Historically, chassis are produced by the truck manufacturer and then shipped to an approved bodybuilder for completion, but at the CV Show earlier this year the UK's sole remaining truck builder, DAF, announced that it was taking a leaf out of the LCV book.
It was going to begin producing it's own one-stop shop products, initially a box body and a curtainsider based on the 7.5 tonne LF chassis, at its Leyland, Lancashire, production facility.
DAF eventually decided on this approach having looked at the three possible solutions. Route one is the classic build a chassis and ship it to a bodybuilder within a partnership arrangement.
The second alternative is to use an existing design in conjunction with a bodybuilder, have it shipped and then assembled and fitted at the factory.
Option three is for the manufacturer to design its own bodywork, source the necessary parts directly from the supplier base and assemble and fit it itself, mating the chassis and bodywork at the end of the production line.
The first two alternatives would involve low initial investment and risk, but would have resulted in a heavy dependence on a third party to achieve the same quality and logistical standards as DAF. Not to mention additional chassis movements in the case of option one. Controlling the chassis/body interface could also have been problematic in both cases.
It may have involved substantial investment, but DAF settled on the third option. Designing, sourcing and assembling the bodies within the existing factory results in the ability to control the entire process from order receipt, through build, to supporting the whole truck in-service; one warranty covers everything.
Having settled on a route to market DAF then set about implementing the plan. The body design had to be to the same level as that of the chassis so the use of computed-aided design, prototype and validation builds, as well as reliability testing undertaken at DAF's test track in Eindhoven, Holland, were seen as essential to the success of the project.
The whole vehicle testing carried out in Holland involved established bodybuilder products as well as DAF's new babies and the initial results highlighted the chassis/body interface fixings and mounts as some of the parts most susceptible to early life failure.
The DAF bodies showed improved reliability compared to that of the bodybuilder products in this area. The results were fed back into the design system nonetheless so that additional changes could be implemented and reliability improved further.
DAF has not tried to re-invent the wheel for its new products. According to Jim Sumner, operations director at Leyland Trucks; “The materials we chose for the initial builds are known to the market and we have purposefully held back on releasing innovative features to create more aerodynamic and lighter bodies. We will work with our customers to meet their requirements of increased payload capacity.”
By deciding to take the design and production of its curtainside and box bodies for the LF in-house DAF has taken charge of its own destiny. Factory-fitted bodies for the heavier trucks in its range will be rolled out in the coming years and this has to be a good thing for both the manufacturer and customer; especially with Whole Vehicle Type Approval (chassis and body) just over a year away.