Rapidly changing business conditions are pushing an increasing number of fleets towards manufacturer-supplied conversions, says Dan Gilkes.
The UK has one of the most advanced conversion and body building sectors in Europe, with numerous companies offering opportunities to tailor a vehicle to meet a fleet’s individual needs. For many though, a standard product, with the full backing of a manufacturer’s dealer network and warranty, is an equally attractive proposition.
Indeed, the ability to buy a fully built conversion, direct from a manufacturer’s stock, with minimal time delays for build and maximum peace of mind, has become an increasingly popular option when it comes to tippers, dropsides, Luton and box vans. Almost every manufacturer now offers such a line-up.
As well as providing a single point of call for warranty and support work, a ready-built model provides a residual value for the whole van, rather than just being registered as a chassis cab without a body. That makes it easier to finance the complete vehicle in a single deal, including a tail-lift, racking, lighting or any other part of the finished conversion.
There are currently a few issues with some models, as emissions testing for WLTP works its way through the sector, but the majority of chassis manufacturers are still keen to maximise the opportunity that ready-built conversions offer.
Citroën has been a major force in the pre-bodied van market for some years, with its ‘Ready To Run’ range. Based on the Relay chassis, this includes L2 and L3 single cab dropsides and an L3 crew cab dropside model. There are also single cab tippers on the L2 chassis and a crew cab tipper on the L3 model.
The company offers two Luton models, on L3 and L4 chassis, offering 16m3 and 20m3 of load volume respectively. There is also a Low-floor Luton providing a 22m3 load volume. Completing the line-up are curtainside trucks on the L3 and L4 chassis, along with single cab box vans on the same choice of body lengths. All of the Ready To Run vehicles carry a three-year/100,000-mile warranty on the complete vehicle.
The biggest news for Ready To Run buyers is the availability of a new Euro 6.2- compliant 2.2-litre diesel engine, offering 140hp and 165hp ratings with Start & Stop. The new engine is said to deliver improved economy, lower emissions and higher performance. Plus models, which make up most of the Ready To Run range, now come with air conditioning, a heavy-duty battery and heavy-duty rear suspension on chassis cab models.
With a focus on heavier models, Isuzu Truck offers a range of bodies for its 3.5- and 7.5-tonne chassis vehicles (see page 18). There are a range of dropside and tipper bodies available, along with box and curtainside conversions. Isuzu Truck can also source a wide range of conversions and bespoke bodies for its trucks.
Iveco is another truck builder with plenty of connections in the converter and body builder market. However, the company also offers a range of Daily Driveaway bodied vehicles, including dropside platform trucks, single and three-way tippers, curtainside, box and Luton vans.
While there are plenty of competitors making 4.5- and even 5.0-tonne models available, alongside the more popular 3.5-tonne chassis cab, Iveco’s Daily range goes right up to a gross weight of 7.2-tonnes, in single and double crew cab. The company also offer a high-riding Daily 4×4, delivering enviable off-road performance for hardcore all-terrain users.
Fiat Professional currently offers a Ducato dropside with single or double cab. It also offers single and double cab versions of the Ducato tipper, which can be had as a one-way or a three-way tipping body. The vans come with Fiat’s Euro 6d-Temp 2.3-litre MultiJet 2 diesel engine in 140hp, 160hp or 180hp versions. Fiat Professional also has relationships with a host of approved converters, for ambulances, motorhomes and many other specialist vehicle types.
Market leader Ford’s Transit One-Stop-Shop line-up includes dropsides, tippers, Lutons and box vans. Minibuses are offered as a separate line within the Ford commercial vehicle range. The dropside models, supplied by VFS, can be built on a front or rear-wheel drive chassis, with a single or double cab. There are five body lengths ranging from 2.9-5.3m and on the L2 350 FWD model there is a choice of Standard or Premium dropside float body.
Tippers, also by VFS, are available with one-way or three-way tipping bodies. Single cab models are built on the L2 chassis while double cabs use the longer L3 version. Luton and box vans are only available with a single cab, again built by VFS, though they can be ordered on L3 or L4 chassis. As with the dropsides, the tippers, Luton and box vans can all be specified with a choice of front- or rear-wheel drive, while all of the One-Stop vans carry Ford’s three-year/100,000-mile warranty.
