Cartwright’s Carter says his business doesn’t get involved much in the de-fleet process – “customers’ workshops tend to do this in-house” – but points to decent second-hand options such as the private UK ambulance market, including charities and where the NHS sub-contracts services to private businesses, plus overseas markets too.
He also believes there is no legislation to say who can take blue lights off, but given that, for instance, impersonating a police officer in a police car definitely is governed by serious laws, he hasn’t heard of blue-light de-fleet issues in terms of secondary users abusing the driving privileges that blue lights bestow.
In such a well-established and regulated market – both in the detailed tendering that’s required by different services and regions, plus long-standing safety legislation – you might imagine innovation or change is slow or seldom.
But there are emerging trends. As carmakers move to increasing electrification for reasons of environmentally-driven legislation, customer demand and corporate responsibility, so too van makers are investigating the technology, despite current range issues and slightly different business uses and functional needs.
As Fiat Professional UK’s Chamberlain explains: “There is currently interest in electrification. This will need to be very specialised due to range anxiety because of the size and weight of an ambulance and of being able to power the internal systems required for the ambulance to operate at the scene and in transit.”
PSA’s Abbott agrees and adds: “We have already started trials around this area, particularly with an electric van trial for forensic use with one of the UK police forces.”
From a convertor perspective Venson’s Kelly sees different trends, but not necessarily all good ones, as he cautions: “[Some] manufacturers will try and ‘commoditise and standardise’ the conversions for the emergency service sector.
But using a cookie-cutter approach to conversions in this market will put the emergency service fleets into a strait jacket and remove the flexibility of bespoke conversions to suit the real operational needs of the vehicles and the fleet.”
Cartwright’s Carter also sees a trend of developing lighter ambulances for services like patient transfers, partly because it could unlock the use of drivers who don’t have licences to drive heavier (3.5t) vehicles.
Finally, and in a bit of good news for the sector, he reckons the NHS are using vans more where once they used cars, due to changes in response time targets, which involve not just being able to get to patients quickly but also treat them or get them to hospital quickly.
All in all then, there seems to be a lot of skill in the sector, a useful amount of choice as to who can deliver it, and plenty of work to pitch for.