From humble beginnings, the van is reputed for its practical and functional purposes, delivering goods and services throughout the country. Keeping society ticking on by providing a means of transport to the hundreds of thousands of people who need the space and versatility of a van to do their job – think delivery drivers, builders, removal firms. Even retail and restaurant businesses have taken to the van to offer a ‘to your door service’ to keep business rolling (pun intended!) during the coronavirus pandemic. The vans contribution to everyday life and the economic activity of this country should be celebrated.

The origin of the van

Van is actually a shortening of ‘caravan’, with the word introduced in the early 19th century to define a covered wagon for transporting goods. The Century Dictionary suggests that caravan in this sense was perhaps regarded as a ‘carry van’ – in that it carried and transported cargo, much like the modern-day van.

The early days

It is the world-renowned Volkswagen Transporter that established the template for many vans of the future and is celebrating its 70th birthday in 2020. It was developed in Germany and following production in 1950, more than 13 million examples have been built, nabbing it the top spot on the list of best-selling vans of all time. This van was built with a rear-mounted and air-cooled four-cylinder engine and was also known as the “micro-bus”. Inspired by the Volkswagen Transporter, many other car manufacturers attempted to create their own versions in order to get a piece of the success, such as the Corvair Greenbrier.

Since then, design of the van began to evolve, from the air-cooled rear-mounted engine design of the Corvair van to the flat-nosed Ford Falcon with the engine mounted behind the front seats. Around this time, Ford released the standard or full-sized van, which had the engine in the front under a short hood and has since risen to become one of the most iconic vehicles in the UK.

Evolution of the van

These vans became popular with both the general public and commercial enterprises to serve a number of purposes, including transportation of cargo and passengers. Car manufacturers began making vans with sliding doors and cutaway vans that were intended to be used as campers, ambulances, box vans and other vehicles.

Nowadays, motorists navigating our increasingly congested towns and cities cannot have failed to notice the ever-rising tide of vans. The average suburban street between the hours of 8 am and 4 pm is lined with tradesmen’s vans. This is not surprising since the number of light commercial vehicles on our roads is now 4.6 million, a figure that has risen by nearly 60% since 2000, double the rate of growth of cars. Other factors include the huge rise in internet shopping and home deliveries, as well as a rise in the number of self-employed people from 3.3 million in 2001 to 4.8 million in 2018.

The modern van

Since becoming an essential tool of traders everywhere, vans have evolved a great deal from its early origins to become a sleeker, more modern and efficient design. There are, of course, many van manufacturers these days, from VW and Ford to Mercedes-Benz, Mitsubishi, Toyota and Peugeot. New vans now offer all of the modern developments, including power steering, fuel-efficient technology, lane departure warning and autonomous emergency braking systems, all of which help to improve the vehicles already strong safety record. With the vital role that vans play delivering for society and the economy, manufacturers are also investing heavily to bring an exciting range of ultra-low and zero-emission vans to market. The van has come a long way from its boxy and primitive origins to become a powerful, functional and versatile vehicle.

If you’re lucky enough to own one of these powerhouse vehicles either for business or recreation and you want to keep it looking spick and span, then AutoPrep does paintwork repairs, alloy wheel refurbishment, bumper repairs and more to keep your van looking its best.

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