This month contributing editor Steve Banner has been speaking to Brian Getley, managing director of Hatcher Components about the company's latest developments.
Hatcher Components makes a wide variety of fuel-saving aerodynamic kits for the commercial vehicle industry — it's come up with an air kit for Ford's One Stop Shop Transit curtainsider for instance — along with cab extensions that can be used to provide sleeping accommodation. With considerable expertise in glass fibre, the Framlingham, Suffolk-based firm carries out crew cab conversions too, and makes Luton fronts suitable for bodies mounted on 3.5-tonne chassis. On top of all that it makes tool and storage boxes that can be fixed to vehicles and illuminated signs and name boards that can be fitted to vans, trucks and recovery wagons. It can also supply acrylic exterior sunvisors. In recent years it's started producing sleeper cab conversions for 3.5 tonne vans as well. What's led to this development?
It was prompted by our chairman realising that a lot of people were taking vans to motorcycle meetings and sleeping in them overnight. He decided that there might be a market for a bulkhead that could be slid backwards into the load area to create room in the cab for extra seats and maybe a single or possibly a double bed or a couple of bunk beds. While legislation governing occupant safety means we no longer offer seats, we can still provide beds.
The beds can be folded down when the bulkhead is pushed backwards and folded back up again when it returns to its travelling position. How popular are the conversions proving to be?
We're doing around 10 a month. Demand tends to be in peaks and troughs. Two years ago, for example, we converted around 100 vehicles in a single batch for customers.
Surely one of the big objections to this sort of package is that you cannot slide the bulkhead back if your van is fully laden?
That's true, but what usually happens is that operators plan their route to ensure that the vehicle is only half-laden by the time the driver needs to take a rest because he'll have made a lot of deliveries earlier in the day.
How much does the conversion typically weigh?
Usually around 75kg.
And how much does it usually cost?
Approximately £1,200 fitted. In the main the packages are installed in Mercedes-Benz Sprinters but we're putting quite a few into Transit and Iveco Daily vans.
Does the sleeping area get cold at night?
It's not sealed off completely from the rear of the van — if we did that it would be difficult to move the bulkhead — but you'll be warm if you close the windows and happen to have specified an Eberspacher night heater. It will set you back around £700.
Is there any reduction in load bed length when the beds are stowed and the bulkhead is in its travelling position?
It cuts it by around 250mm. Another thing we offer is a modification called the Overnighter that involves altering the van's existing bulkhead to allow a bunk to be folded down above the load, always assuming that the vehicle isn't loaded to the roof for its entire length. The bunk is both folded down and accessed from the cab — there's no need to enter the load area — and the modification costs £950. It weighs around 45kg.
When the bunk is folded down it's accompanied by something that looks rather like an old-fashioned pram hood that insulates the occupant from the cargo area. But what about 3.5 tonne chassis cabs?
We offer something called the DeepSleeper that involves extending the existing cab backwards. It creates a sleeper cab with a bed that's permanently in position but that hinges upwards should you need to access the storage space underneath. There are usually three compartments in the storage area, one of which can accommodate the night heater if you decide to take it as an option. If you put your overnight bag under the bed then it is of course concealed from prying eyes if you're away from the cab. Curtains can be fitted and pulled across the windscreen and side windows when the driver wants to get some sleep. The bed is 800mm wide and 2,000mm long while the mattress is 100mm deep. On a Sprinter, for example, DeepSleeper will cost you around £2,200 and it's suitable for other models such as Transit, Daily and Mitsubishi Fuso's Canter.
How heavy is DeepSleeper?
Around 90kg; it's made from glass fibre with an insulated lining and we install a couple of lights.
What impact does having something like DeepSleeper fitted have on the vehicle's warranty?
The vehicle manufacturer won't warrant any area of the cab that's been cut against corrosion. We treat and seal everything very thoroughly, however, so this has never been an issue.
How many DeepSleepers do you fit to 3.5-tonners annually?
Around 60 to 80, including what we do in the Netherlands and Germany as well as what we do in the UK.
What else can you offer light commercial operators?
We market the Pony chassis cab top sleeper module. It's riveted and bonded to the roof of the cab. We import it from the Czech Republic, it weighs around 75kg, it's got hinged side-windows — some of them have a sunroof too — and it provides accommodation for just one person. You gain access to it through a hatch in the roof of the cab and the mattress goes back down over the hatch once you're inside. It comes in ready-trimmed, with everything already in place. It's got a couple of interior lights and it can be equipped with a night heater that's plumbed in at the bottom.
How much does Pony cost?
One for something like a Transit or a Fiat Ducato will set you back over £2,300 fitted, rising to more like £2,800 if you're looking for one that's suitable for a Daf LF or Mercedes Atego 7.5-tonner.
If you're sleeping in your vehicle at night should you think about fitting an uprated battery — or maybe a second battery — to handle the current drawn by the interior lights, the radio and other items of in-cab equipment you may be using?
The interior lights we provide are low-voltage so they shouldn't have too big an impact, although it will of course be a different matter if you're using a microwave or a TV. If you're still concerned then you may want to think about fitting a battery protector so that you'll still have enough power to start the engine in the morning.
Who opts for these sleeper conversions?
Typically we're talking about small transport companies that buy them in ones and twos.
How long has Hatcher been going?
Since 1968. It's part of the Betts Group, which also includes Broadwater Mouldings. Broadwater makes contract glass fibre parts — everything from sides and doors for camper vans to chutes for materials handling equipment at airports. The two firms have got a combined turnover of about £11m and employ around 150 to 160 employees.
How come your part of the country possesses so much glass fibre expertise?
A lot of it comes from the boat industry and from businesses that are involved in motor sport.
Have you looked at using carbon fibre instead?
The cost would outweigh the benefits. Carbon fibre might lead to a 30kg weight reduction, but it would double or even triple the price and I doubt that people would want to pay for it.