Vans come in a vast range of shapes, sizes, and styles. The concept of a van is different in various parts of the world, which has resulted in some weird-looking vans! This makes vans an interesting sector of the automobile world, and we will explore some of the vans and their intended purpose.
Vans are known by various names in different parts of the world, from MPVs to minivans and microvans. The design of each type varies depending on the intended purpose of the van, which leads to vast differences in the visual aspect of the vehicles. These vehicles can be people or cargo carriers.
Vans are often considered the ugly ducklings of the automotive world, but they play an important role in many societies, and many industries have developed around these vehicles. From carrying goods to ferrying people, these vehicles have carved out a niche for themselves in our cities.
Multi-Purpose Vehicle Or MPV
Multi-purpose vehicle is the all-encompassing term that is used for vans. It is a broad term that aptly describes the many different roles that vans perform in our cities.
MPVs can vary in size from a small truck to smaller than a standard car, showing the variety of design and purpose for these vehicles.
In many countries, particularly the USA, MPV is a designation for a people carrier, and the class contains three different sizes, of which the MPV is the largest. The other class sizes are a mini MPV and a compact MPV.
An example of an MPV is the Chrysler Pacifica, which is considered a luxury MPV. It comes as a gasoline-powered model or a hybrid model.
The compact MPV is the middle-class size in the MPV vehicle class range of people carriers. The compact MPV is more common in European countries than in the USA. The Ford C-Max is the only car in this class widely distributed in the USA.
The seating configuration for compact MPVs has resulted in these vehicles often being referred to as 6-seaters. In the front row, there are two passenger seats alongside the driver seat and seating for 3 people in the back row.
Some compact MPVs have a third row of seats, but the space is limited and generally only suitable as seating for small children.
The mini MPV is a designation most commonly used for smaller MPVs that are used primarily as people carriers rather than cargo transporters.
Mini MPVs are the smallest class of people carriers in the MPV, compact MPV, and mini MPV classes. They are sometimes called tall hatchbacks due to these vehicles looking like large versions of the hatchback.
These vehicles come in 2 seat row configurations such as the Citroen C3 Picasso or 3 seat row configurations such as the Toyota Avanza.
Some mini MPVs feature sliding doors for the passenger compartment, while others use standard car doors.
Minivan is a term most commonly used in the USA in reference to the larger people carrier vehicles in the MPV class.
Sometimes, the term minivan is used to describe the entire MPV classes of people carriers, but the word is normally prefixed with a size specifier, such as a compact minivan or a small minivan.
When minivan is used as a standalone term, it is usually in reference to the largest class of MPV. In the USA, the term minivan is often associated with the social designation of the soccer-mom, who needs a suitable people carrier to transport children for sporting activities.
The minibus van is an adaptation of a van into a configuration of a small bus. They are intended as people carriers, with some models capable of transporting up to 16 people.
The design of these vehicles stems from the iconic VW Kombi, which was German manufacturer Volkswagens original van that sparked this concept.
Since then, many Eastern vehicles manufacturers such as Toyota, Isuzu, and Nissan have all produced vehicles with this configuration for the minibus market.
In many countries throughout Africa and Asia, these vehicles are used as taxis and are known as minibus taxis in this role.
The minibus van is also a common vehicle for companies to use as a staff bus or collecting guests from the airport. Tourism companies often use these minibus vans as touring vehicles since the large windows offer ample viewing opportunities for tourists.
The Toyota HiAce and Quantum series are popular models in this market, as are the Nissan E-series vehicles.
The minibus van is not a popular vehicle in Europe or the USA, although some of these vehicles have found their way to these locations.
The microvan is a tiny version of the minibus vans and is probably one of the cutest vehicles around if you can use the word cute to describe a car. They are the “little puppy” version of the minibus van, with little going for them in the visual appeal department.
The Daihatsu Hijet Cargo Cruise S331V is an example of the microvan from Japan. The Wuling Sunshine is a popular Chinese model that can seat between 5 and 8 people. The Wuling Sunshine is the best-selling microvan worldwide due to its popularity in China.
Most microvans have two standard doors at the front of the vehicle and a sliding door on each side of the vehicle for passengers to board or disembark from the van.
Many of these smaller people carriers were created in an attempt to reduce taxes imposed on larger vehicles and gain insurance benefits, yet still, transport more people than a standard car.
These vehicles’ square, boxy shape has resulted in them being known colloquially in China as “mian bao che,” which means bread-loaf van. This aptly describes the shape of the microvans, which makes them resemble a loaf of bread.
These vehicles have not been exported to many other parts of the world, such as Europe or the USA, because their compact design does not allow for all the safety features required by these regions.
