Makers preaching the converted

Date: Monday, April 30, 2012

Eager to explore every niche to boost sales and market share, many manufacturers are aiming to expand their activities in the specialist conversions market. Steve Banner reports.
The conversion sector encompasses everything from ready-to-go-to-work tippers and dropsides to vehicles for some highly bespoke applications.
With Master-based tippers, dropsides (above, right), box vans and Lutons among the weapons in its armoury, Renault wants to boost its slice of the conversions pie from last year’s 6% to 11% by 2013.
In attempting to do so Renault will be butting up against sister company Nissan. It is expanding its Good to Go range with a variety of conversions based on the NV400, its version of Renault’s Master and Vauxhall’s Movano. Over the next three months the new NV400 will be rolled out as a fridge van, a crew van and a minibus in both nine- and 17-seater guise. Its chassis cab derivative will be marketed as a tipper with the choice of either an ambient or a refrigerated box body.
Not to be outdone, Iveco is finalising details of a line-up of conversions based on the Daily. Tippers, dropsides and box bodies will predominate.
All three manufacturers will be scrapping for sales with Citroen’s well-established and award-winning Ready to Run range that encompasses everything from car transporters to vehicles bodied to transport lightweight items of plant (above, left) and Ford with its One-Stop Shop scheme. Under its auspices you can acquire a dropside, a one-way tipper, a three-way tipper, a box van, a Luton and (unusually for a vehicle of this size) a curtainsider, all Transit-based.
Meanwhile, Vauxhall’s selection of what it terms Core Conversions includes tippers, dropsides and box vans.
Most manufacturers with a conversions programme draw a distinction between what they view as core models (which usually feature in the published price list) and those that are simply approved (which may not). VW’s price list, for example, features Crafter-based single- and double-cab dropsides and tippers carrying the Engineered To Go tag. Other more-bespoke conversions come under the Engineered For You banner.

Fit for purpose

If a manufacturer is involved in a conversion then customers have the assurance that whatever they purchase is fit for purpose, built to a quality standard that should match that set by the rest of the manufacturer’s range, and is road-legal. Furthermore, vehicles offered under programmes such as Nissan’s Good to Go will turn up at the dealership ready-bodied and ready to be put to work by the customer. The buyer will not have to wait ages while a local bodybuilder equips a bare chassis cab.

If the vehicle concerned is treated by the manufacturer as a core model, the fact that it is standardised is likely to limit the scope the customer has to have the body built slightly longer or marginally higher.
Some conversions are put together on the manufacturer’s own assembly line, others may be built in an adjacent facility, while yet others may be constructed by an independent body builder in either the UK or mainland Europe. Good examples of UK builders include London-based Tipmaster, Shropshire-based Ingimex, and Trucksmith of Cullompton in Devon, which is accredited by Vauxhall to produce a Luton body called the Knee-Hi on a Movano chassis platform.
If an independent supplier is involved then the vehicle manufacturer will have carried out a close investigation of what it does and how it does it prior to granting it approved status. It will also have looked into its financial stability, although this has not prevented body builders with apparently close connections with van and chassis cab makers from going to the wall from time to time.
Not all conversions are covered by the manufacturer’s own warranty; in some cases only the base van or chassis is protected, with the converters warranting their own work. Buyers would do well to find out what the exact position is before they part with any cash.
The number of converters looks set to be reduced significantly by the advent of European Community Whole Vehicle Type Approval (ECWTA). Now in the process of being rolled out – all relevant categories of vehicle will be in scope by the end of 2014 – ECWTA does not yet involve crash testing. It does though ensure that all the components used in the construction of a body are legal and meet the requirements of the Vehicle Certification Agency or an equivalent approval body. The company building the body must be able to demonstrate that it has complied with the rules and that it is consistent in what it does. This means efficient record keeping, a long trail of paperwork and accreditation to ISO 9000 or a like standard. Proof that the rules have been met must be supplied to the dealer; without it, the vehicle cannot be registered.
“Businesses could be at risk if they don’t prepare now,” warns Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders chief executive, Paul Everitt.

On the ply

Not all light commercial operators want or need a special conversion, although many wish to make some modifications to the van they are acquiring to make it a more useful working tool: and that includes protecting the load area with a ply lining.
One well-known specialist ply-lining supplier is Plyline North East, based in Gateshead, Tyne & Wear. It offers a wide range of lining kits that can either be installed by the company or are available for diy fitment. A kit for a short-wheelbase Ford Transit Connect will set you back £120 and add around 20kg to the van’s unladen weight.
Other aftermarket products include window grilles, bulkheads, roof racks and load area racking.


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