The most recent addition to Ford’s line-up is a skeletal chassis cab, in effect a chassis cab with no back panel. This is ideal for conversions with a low floor that require a walk-through facility from the cab. The skeletal chassis cab is available with front-wheel drive only, in three chassis lengths, on L2, L3 and L4 platforms.
If the models in the One-Stop-Shop range don’t suit your needs, Ford also offers a Qualified Vehicle Modifier (QVM) programme, using accredited body builders to supply a more bespoke solution. QVM suppliers currently provide crew vans, camper vans, blue light conversions, racking solutions, refrigerated and freezer vans, welfare vans, utility body conversions and wheelchair accessible vehicles.
With the Peugeot Boxer sharing everything but its name with Citroën’s Relay it is unsurprising to find that it too offers a ready-built line of vehicles, called Built For Business. Models include single cab L2 and crew cab L3 tippers, single cab L2 and L3 dropsides, plus an L3 crew cab dropside. There are Luton vans based on the L3 and L4 chassis, along with a similar choice of curtainsiders and box bodies. Peugeot will also offer a low-floor Luton with a 22m3 capacity.
As with Relay, the big Peugeot benefits from the installation of the latest 2.2-litre diesel engine, delivering 140hp and 165hp, with Stop&Start and a six-speed manual gearbox. Standard equipment includes air conditioning, an uprated battery and revised dual-leaf rear suspension with an anti-roll bar. The Built For Business models also benefit from a full Peugeot warranty.
LDV has a number of bodies available for its diesel-powered V80 chassis cab, but can also supply pre-bodied versions of the EV80 electric vehicle. These include dropside and tipper conversions and minibus and wheelchair-accessible models.
The majority of Isuzu’s D-Max pickups are sold as working trucks, rather than leisure vehicles, which usually involves some form of conversion work. While the company is happy to work with a range of approved body builders and specialist converters, Isuzu’s UK importer IM Group also now has a fully equipped fleet preparation centre at its import base in Sheerness. The site can handle a wide range of conversion work, from additional lighting and wrapping, to racking and hardtops, offering fully Type Approved conversions as a VCA second-stage manufacturer.
MAN Truck & Bus has introduced a pre-bodied range for the TGE, called Vans To Go, offering dropside and tipper bodies from Ingimex, along with a Luton body from JC Payne.
The company has also introduced a minibus on the TGE which is a van body, along with a flatframe chassis cowl, which is a chassis cab with no back panel in the cab, for conversion into a range of bodies.
The flatframe chassis cowl has a frame height 190mm lower than the standard TGE, make it an ideal choice for walk-through body designs and for low height Luton and box bodies.
Mercedes-Benz Vans has a strong relationship with a wide range of body builders and converters and it continues to offer bespoke bodies in the traditional way. However, the firm has also launched a Ready To Work range of ready-bodied Sprinter models, to provide a faster response to customer demand.
This includes dropsides on the L2 and L3 rear-wheel drive chassis, along with a one-way tipper on the L2 chassis cab model. There is also a Luton again based on the rear-drive L3 chassis cab. All of these vehicles are offered with a three year/unlimited mileage warranty.
Though part of the Volvo Trucks business, Renault Trucks continues to offer the Renault Master in both van and chassis cab versions. As a truck specialist the company is well connected with bodybuilders and converters around the country and can offer a wide range of bodies for the Master chassis. This extends to the Master Z.E. with Renault Trucks insisting that electric power shouldn’t only mean last- mile delivery. The company has already built a Z.E. minibus for a customer in Kent.
Renault has three levels of conversion on offer, from its own ready-built Off-The-Shelf range, to Recognised Conversions and Bespoke Conversions. There are dropsides, with single or crew cabs and front or rear-wheel drive, tippers from Scattolini and VFS, Lutons and the Luton Low Loader, all available under the Off-The-Shelf banner. The Low Loader is based on a front-wheel drive Master chassis, offering a loading height of just 550mm, yet boasting a payload of 1,238kg and a 19m3 load volume.
