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Dual-purpose LCVs death knell for MPVs

Date: 24 January 2019   |   Author: Simon Harris

As Vauxhall unveils a new MPV, and a major boost for UK production, Simon Harris reveals doubt over the future of the Zafira and cars like it.

Vauxhall's MPV line-up is undergoing a major revamp, with new models developed under Groupe PSA.

The new Vivaro Life, derived from the next-generation Vivaro van to be built at the company's Luton plant this year, follows the arrival of the new Combo Life in autumn 2018.

The French giant took control of Opel and Vauxhall from General Motors in 2017, ramping up the number of new models with replacements for vehicles shared with other partners.

The previous Combo van was based on the Fiat Doblo Cargo, while the Vivaro was part of a long-term partnership with PSA rival Renault.

The Combo is now based on the Citroën Berlingo and Peugeot Partner, while the Vivaro van will be the same vehicle as the Peugeot Expert, Citroën Dispatch and Toyota Proace.

While the previous Vivaro was also produced in passenger versions with up to nine seats, the Vivaro Life and the Combo Life signal a shift towards marketing the lifestyle aspects of these vehicles, and bring closer the demise of MPVs that have a bespoke body style, such as the Zafira.

Like the smaller Combo Life, the Vauxhall Vivaro Life is based on Groupe PSA's EMP2 platform. But this isn't specifically a van platform - it also includes cars such as the new Peugeot 508, 308, and the 3008 and 5008 SUVs, as well as the Citroën C5 Aircross and DS7 Crossback.

This means the LCVs and MPVs using it are more sophisticated than the van-derived models of the past.

The Vivaro Life will be built at the company's Luton manufacturing plant, helping to secure 1,250 jobs. Investment in the new vehicle will help increase the plant's production capacity to 100,000 units a year, and Vauxhall will offer a purely electric version in early 2021.

By the end of 2020, the company will bring to market a total of eight new or refreshed models, including the next-generation Corsa. Vauxhall begins taking orders for the all-electric Corsa, and a new Grandland X plug-in hybrid, in the first half of 2019.

What happened to the MPV market?

Zafira Tourer

The Vauxhall Zafira was launched in 1999, and although Renault had pioneered the MPV based on a lower-medium car in the shape of the Scenic in 1996 (then called the Mégane Scenic, demonstrating that it was part of the Mégane family), the Zafira revolutionised the market with its seven-seat layout.

Now in its third generation, it is almost certain that the Zafira will not be replaced at the end of the current model's lifecycle.

Ford recently announced plans to discontinue the C-Max and Grand C-Max lines as part of a restructuring programme in Europe, and Peugeot replaced the 3008 and 5008 MPVs with new SUVs occupying the nameplates. Meanwhile, Citroën is keeping tight-lipped about the future of the C4 Space Tourer at the end of the current model's lifecycle.

And the MPV market in Europe is declining. Figures for 2018 were due to be released as we went to press, but will follow a 3% decline for the sector in 2016 and a 15% decline in 2017.

In the 1990s, MPVs lured many drivers away from traditional saloons and hatchbacks at a time when SUVs were usually off-roaders, thirsty and unrefined. MPVs were more unusual and very practical, and were often a safer bet for fleets, with stronger residual values comfortably offsetting slightly higher fuel costs compared with family hatchbacks.

A generation of road-biased SUVs began to supplant MPVs a decade later, as well as increase pressure on traditional saloons and hatchback sales, and consumers looked to those more rugged designs for innovation in terms of space and practicality.

The market is realigning, and as most LCV manufacturers are car manufacturers, they are already producing panel vans, with ready demand for passenger versions.

As manufacturers seek to minimise costs, they will withdraw unique body shapes for MPVs, and instead rely on those derived from LCVs to ensure customers who really need the seats and space are catered for.