The van market is on the up, driven by home delivery from supermarkets and internet shopping.

The prediction came as hundreds of businesses from across the UK are gathering at Birmingham's NEC today for the start of the 2006 Commercial Vehicle Show.

Robin Dickeson, manager of commercial vehicle affairs for the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, said the size of this year's show was an indicator of the strength of the industry.

He said: "In 2000 the Government published a study of road transport demand and predicted a 28 per cent growth over ten years. Everything we have seen suggests that prediction will be pretty accurate.

"Registration of commercial vehicles has been very strong. Heavy vans are running at record levels already and the need to consolidate for larger vehicles has also boosted the sector. The enormous growth in home delivery from super-markets and internet shopping will help the industry to continue to thrive. There has been a substantial growth in small business and almost all of them use vans somewhere along the line.

"Margins are still very, very tight, but the new sophisticated financial engineering employed by the bigger companies is filtering down through the industry. A few years ago the market was up and down like a yo-yo, but now it is stable and it is stable at a higher level because there is a lot of demand out there."

The show is Britain's largest road transport event and this year it will host 660 exhibitors. Last year's event attracted 27,000 visitors and organisers are hoping to top that, with 60 new exhibitors added to the line-up.

The event will feature a series of world launches from the biggest players in the commercial vehicle industry.

A spokesman said: "This year we will have six world firsts for very important new vehicles and a terrific range of other new products and services."

With the UK now running 3.3 million commercial vehicles under 3.5 tonnes the show is an opportunity for companies including Birmingham-based LDV. They are using the show to promote the new Maxus range developed as part of a £500 million investment.

It is not only commercial vehicles on display at the NEC. Bridgestone are showcasing a new range of Truck Point retread tyres, which incorporate the Firestone technology used on the Ferrari F1. In a treat for visitors the exhibit includes this season's F1 Ferrari car.

Motor sport fans can also see the Renault F1 car, in which Fernando Alonso won the 2005 World Championship, on the Renault stand.

The event has attracted companies at the cutting edge in technology and visitors will notice plenty of exhibits encouraging fleets to "go green". With EU directives on emissions and the influx of electrical vehicle technologies many larger companies are looking to incorporate these advances in their more traditional models.

Smith Electrical Vehicles launch their two next generation models Faraday and Edison at the show. Faraday is the larger and can carry a payload of up to four tonnes and reach speeds of 50 miles per hour.

The Mercedes-Benz Sprinter Van is given its world launch and seeks to improve on its predecessor's environmental record. With worldwide sales of 1.4 million since it was launched in 1995 the Sprinter has been a major success story for Mercedes. It already complies with EU emissions legislation due to be introduced in October and contains a new Adaptive Electronic Stability Programme to improve safety.

Mercedes spokesman Ian Norwell said: "The two things that are very difficult to sell are environmental features and safety measures. The margins for fleets are very tight so we are trying to offer these features as standard."

The event runs in conjunction with the Automotive Trade Show, which gives component makers a chance to exhibit their innovations. Telford-based Qi Van Systems is at the forefront and showcases a range of products from racking systems to onboard wash basins.

The show begins today and runs to Thursday. Doors open at 8.30am and close at 5.30pm.