Not every operator needs a plain and simple panel van to function and the manufacturers have taken this on board. They offer an ever expanding range of the most popular conversions ready-bodied, as Steve Banner discovered.
More and more manufacturers are offering ready-bodied, tippers, dropsides, Lutons and box vans through their dealer networks.
So far as the customers are concerned, they get a product that can be put to work instantly. There’s no need to wait while the bare chassis is bodied locally.
The body will be built by somebody who has been approved by the chassis manufacturer and works to a high standard. The warranties provided by both the bodybuilder and the chassis maker should dovetail neatly so that disputes over who is responsible for what can be avoided, although buyers would do well to check that this is actually the case.
What’s more, the customer only has one point of contact. There’s no need for him to liaise separately with the dealer and the bodybuilder who between them should also be able to organise the installation of tail-lifts and other additional equipment and the application of any signwriting that is required.
From the dealer’s viewpoint his sales staff get a ready-made product that’s easy to sell and doesn’t get them involved in all the complexities of specifying a body from scratch; complexities which in some cases they won’t have been trained to understand.
Are there any drawbacks to this approach? What you see is what you get. The bodies are built to a standard format. While there may be some scope for flexibility, it’s not usually possible for the purchaser to specify a load deck that’s, say, 50mm longer than the standard offering. If they’re adamant that’s what they require, then they’ll have to pay through the nose for it.
In most cases, however, such modifications will not really be necessary. It’s quite possible that the customer wants a longer cargo bed simply because “we’ve always had it that way” rather than because it’s essential to the work they do. There’s also the point that building to a standard format keeps the price down.
Something that manufacturer-backed conversion programmes do, of course, pretty much guarantee is compliance with European Whole Vehicle Type Approval (EWVTA). In the past only the chassis had to meet Type Approval rules, which ensure that it complies with the required regulatory standards.
Under EWTA, however, which comes into force in stages over the next five years, the whole vehicle, including the cargo body, will have to comply. The new rules will be enforced by the Vehicle Certification Agency (VCA) and the Vehicle and Operator Services Agency.
Crash-testing will not be involved. However, all the parts used in the body’s construction will have to be legal and pass muster with the VCA or an equivalent approval organisation. The body as a whole will not usually require approval. However, if fitting it means that alterations have to be made to, say, the exterior mirrors, then they will have to be OK’d.
The dealer supplying the vehicle will have to be capable of producing documents that prove EWTA has been complied with. Without them, it will be impossible to get the vehicle registered.
While it’s difficult to assess the impact of these changes, one possible outcome is a decision by many smaller bodybuilders — unless they happen to make specialist, high-value products — to cease producing bodies and concentrate on repairing them instead. They’re likely to conclude that the extra administrative burden EWTA imposes is one they simply don’t want to shoulder.
Beneficiaries are likely to be well-established businesses such as Ingimex and Tipmaster that produce light commercial bodies in relatively significant volumes. They may be able to pick up more business as some of their smaller rivals drop out of the game.
One manufacturer that has just started to make inroads into the ready-to-go-to-work sector is Peugeot. At the Commercial Vehicle Operators’ Show back in April it launched the Boxer 335 L2 120 Tipper and the Boxer 335 L3 120 Dropside.
Both are 3.5-tonners. The former offers a gross payload of 1,290kg, the latter a gross payload of 1,440kg, and 3.5-tonne double-cab tippers and dropsides are on offer too.
The newcomers are the first to join a conversion programme that will be extended steadily says Peugeot. It also includes the installation of tail-lifts, towing hitches and warning beacons.
Not to be outdone, over the past two-and-half years Nissan has been promoting its Good-To-Go line-up. Models featured in the range include Cabstar tippers, dropsides and box vans. The latter are available with a load cube of from 14.3m3 to 19.0m3 and with payload capacities ranging from 1,160kg to 1,422kg. Cabstar can also be ordered with refrigerated bodies suitable for either chilled or frozen loads.
One of the key players in this sector is Citroën with its extraordinarily diverse Ready to Run scheme. The fact that it is so comprehensive is one reason why the French manufacturer drove off with What Van?’s Ready to Go to Work conversion programme of the year award for 2010; not the first time it’s won garlands for this aspect of its activities.
The range includes Relay-based Lutons courtesy of Buckstone Motor Bodies, with load cubes of up to 20m3. Relays with dropside bodies constructed by Ingimex and tipper bodies constructed by Tipmaster are available too.
