IAA Voices: Interview with Jarlath Sweeney

Chairman, International Van of the Year (IVOTY) & International Pick-up Award Juries (IPUA). Image: Jarlath Sweeney

Chairman, International Van of the Year (IVOTY) & International Pick-up Award Juries (IPUA). Image: Jarlath Sweeney

Mr. Sweeney, you are not only Chairman of the jury that awards the annual "International Van of the Year" but also group editor of the trade magazine "Fleet Transport“. Where does your particular passion for vans come from?

Yes, my interest came from an early age as our family business operated trucks and vans and this continued on upon establishing a career as a commercial vehicle journalist. We have published Fleet Van & Utility magazine for twenty years now and also run a van and two pick-up trucks in our company. In 2009, the International Van of the Year jury created the International Pick-up award, which is presented every two years.

Without anticipating too much about the awards ceremony at the IAA TRANSPORTATION in Hannover, this September: What exciting trends are dominating the van industry this year?

This decade is proving to be very exciting and interesting in the van sector, with new drivetrain technologies dominating the news, with research and development ongoing. As well as electric powertrains, the emergence of hydrogen is happening fast, as a range extender allied to battery electric or through independent fuel cell systems. Then there is telematic systems being developed for vans, which along with geo-fencing programs, will benefit growing home-delivery services.

Were there any innovations in recent months that surprised you as a professional? What were they?

Indeed, the hydrogen technology coming into the van segment is most interesting. We have attended some presentations from the van brands to date and experienced first drives, which were impressive. Hydrogen is a clean, green propulsion solution for the future, that is getting nearer to the point of sale and operation. The requires infrastructure needs to installed in parallel however.

Please take us into the decision-making process of the IVOTY jury. What criteria play a role in your choice and when is an innovation a relevant innovation from the jury's point of view?

The main criterion for the nomination and the election of any van as International Van of the Year is its contribution to high standards of efficiency, safety, with respect to environment and the sustainability of the transport of light goods by road.

Regarding innovation, any break-through in technology is appreciated but any innovation has to lead to increased safety, efficiency and/or add for driver comfort. And eventually be made available to and from all brands and models in due course.

You have been a member of the IVOTY jury for over twenty years, for just under ten years as its chairman and you have already seen a large number of award winners during this time. Which winner has impressed you the most to date?

For me the biggest milestone was the election of the Renault Kangoo Z.E. as IVOTY 2012, the first all-electric van to win this prestigious award in the jury‘s 30 year history. It was not until 2021 that an all-electric van won the title again, on that occasion shared by the Group PSA small van models. Another stand-out award winner was the Ford Transit Hybrids, which was in 2020. We were participants in the development process, which was most interesting. Through the expert-led journalistic jury membership, we have lots of experience and knowledge that is objectively related to their readers in a most professional manner.