The car landscape has changed so much since the exit of the GM brand in South Africa. In the small bakkie space the Nissan NP200 leads the pack as the once popular Chevrolet Corsa Utility small bakkie is no more. What alternatives do businesses owners have in this space? None if they want a half-tonne bakkie but several if they consider panel van options.
In the previous week, I picked on a press release by one of the importers which made a case for their soon to be launched panel van. The argument was taken straight to the door of the small bakkies. What was absent from the release was what has filled the vacuum left by the demise of other half-tonne bakkies in South Africa. In a nutshell, some have moved on to entry level 1 ton bakkies (including affordable options offered by new players. Mahindra sold over 100 bakkies in December alone). Can panel vans ever touch the only remaining small bakkie and other relatively affordable bakkies? A small dent in bakkie numbers would be monumental for any panel van as bakkies make a huge chunk of South African car sales.
Business owners look at bakkies as a solution so much so that the largest car maker in the country only has one panel van option in their line-up. The other three large local manufacturers also only have no more than two panel van options in their line-ups. This is despite tons of single and double cab bakkie options for available. One of the local manufacturers that used to have a small bakkie in its fold has also has turned to its one ton single cab to fill the void and hasn’t considered a panel van replacement. So, in short, panel vans are up against it.
Interestingly when you travel in Europe and the USA, you find a lot of panel vans on duty although bakkies are well represented, especially in USA. What are the arguments advanced in favour of panel vans? Security is one of the biggest ones. Bakkies require canopies as it is unsafe for valuables to be left lying around in the back of bakkies. Consequently, this adds to the cost of bakkies. In addition, canopies usually do not form part of the alarm system of the car so they are not as safe as panel vans that are designed as part of the car.
Safety is another consideration. The canopy (usually made of fibre glass) is also an extra expense and is secured by only a few clips, which is the first element to rip apart in the event of an accident. Hinges and gas shocks often give problems or rip out, the load bay is not part of the air-conditioned space, often has to be sprayed (for the more discerning bakkie owner if the bakkie is not white), offers little headroom and has little to no second-hand value.
In contrast, panel vans are designed as versatile load-carriers, offering much more space as a result of lower load beds, keep your valuable cargo and equipment out of sight and enclosed in an alarmed and secure shell that is – an integral part of the vehicle’s body. The sides and back are also blocked out with metal sheeting, keeping your contents safe from the preying eyes of criminals.
There may be some safety comforts that are found in panel vans but not bakkies. These include features such as a full-height steel bulkhead to separate the cargo and passenger areas, Electronic Stability Control, Traction Control, Hill Start Assist and Emergency Brake Assist.
Talking about more space and practicality, the shape of the panel van means there is more load space than a bakkie and more branding and advertising space on the exterior. This is not a major point though as bakkie owners also some space to play around with, especially if the canopy does not have windows.
On practicality, the panel van’s lower load floor height can be a blessing for technicians who are accustomed to pulling tools, equipment, and cargo out of a pick-up bed. Think of the number of cycles these drivers go through – having to load and unload cargo between twenty and sixty times a day. The single or double side sliding doors can also assist with ease of accessing tools and cargo in the cargo space.
Well, all is not lost for bakkies. They are substantially cheaper than panel vans even if you factor in the canopy cost. The NP200 retails from R173,500 whereas its stable mate the NV200 Panel Van retails from R329,500. Yes, the NV200 is a much, much better offering but the NP200 presents a better entry point into the light commercial vehicle space. At the starting price of R208,500, the larger NP300 Hardbody is also priced substantially cheaper than the panel van option (canopy price factored in again). The NV200 is much safer and comfortable of course.
Safety and security is not all that bad in bakkies. Although they may lose the space and practicality battle compared to panel vans, canopies are relatively easy to secure and usually at affordable prices. Modern bakkies are also safe. The NP200 boasts two airbags, ABS and a collapsible steering column.
The argument between panel vans and bakkies is not an easy one. Bakkies will gain an upper hand in cost but panel vans seem to have the final say on security, safety and practicality. It is these factors that a would be owner would have to take into account when making a choice.
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