We’ve all seen them – flashy drawings of fabulous looking cars with smooth or even radical lines, massive wheels and superb paint jobs. Prompting a call to a dealer to ask when the car can be seen in the metal, the prospective customer has his or her hopes dashed when told that the drawing is a ‘concept’ and unlikely to see production for a while, if ever.
Sometimes, these ideas eventually see the light of day as a new model of car but often having been substantially revised and toned down for practical, legal or cost reasons and no longer have quite the same impact. The original concept perhaps having been primarily a marketing exercise to gain publicity, but also a tool to gauge public and media feedback.
Being generally considered not as sexy as a car, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the humble van would be overlooked by manufacturers when it comes to creating these more outrageous, eye-catching concepts. That’s not the case though. Let’s take a look at 5 that have appeared over the years, and check out whether they’ll actually ever go on sale...
Revealed back in 2016 as a computer-generated image, but shown in the metal at an event the following year, Mercedes-Benz claimed that the Vision was a concept van for last-mile drops in an urban environment. Purely battery-electric, the van features joystick control and even has roof-mounted drones for autonomous deliveries. The rear door lifts and driverless vehicles load shelves into the van in a ‘one shot’ loading operation.
There’s no doubt that this concept is purely one to explore future mobility concepts and we’re unlikely to see anything similar entering production anytime soon, if at all. There are some great ideas contained within the aptly named Vision van though and it’s very likely that some of these will find their way into future production vehicles.
Volkswagen ID Buzz
First shown in 2017, the all-electric Volkswagen ID Buzz concept demonstrated a firm commitment by the manufacturer to combine its heritage with the latest, and even future technology. Clearly resembling the iconic '60s microbus, the concept vehicle was fully autonomous and its 2 electric motors with a combined output equivalent to a massive 368bhp could still achieve a range of 270 miles between charges.
The ID Buzz is now close to reality and will be available in a camper van and cargo guises in 2022. As often happens, some images which have been circulated on the internet appearing to show the vehicle being tested suggest that the dramatic, futuristic but also retro design in the concept have been toned down substantially for the production vehicle. Although not as yet autonomous, rumours suggest that 2026 will see this technology being made available.
Back in 2014, Iveco announced its concept urban delivery vehicle, the Vision (where have we seen that name before?). Although initially shown in image form, a van was displayed at the 2015 Commercial Vehicle Show in Birmingham. The vehicle was intended to be powered by a hybrid ‘Dual Energy’ system for pure electric use in urban environments, but with the diesel engine allowing for extended range operation. Plastic body panels saved weight and a transparent roof allowed light into the cargo area. The Vision was never intended for production but still looks fresh almost 8 years on – given that the Daily van looks a little long in the tooth now, the Italian manufacturer might well benefit from some design cues offered by this smart little concept.
We quite like this – 2014 saw the Japanese manufacturer announce the U2 concept aimed at the US market, in fact, the design came out of their California-based studios. With a side profile that looks just a little like the Nissan Juke, the U2 was designed to capture the imagination of those embracing the ‘Revival of DIY in American Cities’. Rollback roof panels and a drop-down boot lid (like a pick-up) would make it handy indeed for those trips to Ikea, where even a conventional small van sometimes just isn’t quite up to the job.
Sadly never destined for production Toyota were pretty candid at the outset, stating that the U2 ‘gives people a window onto the constant innovation that is happening inside Toyota and our studios, and a possible future vision for urban mobility.’ Ah well...
In 2020 Porsche unveiled some design studies from the period 2005 to 2019, all of which had previously been top secret. Amongst these was the Renndienst, a small city van which would also be capable of seating 6 people. With a central driving position (think the McLaren F1 sports car) and an electric drivetrain, the German manufacturer said that ‘passengers can enjoy an unexpectedly generous space and travel experience combined with Porsche-like flair’. It’s a shame there are no plans to put the Renndienst into production but, we think it might just have been a bit too pricey for most...
So, not only are van concepts few and far between, it seems that the majority are purely design exercises and there’s little intention of them ever going on sale. So, why do manufacturers invest time and money creating them? We reckon they’re pushing the boundaries, going further than they would otherwise dare. Not only creating a stir and attracting attention, but the ‘vehicles’ test out the public reaction and the van makers can also gauge how far they might be able to go in reality with the next generation of their vans.
The vehicles can also be a showcase for tech that is currently in development so that the industry and van buyers will eagerly anticipate the introduction of new ‘bells and whistles’ on future new launches.