More and more manufacturers are offering a range of popular ready-built, chassis cab-based conversions as part of their LCV line-up. We take a look at what's on offer off-the-shelf.
Go back a few years and the process of acquiring a tipper, say, or a dropside was, to put it mildly, laborious. The chassis would be ordered, it would arrive at the dealership, and would then be despatched to a local bodybuilder to have the chosen body fitted. An agreement would have to be reached over the body's design, it would be built and mounted on the vehicle, and the bodied chassis would be sent back to the dealership ready for delivery to the customer.
The whole process took ages and if there was a subsequent problem the dealer would blame the bodybuilder and the bodybuilder would blame the dealer. The hapless customer would be stuck in the middle, not knowing who was right and who was wrong.
But times have changed. Today most, though not all, manufacturers, run what are sometimes referred to as one-stop shop or ready-to-go-to-work programmes. Order a tipper from a participating dealer and you'll be offered a chassis with a standardised body constructed by a well-known bodybuilder such as Ingimex. Approved by the chassis maker concerned, the body will be built to high standards using top-notch components and will usually be covered by a warranty that dovetails neatly with the one that protects the chassis.
The vehicle turns up at the dealership ready-bodied and ready to be put to work. If you suffer from a problem, then it's up to the supplying dealer to get it put it right; not deny responsibility and put the blame on a third party.
So what's the catch? One we've already alluded to — the fact that the body is standardised. If you want something a bit longer or a touch wider, then that won't be available through the programme. You'll have to have it built specially.
Rather than face all the hassle and expense that will result from such a move, however, you might want to think about asking yourself whether you genuinely need that extra length or width. Is it because 'we've always done it that way' going back to the days of the horse and cart and for no other logical reason? If so, then it may make more sense to compromise and see if an off-the-shelf body will meet your needs. You might discover that it does.
Typical of the sort of dropside and tipper bodies that are on offer are those provided by Volkswagen on Crafter chassis under the Engineered to Go banner. Both are sourced from Ingimex.
On offer on medium- and long-wheelbase single cab chassis and on a long-wheelbase double cab chassis, the dropside body features a 15mm thick one-piece birch plywood floor coated with non-slip phenolic resin. The sides and the tailboard are made from double-skinned anodised aluminium panels. A steel bulkhead topped by a removable steel mesh grille is fitted and incorporates a ladder rack plus four 125kg-capacity lashing points. They supplement recessed folding-type deck lashing rings with a capacity of 500kg apiece.
Top payload varies from around 1,100kg to approximately 1,300kg depending on the chassis and the exact specifications. Load bed length varies from 3,482mm to 4,300mm while the width and dropside/tailboard depth are 2,026mm and 408mm respectively in all cases.
Ingimex's Titan tipper body features an all-steel floor. Once again the sides are made from double-skinned anodised aluminium but the tailboard is constructed from polished stainless steel. The bulkhead is steel too. As with the dropside, it's topped off by a steel mesh grille and includes a ladder gantry plus a quartet of 125kg-capacity tie-down rings.
The tipper is marketed as a medium-wheelbase single cab and as a long-wheelbase double cab. As a consequence maximum load length is the same in both cases; 3,125mm. Width is constant too, at 2,026mm, while sidewall and tailboard height are 408mm and 500mm respectively. Payload capacity varies from getting on for 1,000kg to around 1,200kg.
Volkswagen also has accredited converters whom it deems capable of producing specialist conversion that fall outside the dropside/tipper/Luton mainstream under the Engineered for You banner.
One-stop shop programmes aren't restricted to builder's workhorses, however, as Vauxhall is quick to point out. It's added a Luton-bodied Movano to its line-up. Produced with a 2.5-litre CDTi diesel at 100hp, 120hp or 146hp and using the long-wheelbase chassis cab, it can handle a 1,358kg payload and offers 17.2m3 of cargo space.
