicles welded together.
The success of most of these cars – the Mercedes apart – shows that today’s new vehicle buyer isn’t always swayed by either a prestigious brand or good looks. Sometimes (but not often) the buying decision is a completely rational one, defined solely by need.
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