The history of vans - when were they first introduced?

Many people will agree that commercial vans are the lifeblood of the UK economy. Just think about it: vans keep society ticking along by transporting all sorts of goods from A to B, and by providing a means of transport to the hundreds of thousands of people who need the space and practicality of a van to do their jobs – think builders, caterers, removal firms and more.
If you use a van as part of your business, then you’ll understand just how important that van is to be able to do your job – it’s your livelihood! And anything this valuable to your business needs to be protected with van insurance tailored to your unique requirements.
Here at the Insurance Factory, we take pride in arranging competitively-priced van insurance policies and can cover trades and uses of couriers, scrap dealers, convicted drivers and more.

Even if you make a living transporting fragile and/or hazardous goods, we can arrange a policy to cover the potential risks of your business.


Van traffic reaches a record high

Van traffic in the UK reached a record high in 2018, government data shows. It grew by 0.9% from 2017 to reach a whopping 51 billion vehicle miles – that’s the fastest growth in percentage terms of any vehicle type.
The rapid rise in van traffic over the past 25 years means that vans now account for around 16% of total traffic on UK roads. This compares to just 10% back in 1993.
The report suggests that there are a number of factors behind the rapid growth in van traffic. These include the huge rise in internet shopping and home deliveries; changes in company car tax rules in the early-to-mid 2000s, which may have made vans a cheaper alternative than cars; and less strict regulation on driver training, drivers’ hours and roadworthiness testing for vans compared with lorries.
So, just where did the history of the van begin? And why are vans called ‘vans’? Let’s take a look…


The origin of the world ‘van’

Van is actually a shortening of ‘caravan,’ with the word introduced in the early 19th century to define a ‘covered truck or wagon’. 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.
Wikipedia explains that the earliest reported record of a van as a vehicle for transporting goods was in 1829, though a ‘caravan’ with the same meaning actually has records stretching back to the 1670s.

A covered wagon under a tree in Autumn

1896: a milestone in the history of the van

As a Mercedes-Benz blog posts writes, it was in 1896 that two pioneers began an important chapter in the history of motorised transport. This was the year that the world’s first motorised truck – created by Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft – was delivered to a customer in London.
That vehicle featured a two-cylinder Phoenix engine that delivered a top speed of 7mph, and had a payload capacity of 1,500kg. There is a debate as to whether the vehicle was a truck or van, but by today’s standards that would be a van’s payload capacity.
During the same year, Karl Benz created a vehicle similar to a van, built on a chassis of a Benz motorised carriage. It was used to supply goods to a department store in Paris.
It was not really until the 1950s and 60s when big-name manufacturers started to design, develop and release models we know today – many of which are still in production.
The Volkswagen Type 2 (T1) that launched in 1950, for instance, was the first generation of VW’s Transporter van family. The Transporter is still in production today, and is now on its T6 iteration.
Meanwhile, the first Ford to wear the popular ‘Transit’ badge was a van built in the manufacturer’s Cologne plant in 1953. Yet, this van wasn’t widely exported, and the ‘Mark 1’ tag has widely been applied to the British Ford Transit van, produced between 1965 and 1978.


What are the most popular vans today?

There are, of course, many van manufacturers these days, from VW and Ford to Mercedes-Benz, Mitsubishi, Toyota and Peugeot. But which are the best-selling models to date?
As an AutoTrader article points out, most vans on the best-sellers list will be very familiar to UK buyers because Europe is in fact the world’s largest van market. Plus, manufacturers tend to keep the same name for models for a number of generations.
The article goes on to list the best-selling van models of all time – here they are:
  1. Volkswagen Transporter (1950 – present) – 12.4 million
  2. Ford Transit (1965 – present) – 8.4 million
  3. Ford E-Series (1960 – present) – 8.3 million
  4. Toyota Hiace (1967 – present) – 6.7 million
  5. Volkswagen LT (1975 – 2006) – 5.4 million
  6. Renault Trafic (1980 – present) – 3.5 million
  7. Renault Kangoo (1997 – present) – 3.3 million
  8. Citroen Berlingo (1996 – present) – 3.2 million
  9. Mercedes-Benz Sprinter (1995 – present) – 3.1 million
  10. Fiat Ducato (1981 – present) – 3 million

Van insurance from the Insurance Factory

If your van insurance is due for renewal or you are just setting up a business requiring the use of a van, let the Insurance Factory set you up with a policy that suits your needs and budget.
 Policies come with a range of benefits as standard, but you can also tailor cover by adding extras for a fee. Optional extra products include:
  • Guaranteed 14-day van replacement
  • Instant cover available
  • Excess protection
  • Breakdown and tool cover
  • 14-day, like-for-like van hire
  • Key care cover
  • Gadget cover
We’ve got years of experience helping van drivers to protect their business with van insurance. Whatever your business, we will work to find the right level of cover to suit your unique needs – for the right price.
 Get a free, no-obligation quote today!