Employing anodised aluminium extrusions, and produced by Aluvan of Bruges, Belgium, the body gets an integrated rear frame capable of accepting a tail-lift. It also comes with an alloy roller shutter door, a pine internal kickboard and a row of five horizontal internal lashing rails.
Features on the vehicle include reinforced rear suspension, a driver's airbag, a radio/CD player and remote central locking for the cab. As a core conversion, the entire package is protected by Vauxhall's three year/100,000 mile warranty and a Ratcliff tail-lift can be specified as an option.
Even more specialised one-stop bodies are available as part of Citroën's astonishingly-diverse Ready to Go to Work scheme; a prize winner in last year's What Van? awards.
As well as a tipper, a dropside and various Lutons, Citroën's line-up includes glass carriers — the conversion is carried out by Supertrucks — and you can even specify a Relay constructed as a car transporter. KFS executes the work, which involves fitting an AL-KO drop frame chassis and an all-alloy body. Gross payload is 1,600kg and lightweight alloy loading ramps form part of the package.
Some one-stop programmes also include people-shifters. Citroën's does, with 12-, 15- and 17-seater Relay minibuses converted by Advanced Vehicle Builders.
Citroën customers can choose from a huge range of temperature-controlled vans. Somers Refrigeration plays a key role in this part of the programme and GAH fridge units are fitted.
One-stop-shop schemes don't just include bodies and bodywork modifications. Citroën's also embraces a Nemo and a Berlingo First with dual-fuel petrol/liquefied petroleum gas conversions executed by Nicholson McClaren Engines.
Surprisingly few manufacturers offer one-stop fridge vans. Another one that does is Renault. It's introduced a Trafic with a refrigerated conversion designed in conjunction with Lamberet. Suitable for chilled loads, it has a 3.4m3 load area and a payload capacity of from 710kg to 973kg depending on the model specified.
Other manufacturers are coming to the one-stop shop party. Ford already has an established presence — its portfolio includes a three-way tipper, a box van and a curtainsider, all on Transit chassis — Nissan's Good to Go programme includes Cabstar tippers and box vans, along with refrigerated versions of Kubistar, Primastar and Interstar, while the tipper/dropside/Luton conversion trinity is now being embraced by Fiat Professional's Built for Business scheme. Fiat Professional is the name given by the Italian giant to its light commercial operation.
LDV is busy in the sector too. It is somewhat unusual in having a Special Vehicle Operations division that carries out a vast range of conversions — everything from fitting ladder racks to building surveillance vehicles for the police — adjacent to the company's Birmingham assembly line.
One reason why so many light commercial manufacturers are promoting standardised one-stop shop programmes is the advent of European Whole Vehicle Type Approval (EWVTA). Its introduction means that tipper bodies and the like will have to meet the same regulatory standard as the chassis they are mounted on, and the Vehicle and Operator Services Agency (VOSA) and the Vehicle Certification Agency (VCA) will be there to make sure that they do.
EWVTA does not involve crash testing. What it does involve is ensuring that all the parts used in the construction of a body are legal and meet the requirements of the VCA or an equivalent approval body. If fitting a body means changes have to be made to, say, the mirrors, then they too will require approval.
Bodybuilders will be expected to be able to prove that they have complied with the rules. That will involve close attention to record keeping and an extensive paperwork trail.
Clearly it's a lot easier to meet the requirements of EWVTA if you have a standardised bodywork programme. Non-standard bodies will be dealt with under a national approval scheme, with VOSA physically inspecting one-offs and the VCA certifying short production runs.
EWVTA's introduction will begin with a voluntary scheme that kicks off next April. A compulsory scheme will come into force gradually from October 2010 onwards with all vehicles swept into the net by October 2014. To be fair, the days of cheap and nasty bodies that quickly fall apart have pretty much gone. EWVTA should ensure that they never come back.
If what's on offer fits the bill one-stop shopping makes good sense. There's peace of mind if anything goes wrong thanks to an all-encompassing warranty and the pricing tends to be very competitive indeed for these package deals.