If that’s not big enough, there is also a Luton box van available, with a load volume of up to 22m3, and payloads up to 1,022kg. This is offered on front- or rear-wheel drive models, with the rear-drive chassis in single or dual rear-wheel configurations. All of Renault’s Off-The-Shelf conversions come with the firm’s full four-year/100,000-mile warranty.
Renault’s Recognised conversions include refrigerated vehicles, horse boxes, minibuses, access platforms, curtainsiders, cherry pickers and a beavertail truck. They are built by the likes of CoolKit, Bloomfields, CPL, Truckcraft Bodies and AKFS.
Toyota has been developing its presence in the LCV market and now offers a range of dealer-order conversions for both the Hilux pickup and the Proace van. Called Toyota Trade Plus, the conversions include tipper and dropside bodies on Hilux from converter TGS and a refrigeration version of the Proace van. All three carry Toyota’s standard five-year warranty.
In addition, Toyota has been building a network of authorised converters across the country, which dealers can call upon for more bespoke builds. This includes refrigerated vans from CoolKit and the Cold Consortium, an aerial work platform from Cumberland Platforms, a utility top for Hilux from Strongs and van racking from Bri-Stor.
Though Vauxhall is now part of the PSA Group, the recently updated Movano remains a shared platform with Renault’s Master. Vauxhall expects all of its LCV models to use PSA platforms by 2024. With that in mind, there are plenty of conversions available for the Movano chassis and the latest updates don’t affect anything behind the cab, so existing conversions should continue to be offered.
Vauxhall provides a range of conversions from the factory, based on the latest Movano chassis. This includes single and double cab tippers at 3.5- and 4.5-tonnes GVW. These can be built on the L2 or L3 chassis in both front- and rear-wheel drive, with rear-driven models offered with single or rear wheels.
When it comes to dropsides, Vauxhall has a range of load lengths on offer, with a choice of driveline and both single and crew cabs can be accommodated. The company also offers a box van, on L3 and L4 chassis, with up to 22m3 of load volume. Both drivelines are available and there are gross weights of 3.5- and 4.5-tonnes. All of the factory-built models come with the same three-year/100,000-mile warranty as the firm’s vans.
Vauxhall works with a range of approved suppliers, such as VFS and Trucksmith, to provide more variety in lightweight tippers, box bodies and dropsides. There are also Maxi-low box bodies available, refrigerated vans and wheelchair-accessible models. Customers can also order an Oberaigner 4×4 conversion, racking systems, welfare buses, vehicle recovery bodies and mobile workshops.
Nissan has a range of Business Ready pre-bodied conversions, which are all covered by the firm’s five-year/100,000-mile standard LCV warranty. This includes the usual range of dropsides, tippers and box vans. These are offered on both the NV400 van chassis and for the NT400 forward-control light truck chassis. Single and crew cabs are available and Nissan also offers a crew van version of the NV400 panel van.
It also has a certified partner conversion programme, with Nissan dealers providing a single point of contact for conversion specialists like Alloy Bodies, Bevan, TGS, Truck Craft Bodies, Ingimex, Trucksmith, Paneltex and VFS.
Volkswagen splits its conversion offer into two distinct ranges. Engineered To Go is the ready-bodied range, including various dropside, tipper and Luton bodies. The dropsides come with an Ingimex body, on a choice of three Crafter wheelbases, while the tipper body is built by VFS and can be had on a choice of two body lengths. Double and single cabs are available and now that Crafter comes with front-, rear- and all-wheel drive, customers can also choose the driveline to suit their operation. A Luton body is produced for VW by Ingimex and is available on a single wheelbase with a single cab, while Ingimex also provides tipper and dropside bodies for the smaller Transporter chassis.
For those seeking something more bespoke, Volkswagen has the Engineered For You line-up of approved suppliers and converters. These body builders supply wheelchair accessible minibuses, refrigerated vans, hydraulic cranes, access platforms and a host of dedicated body styles to suit individual customer applications.