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Market converted

There are very few fleets that simply take a standard van from a dealer without some form of conversion or tailoring of the vehicle to meet the needs of their operation. Indeed it’s probably fair to say that there isn’t such a thing as a standard van, given that manufacturers offer literally thousands of engine, body, weight, roof height and load volume combinations for their larger LCVs.

That’s just panel vans too, where around 50% have some form of additional work, from a tow bar or roof rack to more complex conversions. Opt for a chassis cab, with a stand alone body and the choices can be baffling.

Get it right and you have a vehicle that is dedicated to your individual operation, making it easier for drivers and operatives to work and providing the most cost-effective transport solution. Get it wrong and you may end up with a compromised vehicle, that doesn’t properly suit any of the tasks that you need it to complete.

The implementation last year of European Community Whole Vehicle Type Approval (ECWVTA), also known as EC Directive 2007/46/EC, should in some ways have made things easier for fleet buyers. However, with more than 380 pages, 21 Annexes and 14 amending regulations, it covered a wide range of vehicles and called upon bodybuilders to comply with up to 60 different directives. Red tape and testing stations that had little understanding of the legislation, made life increasingly difficult for converters.

Yet by ensuring that bodybuilders comply with the directive, ECWVTA should provide peace of mind for fleet managers, ensuring that all conversions meet minimum safety and legislative standards.

Off the shelf

Certainly the legislation has pushed more buyers towards ready-bodied conversions, available through manufacturer certified schemes such as Citroën’s Ready To Run and Volkswagen’s Engineered To Go programmes. Guaranteed conformity and a single-point warranty are understandably attractive to many fleet managers.

‘Things have certainly changed, with many big corporate fleets insisting that all their vehicles meet ECWVTA,’ says Dave Petts, Ford’s UK Transit product manager.

‘Our One Stop Shop range has become more popular, but we’re also being asked to broaden the range of manufacturer-approved products, as fleets like the backing of manufacturer liability.’

The latest addition to Ford’s One Stop Shop line is a Luton body, supplied by Ingimex. Unbelievably this is Ford’s first manufacturer-backed Luton conversion for Transit and its expected to prove a popular option, particularly with rental fleets.

Citroën is taking this a step further, investing more than £2.3 million to build up its specialist-bodied LCV stock, to reduce lead times for SME fleet customers. The firm is building 100 vehicles, based on the new Relay chassis, to boost stock across its Citroën Business Centre network.

‘To maintain the momentum of the successful new Relay launch, we are now putting increased emphasis on new Relay specialist models and Ready-To-Run conversions, which are increasingly in demand from our growing SME customer base,’ says Jeremy Smith, Citroën’s head of commercial vehicles and business sector operations.

‘Whether it’s a new Relay specialist model or a Ready-To-Run conversions, the same high quality converters are used in every case to provide the most efficient and productive ready-bodied vehicle to suit a wide variety of transport operations.’

The additional 100 vehicles will include 40 new Relay 35 L2 tippers with Tipmaster bodies, 30 Relay 35 L3 Ingimex-bodied dropsides and 30 Buckstone Luton-bodied Relays, based on the L3 chassis.

Volkswagen has also called upon Ingimex to supply a Luton body for its Crafter range and this 17m3 body can now be had as part of the firm’s Engineered To Go line. The Luton body uses GRP sides and bulkhead with a powder-coated bolted frame. The bodies are built to accept a tail-lift if required and come as standard with a four-tier load restraint system, a high strength shutter door and a rear step.

‘We have teamed up with one of the best conversion specialists to design our Luton Crafter,’ says Andrew Waite, head of sales for Volkswagen CV. ‘Our Engineered To Go range continues to provide a collection of conversions that offer an off-the-shelf solution for operators, regardless of their specific needs.’

Bodybuilders converted

Leading bodybuilders like Ingimex have taken the decision to achieve ECWVTA across many leading van brands.