Some of these types of vehicles were imported to the USA before the safety regulations became strict, but the insurance industry governing body in the USA has restricted the vehicle use to private land and not for use on public roads due to the poor safety standards.
The panel van is a fully enclosed, lightweight cargo carrier vehicle. These vehicles were designed to be small enough to negotiate narrow city streets where larger vehicles would have difficulty but yet still carry a large amount of cargo.
Panel vans are not a new concept but hail back to the Ford Model “A” Sedan Delivery vehicle produced in 1931. Many car manufacturers brought out panel van versions of their sedan vehicles to capitalize on this emerging need in society.
Some manufacturers, such as Chevrolet, converted station wagon models into panel vans by simply removing the rear seats and blocking out the rear side windows, such as with the Vega Panel Express, produced in 1971.
Since these early panel vans, vehicle manufacturers have produced vehicles designed specifically as cargo carriers, with large internal cargo space, sliding side doors, and double opening rear doors to accommodate this market.
Many of these new panel vans bear no resemblance to the people carrying vehicles by these manufacturers, as the designs have been changed to focus on cargo. Many courier companies favor these types of vehicles as a means to deliver small packages to customers.
It has become a popular trend among outdoor people to convert panel vans into camping vehicles by modifying the cargo bay of these vehicles to accommodate a sleeping area and slide-out drawers which house camping gear.
Panel vans are cheaper to purchase, and the cargo area is a blank canvas that can be redesigned and kitted out in whatever configuration that suits a camper’s needs. The Ford Transit panel van is a popular model to use for this conversion because of its large cargo bay.
A box van is described as a vehicle with a cab that is separate from the cargo area but sometimes with a door between the cab and cargo bay. It more closely resembles a small cargo truck rather than a panel van.
A box van can almost be considered to be a crossover vehicle between a panel van and a small truck, and box vans are often built on the chassis of panel vans such as the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter panel van or the Ford Transit panel van chassis.
Box vans often incorporate the Luton body design, where the enclosed cargo area extends over the roof of the cab.
Box van cargo bays often have two access points, a single side door or double doors at the rear of the cargo area.
Box vans are still small enough to traverse city traffic and narrow city streets, which larger trucks would be unable to negotiate. This capability makes box vans popular as small moving vans for when people move apartments and need to relocate their household goods.
The step van is an iconic van-type unique to the USA. The US Postal Service and other courier delivery services such as FedEx favored using these vans for their local deliveries.
A step van is a walk-in van, which does not have separate doors for the vehicle’s cab. There is a door on the side of the vehicle, slightly behind the cab. When this door is opened, there is a step to step up into the vehicle, and you walk into the vehicle as opposed to sliding up into a seat.
It is this step to gain access to or exit the vehicle where the name step van originates. The method of entering, which is walking into the van, is where the alternate name walk-in van originates.
The cargo area can be accessed through the same door, although some of these vehicles also have rear double doors for larger packages to be loaded onto or off the vehicle.
Step vans are rarely used as people carriers and are used almost exclusively for post and small package delivery services. These vans are also seldom seen outside of the USA.
The full-size van is a term used in the USA to describe a large, square-shaped vehicle that could be a cargo van or a people carrier. A full-size van is similar in its boxy shape to a VW Kombi bus, but it is wider and longer.
The Dodge Ram van is a prime example of a full-size fan that was produced by Chrysler between 1970 and 2003. The Dodge Ram van started with the “B” series and then progressed to the Street Van version and the final third generation vans produced in 2003.
Full-size cargo vans often had a double-wheel axle in the rear of the vehicle to accommodate heavier loads. The cargo area in these vans is open to the cab and often accessible from the cab.
The cab has two standard doors for the driver and a passenger, while the cargo bay could be accessed from a side sliding door or double opening rear doors.
Full-size cargo carrier vans are popular among tradesmen such as plumbers, electricians, and carpenters due to the significant carrying capacity for tools and supplies necessary for their work.
The people carrier full-size van usually does not have the double wheel rear axle and has seating available for between 8 and 15 people. These vehicles are often refitted and converted into camping vehicles.
Vans are an interesting automobile class because of the diversity within the grouping. They can vary from luxury people carriers that have all the latest mod cons to cut down bare-bones cargo vehicles.
The sizes of these vehicles also vary greatly, from the interesting microvans from the east to the full-size vans in the west.
In some parts of the world, vans have revolutionized entire industries, such as the taxi industry in Africa, which consists almost entirely of minibus-type vans.
Whichever way you look at it, from people carriers to cargo, the van is here to stay, and we can appreciate the versatility that these vehicles have brought to our motoring world.