Body-builder VFS has built up a rock-solid reputation through concentrating on carrying out core conversion work for major manufacturers, James Dallas reports
The winner of What Van?’s Converter of the Year Award for 2016, as voted for by our esteemed readership, was one of the UK’s most prominent body-building firms.
Southampton-based VFS is particularly renowned for its tippers, both its one and three-way tippers are included in Ford’s One Stop approved conversions programme, for example, but it also supplies dropsides, Lutons and box-bodies. The firm supplies up to 5000 units to the UK’s leading manufacturer every year – by far the largest share of the 7000 conversions it provides to the UK market annually.
Quality standards at VFS are uniformly high. An ISO/TS 16949 automotive standard accredited company, it also complies with the automotive industry's QS9000 standard for Tier 1 suppliers.
The firm is an offshoot of big-volume body builder Scattolini, which has its main plant near Verona in Italy, where it produces more than 200 bodies daily, and specialises in building on chassis grossing at up to 5.0 tonnes.
Scattolini has subsidiary assembly facilities in Germany, France and Spain as well as in Britain. Having the backing of a major parent means that VFS can tap into extensive research, development and testing facilities.
But closer to home, VFS’ UK marketing director Ashley Morris claims the What Van? award gives the business a real boost.
“It’s extremely important to us, we’re very proud to have won it – it’s on all our emails,” Morris says.
“It’s something we can talk about with potential new customers – it promotes us as a good company.”
Morris argues that the fact that the Converter award is reader-voted is significant.
“We are making our mark on those businesses,” he claims, “they feel (positive) enough about us to put us forward.”
As well as the blue oval, the company’s client portfolio also includes other major manufacturers, such as Vauxhall, with whom Morris says VFS works closely on fleet deals for the Ministry of Defence, Thames Water and the Environment Agency.
The MoD specifies Movano vans fitted with beacons and tail lifts, Thames Water, with its heavy presence in London, orders the large vans with side-under rail bars and cycle warning systems that both alert the driver to the presence of a cyclist in their
Blindspot as well as giving an audible warning to the cyclist.
VFS also supplies Thames Water with Movanos kitted out with “heavy duty cranes”, according to Morris while the Environment Agency takes caged tippers and dropsides.
In the first quarter of 2016 VFS secured a deal to supply Crafter-based tippers to Volkswagen as part of the brand’s ‘Engineered to Go’ scheme, having taken over the contract from Ingimex. One of the first examples produced took pride of place on the VW stand at the CV Show in April and Morris expects the agreement to extend to 100 conversions a year.
Late last year VFS took an order to supply 123 Renault Master tipper vans to facility services provider ISS under the French brand’s Ready4Work conversion programme.
The vehicles, which feature 45-degree rear-tipping bodies, are used by ISS’ landscaping business to service a new contract at locations across the UK.
In a longstanding deal VFS supplies Peugeot Expert and Boxer vans to Royal Mail.
“We take off the barn doors and install roller shutters,” says Morris.
VFS attended the CV Show for the third consecutive year in 2016. Its own stand featured four vehicles, including a new single-rear-wheel tipper and a Ford Transit One Stop Shop Luton van but the LDV stand also featured three LDV conversions on the V80 van chassis: a dropside, tipper and Luton.
Morris explains that VFS concentrates on “a core number of options available within EWVTA (European Whole Vehicle Type Approval)”.
“We don’t do bespokes, we can fulfil 99% of requirements anyway,” he claims.
Specialist conversions for single or very small numbers of vehicles are usually covered by smaller body-builders under the IVA (Individual Vehicle Approval) scheme, Morris explains and adds that VFS also bypasses jobs covered by the SSA (Small Series Approval), of up to 25 vehicles.