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ANALYSIS: Microvans - made for urban living

Date: 20 February 2008

Compact dimensions give microvans a big advantage in town, which is why the few that reach the auction halls are snapped up

For the second user who doesn't need huge load-carrying capacity - such as pizza delivery firms or florists, mobile hairdresser or security guard - the microvan can be a practical choice.

They are cheap to buy and run - they offer good fuel economy - have an individual look, are easy to drive, and because they are simple to park microvans are typically used in crowded urban areas. Plus, despite the modest dimensions, they also have a decent carrying capacity and features such as side-loading doors.

Both BCA and Manheim report that few examples of these small, light commercial vehicles come to auction. Only 30 were sold by Manheim in 2007, the majority being Suzuki and Daihatsu standard microvans. The remainder included a variety of other models including pick-ups - from landscape gardeners and local councils/authorities - and even a few examples of converted versions of three-wheel vans, for use as mobile catering units at events, which can be driven on a motorbike licence.

When selling microvans the usual rules apply at remarketing time - condition, age and mileage all have a role to play, with the former being most important.

"As these vans are sold on their maneuverability, used buyers don't expect to see much damage - it suggests they have not been well looked after. A full service history will warrant the mileage, which should be on the low side to really attract the highest bids," explains Duncan Ward, BCA's UK business development manager.

According to Alex Wright, commercial vehicle sales director at Manheim, it's better to pick petrol. "The excellent fuel economy available with petrol-engined microvans means diesel versions are a rarity in the used market right now," says Wright.

"Most second buyers will be looking for power - so the diesel or petrol engines are favoured - and go for the best specification options that are available," adds Ward. "However, electric power will be more attractive for buyers operating in congestion charging zones."

Ward concludes: "Make sure any existing branding is professionally removed, leaving a clean panel for the next owner to brand as appropriate for their business, and get the vehicle professionally prepared by your remarketing partner before sale."

What the buyer wants

Duncan Ward, BCA's UK business development manager, talks about the merits of four vehicles in the microvan market.

Daihatsu Extol

"The Daihatsu Extol has a highly individual design with skirts and spoilers to make it stand out from the crowd, although these are prone to damage because they are flimsy. There's plenty of power from the 1.3 Toyota-sourced engine, which gives 80PS. An eight-metre turning circle makes it ideal for city deliveries while the standard equipment levels are remarkably high for what is a cheap commercial vehicle. There's power steering, a CD player, twin front airbags, central locking and a heated rear window. Air-conditioning and metallic paint appear on the options list and should be chosen to make this little van even more desirable at the end of its working life."

Suzuki Carry

"Suzuki's Carry doesn't have the spoilers seen on the Extol but otherwise shares a lot of features with it - five doors, tight turning circle and 1.3 petrol engine. The Carry comes with an excellent specification range as standard including a good quality stereo, central locking on all five doors, a driver's airbag, heated rear window, a good selection of storage spaces including a large, built-in storage tray and electric power steering. It also has a large range of extras available including alloy wheels and a towbar."

Piaggio Porter

"The Piaggio Porter has both 1300cc petrol, 1.4 diesel and electric-engined versions and comes with a wide range of bodies alongside the standard van, including MPV, tippers and pick-ups. The standard van variant has two side loading doors and a rear tailgate making it an effective load-lugger, while it too has a small turning circle. Buyers prefer the better-specified models (the base model is very basic) with electric windows, extra safety features and in-van entertainment. Only available since 2006 in the UK under the Piaggio brand, they are rarely seen at auction."

Aixam Mega

"The Aixam Mega van is the true individual in this sector. At just 400kg it is light enough to be driven on delicate surfaces such as lawns, flooring and paved areas and could be used by landscape gardeners, for light urban deliveries or even in factory settings. There are four different bodystyles with van, pick-up, dropside and chassis cab options, each retaining the cheeky-looking front end. It also has a choice of 500cc diesel or electric engines. It is truly a microvan being a metre shorter and narrower than the Extol and is constructed from rust-free materials - basically a plastic body over an aluminium frame. If anything the Mega van is something of an oddity for the UK market, which doesn't have the heritage of microvans that the French market does, for example."