However, Type Approval doesn’t just cover the base body conversion, also included are many popular options such as toolboxes, foot steps, grab rails and more complex modifications such as tail lifts. This allows customers to order the body and options that they require direct from Ingimex, rather than having to deal with a range of options fitted elsewhere post-registration.

‘Achieving European Whole Vehicle Type Approval means we can still provide our customers with our full range of vans, dropsides and tippers with no implications to price or delivery,’ says managing director Justin Gallen.

‘Being able to offer uniformity of supply to our customers is of great importance to Ingimex.’

Southampton body builder VFS is a major provider to Ford’s One Stop Shop scheme, as well as producing bodies and conversions for Vauxhall, Peugeot and most recently Fiat Professional. Both Ford and Fiat are offering the firm’s latest high-strength steel tipper body, that is said to save up to 100kg compared to the previous version.

‘Prior to WVTA 70% of the vehicles that we worked on were Fords but we’ve seen a large increase in Fiats and Vauxhalls,’ says sales and marketing manager Ashley Morris.

What has also been noticeable is the extent of the conversion work being carried out, with customers looking for a wider spread of options and body conversions as part of manufacturer and dealer-backed offers.

‘Over the last 12 month period there has been a large increase in the number of options requested by the dealers, such as cranes and tail lifts,’ says Mr Morris. ‘We are seeing a lot of requests for other options to be offered.’

While this might sound like additional complication for buyers and fleet managers, he says the company has in fact simplified the process, particularly for leasing companies.

‘For leasing companies such as Lex, we’ve built a matrix of options and pricing, that allows the leasing company to tell the dealer what they want from VFS, such as tail lifts and cage bodies. Our body warranties then match exactly what the manufacturer is offering,’ says Mr Morris.

Sitting comfortably

Type Approval doesn’t just effect complete body installations. Adding a second row of seats and windows, roof racks, towbars and even lighting changes have to meet the regulatory standards.

Clarks Vehicle Conversions specialises in welfare and crew-carrying vehicle conversions and the company has achieved National Small Series Whole Vehicle Type Approval across a number of base vehicles, offering six- and seven-seat conversions on Transit, Movano, Ducato and Sprinter.

‘Larger companies who have a zero harm policy, like Balfour Beatty and Network Rail, already had a policy about Type Approval,’ says commercial manager David Healy.

‘They are able to afford the additional outlay, but we do still see smaller companies who don’t see the value of the work. But Type Approval sets an industry benchmark.’

The latest addition to Clarks’ offering is a seven-seat welfare conversion for the new 2-tonne Transit, launched earlier this year. The company has been able to use composite materials to make the conversion up to 25% lighter than a traditional welfare cab with ply wood carcasses and table.

This constant search for weight reduction has also seen the company introduce a lightweight racking system from Italian firm Gentilli. Gentilli racking is fully crash-tested and customers can choose between traditional steel frame or a new light weight aluminium Infinity range, which can be up to 30% lighter.

Clarks also has a new wet-room finish that can be jet-washed or hosed down, making it easier for customers to clean the welfare area. As with all of the firm’s conversions, Clarks matches the warranty supplied by the vehicle manufacturer.

Fleet benefits

While ECWVTA has been causing sleepless nights for converters and body builders, Type Approval is making life easier for leasing companies, such as GE Capital Fleet Services. Indeed the company says that it can actually lead to savings for customers in terms of whole life costs.

‘ECWVTA means that better quality racking, lights, tow bars and other equipment is being fitted to greater numbers of new vans. Certainly, most of the fleets with which we work are spending more time and money in this area,’ says UK fleet LCV leader Simon Cook.

‘In most instances, these investments will largely pay off in the longer term, with the high quality of the equipment likely to see “second lives” in replacement vehicles. They could even be used three times in some instances.

‘For some fleets, we are even building the cost to transfer racking from one van to another into our standard lease arrangement, with the added benefit of minimising downtime at the point when they swap over to new vehicles.’

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