26 May 2022

Linkedin

As we celebrate the Queen’s 70 years on the throne, we look at how company cars and vans have changed in the seven decades of the new Elizabethan age.

1950s

Morris Minor majors

The ‘Poached Egg’, as it was unkindly dubbed in development, soon became the legendary ‘Moggy’ when it went on sale. Built from the late ‘40s right up until 1971, it was in the 1950s where it became the VW Beetle for Britons. Nearly 1.4 million of them were sold in the end.

And a van, too…

Not so much choice in the 50s when it came to commercial vehicles and the converted Morris was the most popular van and pickup in the UK too. Also badged as an Austin 6cwt. The workhorse of the GPO, early versions had rubber wings to prevent dents.

1960s

The Mini dominates

There really is only one car for the 60s: the Mini. A 41-year production run and more than 5.5 million sold, this ingenious little car spawned every variant possible, from estate and cabriolets to rally and championship winning racers, and was popular with everyone from learners to rock stars.

Bedford slides in

Arguably Britain’s first-ever purpose-built light commercial vehicle, the Bedford CA’s sliding door design was popular with delivery drivers and roundsmen. From milk floats to Dormobile camper vans, the CA could be converted into anything a business needed for their fleet.

1970s

Ford Cortina is King

By some distance the most popular car of the 1970s, the Cortina was the king of the company car park. The American-influenced 1970 Mark 3 brought some glamour to British roads, and it was updated in 1976 with a blockier look. Its competition came from the Escort and then the unloved Morris Marina, Austin Allegro and Vauxhall Viva.

Transit takes over

Although launching in the mid-60s, it was in the 1970s that the Transit came of age as the ubiquitous van. The first version stayed in production for 12 years, with a heavy facelift in 1978 taking it through to 1986 – a remarkable run. Key to its success was its broad track which gave it extra payload capacity, and a huge variety of body styles.

1980s

Escorts and Golfs

While the bigger Cortina took the number one spot a decade earlier, the Escort took over as the top car in the 1980s with the Mark 3 version. As well as being economical to run, as the decade wore on there were sporty versions such as the XR3i and RS1600i to keep buyers coming back – and to fight against increasingly glamorous competition from abroad, principally in the form of the Volkswagen Golf, and its iconic GTi.

Smaller, cheaper vans

Vans from European makers started to appear in numbers in the ‘80s such as the Citroen C15. It was the cheapest commercial vehicle on the market with a 60bhp diesel engine that was long-lasting and economical, illustrating that companies wanted small vans for lightweight jobs.

1990s

Vauxhall v Ford

The Mondeo replaced the Sierra in 1993 and became synonymous with middle managers through Tony Blair’s ‘Mondeo Man’ tag. But as company cars boomed because of advantageous tax rates, it had major competition from Vauxhall, firstly with the Cavalier and then the Vectra from 1995.

German vans take a leap forward

In the 1990s German vans came to the UK in force, with models such as the Volkswagen T4 at the vanguard. With its front-wheel drive layout, powerful diesel engines and improved crash protection, the T4 drove much more like a car than previous commercial vehicles.

2000s

BMW and the premium brands

While the Ford Focus was the best selling car of the 2000s, the success of the BMW 3 Series showed that British drivers were moving into German premium brand cars in ever greater numbers. An incredible 65,000 were sold in 2002 alone, while it was the decade that saw Audi make considerable strides. The car sector was changing…

Vivaro means more van choice

The 2001 Vauxhall Vivaro changed the way medium-sized vans were sold. Previously, companies mainly had a choice between the cheaper Ford and more expensive Volkswagen or Mercedes. The Vivaro, and its sister vans, the Renault Trafic and Nissan Primastar, offered far more mainstream choice.

2010s

A change of order

The car market of the last decade has changed beyond recognition. Big saloons and hatchbacks barely feature on top selling lists, as crossovers such as the Kia Sportage, Ford Kuga and Nissan Qashqai replaced them, and SUVs took over at the premium end. And then, of course, there are the electric cars and hybrids. The Nissan LEAF and Toyota Prius were pioneers but by the end of the decade EVs from new brands such as Tesla and Polestar were growing in popularity while established brands raced to catch up.

Transit still top, but EVs are coming

While the Transit was still the most popular van by a distance, the introduction of the Nissan e-NV200 in 2014 promised a new future for light commercial vehicles. Expensive and limited in range, it nevertheless proved a very capable electric van and Renault’s Master and Kangoo soon followed, while brands such as LEVC were joining established players in offering electric.

What next?

According to Back to the Future II, by now we should all be in flying cars powered by nuclear reactors. It hasn’t quite happened, but certainly the next 70 years will likely see hydrogen and electric take over, and while we might not be flying to work, many of the journeys will be undertaken by autonomous vehicles.

But when exactly this will happen, no-one is quite sure, as our article here discusses.

Share this article
Linkedin