Citroën hasn’t stopped there however. As well as Relays with temperature-controlled box bodies able to carry chilled or frozen food — refrigerated conversions for all the light vans and panel vans in the Citroën range are on the list too — it can offer a Relay-based low-loader built by KFS under the Plant & Go banner. What’s more, Berlingo First, Berlingo, Dispatch and Relay can all be ordered as glass carriers converted by leading specialist Supertrucks.
Nor are minibuses ignored. The Ready to Run scheme also embraces 12-, 15-, and 17-seater Relays converted by Advanced Vehicle Builders. Wheelchair-accessible minibuses are available under the scheme as well as conventionally-accessible models.
To underline the fact that conversion schemes needn’t consist solely of bodies, bodywork conversions and body ancilliaries, Ready to Run also features Nemos, Berlingo Firsts, Berlingos and Dispatches converted to run on liquefied petroleum gas by Nicholson McLaren.
Citroën’s success in this area may have inspired sister company Peugeot to greater efforts. Both manufacturers are owned by the PSA group.
Ford has a more limited range of conversions in its One-Stop programme than Citroën does, but the strength of Transit in particular in the marketplace means that the volumes involved are significant.
The Big Blue Oval has just updated its One-Stop Transit single- or double-cab tipper, making no less than 35 detailed changes. Improvements include a slightly higher payload capacity, a slightly lower loading height and a redesigned tipper body control system that’s said to be easier to use.
The conversion has been approved by German independent testing and assessment specialist TUV Rheinland.
The One Stop line-up also includes dropsides, box bodies, Lutons and curtainsiders. The last-named option is a little unusual. Perhaps surprisingly, very few light commercials are sold with curtainsided bodywork.
The best range of conversions in the world will not be a success if prospective buyers are unaware of it.
That’s why Volkswagen is encouraging more of its dealers to stock vehicles from its Engineered to Go range of Crafter-based tippers, dropsides and Lutons.
VW also promotes more specialised conversions from converters it approves under the Engineered for You banner.
While many manufacturers rely heavily on conversion executed by UK bodybuilders, some are sourcing them from their assembly plants or from conversion operations based close to the production line. Isuzu Truck, for example, offers a factory-sourced tipper body on its Grafter 3.5-tonner.
“So far as the new Master is concerned we’ll be introducing a line-up direct from the factory that will address the vast majority of conversion requirements,” says Darren Payne, director, fleet and commercial vehicle operations at Renault UK. “We reckon it will account for 55 per cent of our sales of converted vehicles. “We will of course be working with UK converters too.”
Vauxhall is adopting much the same approach with the new Movano.
“So far as Fiat Professional is concerned, some of our conversions — Ducato dropsides for instance — can be ordered direct from the factory,” says UK director Gerry Clarke. “The dropside bodies are made by San Marco and fitted at a site next door to the Ducato factory at Val di Sangro in Italy. “We can also source Ducato minibuses from the factory.”
Clarke makes the point that when it comes to conversion work, by no means all dealers — especially those with a truck rather than a car background — are bereft of engineering expertise. “If it’s a specialised job then we’ve got two or three who can carry out the work themselves in-house,” he says.
“North East Truck & Van, for instance, has the ability to do so,” he adds. The Fiat Professional franchise is now held by a number of Iveco and Daf heavy truck dealers — North East Truck & Van for example represents Iveco — as well as by Fiat car dealers.
Mercedes-Benz, which sells its light commercials through its van and truck network, makes the same point. “A lot of our dealerships have the ability to carry out body modifications and employ skilled people who can fabricate and weld,” says a company spokesman.
While Mercedes is less enamoured of the ready-to-go-to-work concept than some of its competitors, it does supply a number of factory-sourced bodied vehicles. “It’s worth noting incidentally that if it is our body then we are committed to ensuring that parts are available for it for the next 15 years,” he adds.
Mercedes has also developed a relationship with Alloy Bodies which produces a Luton body in the UK on a Sprinter chassis; one of the most attractive-looking vehicles of its type around.
“We work with a number of other UK bodybuilders whose standard of work we assess and whose employees are trained by us,” the spokesman continues. “They are shown how to mount a body on one of our chassis taking into account factors such as whereabouts the wiring runs and the need for the chassis to be able to flex.”
Dealers are encouraged to point their customers in the direction of those bodybuilders that have passed muster. “We also try to ensure that they don’t end up fitting a body that’s so heavy that the payload the customer wants isn’t achievable,” he adds. After all, a vehicle that cannot carry anything heavier than a packet of cigarettes is neither use nor ornament.
If it fits the operating criteria of a business a ready-bodied conversion from a manufacturer makes a great deal of sense, both in terms of cost and warranty.