Attracting cool customers

Date: Thursday, September 20, 2012

For bodybuilders, quality and versatility are the keys to avoid being frozen out of the refrigeration light commercial market by increasing attention from vehicle manufacturers, reports Steve Banner
Nissan aims to make inroads into the UK fridge van market with a factory-sourced chilled conversion based on the NV200 and originally announced in Europe in September 2010.
Produced in conjunction with  European temperature-controlled specialist Gruau and using a Carrier Transicold refrigeration unit, it can be ordered now for delivery later this year, says Nissan’s UK national LCV sales manager, Matt Dale. “We’re already getting a lot of interest from a number of operators, including fleets, and we should be able to sell more than 250 in 2013,” he predicts.
Based on the SE-spec NV200, the Gruau conversion will appear in Nissan’s price list although the price had yet to be disclosed at the time of writing. It comes with a 2.5m3 cargo area says Dale, can handle a 640kg payload and is offered with an overnight standby system.
The chilled NV200 looks set to be followed by one that can handle fully frozen cargo, and there are plans to add refrigerated versions of the bigger NV400 to the line-up too. “We are hoping to have something by the end of the year,” says Dale.
Dale admits, however, that the NV400 version could prove rather more of a challenge as the bigger the vehicle, the more likely it appears to be that the customer will want something bespoke rather than a standard product.
“One thing you certainly find if you talk to the rental fleets in particular is that they want conversions capable of handling either chilled or frozen loads,” says Lawrence Ness, sales director at  fridge van conversion specialist GRP. “Some of them want vehicles that can handle both at the same time, with a bulkhead that divides the chilled and frozen compartments and that can be removed if necessary.”
European Community Whole Vehicle Type Approval (ECWVTA) will have some impact on fridge van converters when it comes to, for example, fitting a mount kit for a compressor to the engine, says Ness. Its requirements will also have to be taken into account if the van’s roof has to be altered substantially to accept a fridge unit.
But Mark Foster, MD of fridge van specialist Vanfridge, fears it will not do enough to drive poor-quality conversions out of the market.
“We regularly see vehicles with refrigeration systems that don’t have enough capacity and with inadequate insulation,” he says. “The load compartment might have a nice surface finish but you don’t always know what’s behind it.
“This sort of thing has been going on for years. Nobody does anything about it and in the end it’s the customer who suffers.”
One way of eliminating low-grade conversions could be to introduce legislation, obliging them to comply with Accord Transport Perishable regulations that govern refrigerated vehicles used on cross-border work. The rules set the standard of insulation that has to be fitted, but do not as yet apply to vehicles used only within the UK.
“While it wouldn’t be a bad thing, it would be quite costly,” says Ness. “A lot of operators are running on tight margins in the current economic climate and simply don’t have the budget. It might, for example, add another £1000 to the price of a medium-wheelbase high-roof refrigerated Mercedes-Benz Sprinter.”
While Carrier Transicold and Thermo King are making some inroads into the UK temperature- controlled market, GAH and Hubbard still dominate fridge unit sales.
“I should think they take around 85% of the market between them,” says Foster. “Their kit is reliable, the service back-up they provide is good and their replacement parts are cheap.”
ECWVTA will have more of an impact on body builders producing refrigerated box bodies destined to be mounted on chassis cabs than it will on van converters, but hopefully not to the extent that it will destroy creativity.
One firm wedded to innovation is Vehicle Lease & Service, the leasing arm of Northumbrian Water Group, which owns Essex & Suffolk Water.  Working with both Strongs Plastic Products and Carrier Transicold, it has devised a refrigerated copolymer polypropylene plastic body for Essex & Suffolk Water mounted on a Fiat Doblo Cargo platform cab.
The Fiat is the first of half-a-dozen destined to go into service and will be used to carry water samples. “They require delicate handling and must be transported at between +2ºC and +8ºC,” says VLS fleet engineer, Dave Foster.
“I was originally told that refrigerating a plastic body wouldn’t be possible without a vast amount of condensation being generated,” he says. “Most of the fridge manufacturers I spoke to shied away from getting involved, but the team at Carrier Transicold UK were incredibly supportive.
“This wasn’t something they had done before in Britain but they were more than willing to work with us to find the right solution.”
The solution turned out to be a Carrier Transicold NEOS 100S fridge unit. Driven off the alternator rather than directly off the engine, it provides the same level of cooling capacity regardless of engine speed.
The durability of these bodies should mean that it will be possible to get a second life out of them when it comes time to dispose of their Fiat hosts, which is a sensible approach to cutting costs.


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