Vehicle conversions are in demand – the home delivery market in particular has boomed and Luton vans are sought after. But with some conversions that have been designed for a specific job, remarketing can prove to be a challenge. Steve Botfield, senior editor for commercial vehicles and motorcycles at valuation company cap-hpi thinks that the traditional conversion market is as strong as ever, but there are seasonal peaks and troughs which can affect resale values. “Standard chassis conversions, such as dropsides, tippers and Luton’s all have seasonality as to the best time to sell, with dropside and tippers tending to have peak prices being bid in the early part of the year as construction tends to ramp up, and Luton’s in the latter part of the year when the Christmas rush starts, which gets earlier and earlier every year”.

Botfield has seen a recent change in market dynamics which may be driven by external factors. “In 2022 the dropside and tipper market has not been as buoyant and which was the foretaste to where the economy is today. We shall have to wait and see if the Luton market follows the same pattern later in the year.”

Citing their own sales data and seeing things a little differently, Manheim’s director of commercial vehicles Matthew Davock says that the trade appetite for tippers has strengthened, with strong demand from the construction and agricultural sectors leading to average selling prices of tippers increasing from £12,800 to £23,500 for a three year old truck during the past 18 months (an 83% increase). This performance is also reflected in the sale results for Luton bodied vehicles with Manheim seeing strong demand from the home delivery and property movements sector, seeing three year-old price examples move from £16,500–£24,000 (a 45% increase) over the same period.

Also seeing the strong demand for conversions continue from the traditional customer is Andy Picton, chief commercial vehicle editor at Glass. “I think the most popular conversions in the used market are the tried and tested Luton van, dropside and tipper. The Luton is always popular with home delivery and removal companies and dropside and tipper variants are popular with builders, tree surgeons/landscape gardeners.” Stuart Pearson, chief operating officer for BCA (UK) concurred, citing the latest sold auction data. “Luton bodied conversions are in strong demand, with buyers paying a premium for examples with tail lifts and twin rear wheels, which provide the best load/weight carrying capabilities”. Pearson added that there is a good supply of two to three-year-old examples in the market with single rear wheels, which need to be competitively valued to generate buyer interest.

Conversions that are low in number but high in demand make for a perfect storm for those involved in remarketing. Pearson highlighted one such type of vehicle but for which there was an important condition ,which was paramount for a successful sale. “With the construction and civil engineering industries continuing to thrive, mess vans are very much in demand but must be fitted out to comply with the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 that requires basic facilities such as washing, toilet, rest and changing facilities are provided, as well as somewhere safe to eat and drink during break periods.” Adding a note of caution to those specifying new vehicles with an eye on resale value, he warned that vehicles that do not provide the full range of facilities – particularly if not equipped with a WC – will struggle in comparison. 

Manheim’s Davock holds the view that scarcity coupled with demand can see phenomenal performances in auction. “There is significant demand for access platforms and cherry pickers as this sector is booming in the UK right now with demand outstripping supply. Three year used examples have increased from £25,000 to £42,000 (a 68% increase).”

For these non-standard and more specialist vehicles, cap-hpi’s Botfield said that traders would exercise caution, and in many cases ensure they had a customer in mind when bidding at auction. “Dealers will need to have customers who want a vehicle designed specifically for the role in which it was built and will bid accordingly for it.” Botfield also thinks that dealers may sometimes see a profit opportunity on a vehicle fitted with an unpopular specialist body and that they would normally be reluctant to stock. “Then there will be the speculative buyer who will bid based upon what the chassis is worth and factoring in the cost of removal of the old body and then the fitting of a new body to a standard specification into their bidding calculations.”

Supermarket delivery vehicles are a challenge for remarketers. They are fitted with bodies that have a high initial cost and, being designed around the customers other pieces of hardware such as baskets, the second life market is heavily restricted. Glass’s Picton says the vendors only option apart from trying to dispose of the vehicle as is, is to take more drastic action. “These bodies are too specialist and will tend to be removed and sold as a chassis at auction. Typically, a dropside body is fitted in its place.” Traders will be reluctant to carry out this body exchange themselves, the cost of logistics in disposing of the refrigerated, GRP box together with the timescale involved before the vehicle is available for resale being unpalatable. cap-hpi’s Botfield is seeing these bodies being given a second life by the original operator. “The body in some instances is removed and fitted to a new chassis after it has undergone a full refurbishment, leaving just the old chassis to be disposed of.”

While also recognising the issues surrounding supermarket delivery van disposals, Manheim’s Matthew Davock highlights other conversions that can be a challenge to remarket and which require specific actions from vendors. “Anything really specialised or heavily duplicated. Pre-sale airtime and bespoke marketing is crucial for these assets, such as home delivery bespoke commercial assets and vans that are heavily adapted at the front end to facilitate a business requirement such as single seat LCV’s, duel compartment panel vans etc.”

As lockdown saw demand for minibuses plummet, along with the values, according to BCA’s Pearson, buyer appetite has bounced back. “Minibuses of any shape or size are exceptionally sought after with any example in good condition offered by BCA attracting very competitive bidding, regardless of age or mileage. Poor condition vehicles are much less desirable in contrast as buyers factor in repair and refurbishment costs, as well as the inevitable delay in getting the vehicle sold.” Manheim’s Davock concurs. “Post pandemic we have seen incredible demand for used minibus conversions. With the pandemic really affecting the minibus sector, since the lockdowns have ended, the market sector for used buses has rocketed, especially buses with wheelchair adaptations, but all have seen incredible price increases.” 

The same can also be said for refrigerated vans. “They are also performing very well but are scarce in the marketplace,” said BCA’s Pearson, but highlighted specific buyer requirements. “Buyers look for dual-fridge capability and compartmentalised interiors, with easy access via rear-leaf doors and overnight standby is a useful option. Freezer vans must have fully insulated slab-doors, with side and back access preferred to generate the most interest, with twin-rear wheel models favoured by buyers.”