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AUCTIONS: Length and height matter

Date: 26 August 2008

Pick the wrong combination of wheelbase and roof height and you'll struggle with your LCV at auction

The choice in the van market is greater than it ever has been, with LCV makers now offering dozens of derivatives, many of which overlap in terms of load area volume.

Fifteen years ago there were just a handful of derivatives in many manufacturers' stables; today, they have up to four roof heights, four wheelbases and four payload lengths.

Duncan Ward, BCA's UK business development manager for CVs, gives several reasons for the explosion in choice. "This is largely as a result of fleets downsizing from 7.5-tonne trucks into more manoeuvrable and economical 'big' vans in the mid-1990s," he says. "This coincided with the birth of internet shopping and the increased delivery requirements that development heralded. Around that time, in 1995, the Mercedes Sprinter and Volkswagen LT models launched to take advantage of this demand. These new vans were launched with three wheelbases and two roof heights plus multiple engine choices.

"It was the birth of what we know today as the 3.0-metre wheelbase van, longer than what was previously known as 'long-wheelbase'.

"That set the standard and these days every manufacturer must offer engine, roof height and wheelbase options if they are to compete. This means there is plenty of choice for any business requiring a van, which translates into similar choice and opportunity for used buyers at auction."

Short story

Currently, short-wheelbase derivatives enjoy the strongest demand.

"For many used buyers a short-wheelbase van with a low or midi-roof can 'do a job' for most small businesses, so this is where most of the demand is concentrated," says Ward. "To all intents and purposes the one-tonne, short-wheelbase van is the core of the used light van market - it is the van the secondary market desires the most, over and above the more specialised medium- and long-wheelbase vans."

According to Alex Wright, sales director, commercial vehicles at Manheim Auctions, MWB vans are rarer, "yet interestingly have more limited demand over their SWB cousins". As for LWB examples, Wright says: "LWB buyers are currently spoilt for choice in the auction halls and can be very choosy on spec, mileage, colour and condition."

Looking at derivative combinations, Manheim reports LWB high-roof vans are very much the "norm" in today's marketplace. Manheim also states LWB medium-roof panel vans are currently in short supply so generate a keen interest when offered.

"By far the most populous [at auction] are the MWB and LWB vans with a high roof," says BCA's Ward, "and these tend to go into the courier and delivery businesses, often working 24/7 to earn their keep. The extra roof space increases capacity, making deliveries more economic."

However, LWB/low roof and SWB/high roof combinations can prove to be difficult sellers.

"LWB low-roof panel vans are very unpopular as roof height restricts future loading capability and flexibility," explains Wright. "Similarly, SWB high-roof derivatives are very rare, have limited appeal and will have had a specific first life usage where standing height/volume overtook the requirement for payload length."

"There is no real optimum combination of length and roof height for used buyers, although a long- or medium-wheel base with a low roof is seen as impractical for most purposes," adds Ward. "Likewise, a short-wheelbase with a high roof is an uncommon combination, and would appeal to a limited audience."

Meanwhile, Eddie Parker, head of LCVs at Masterlease, says his company would actively persuade clients to not select these types of vehicles. "As a leasing company, we would seek to encourage the customer at the quote stage to select a vehicle that is easier to re-market at the end of the contract," he says. "LWB derivatives need a high- or medium-roof option if they are to make a successful sale, and SWB vehicles require a low or medium roof in order to sell quickly."

Market conditions

Manheim says 65% of the panel vans sold at its auctions this year have fallen into the LWB category, with nine out of 10 being high roof. Next in volume terms are SWB panel vans where the norm is low or medium roof; only around 1% of those sold are high-roof derivatives. MWB panel vans only make up 5% of all volumes sold with the majority being medium roof.