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Van Conversions and Brexit

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Steve Banner considers the current batch of conversions for lightweight chassis cabs. Would you believe Brexit will bring an opportunity here?van conversions

While 3.5-tonne chassis remain popular platforms for a wide variety of conversions, there is no rule that says that tippers and dropsides cannot be based on something smaller and lighter.

Using smaller vehicles has a number of advantages. As well as being cheaper to acquire they are more fuel-frugal, which has to be counted as good news for a firm’s bottom line and its CO2  footprint.

Because they are more compact they are easier to park in urban areas – they can often get into multi-storey car parks – and are less obtrusive on peoples drives. They may suffer from the viewpoint of load area dimensions and payload capacities, but these drawbacks are not always as severe as might be supposed.

Transporter Tipper

Take Ingimex’s cleverly-conceived Volkswagen Transporter 3.2-tonner-based Tip-up tipper for example.

Unveiled at last year’s Commercial Vehicle Show, and appearing on the VW stand at this year’s IAA van and truck show in Hanover, Germany, it can handle a payload of up to 1,000kg. That is approximately the same as the payload achieved by many 3.5-tonne tippers, even though they are 300kg heavier.

For your money you get a body with a steel floor and tailgate but alloy sides and a steel and alloy sub-frame. Lower the sides and you cover the access steps, but a second set of fold-down steps is provided so that the cargo bed can still be accessed safely.

There is no shortage of load securing points and the rear of the cab is protected by a tubular bulkhead.

Ingimex has also come up with Pick-up, which uses the same 3.2-tonne platform. Shorn of the need for tipping gear, it can shoulder a 1,200kg payload.

“The vehicles are available exclusively to VW and we’ve worked closely in partnership with them to develop these products,” says Ingimex managing director, Justin Gallen.

The Shropshire-based company has its own in-house development facilities. “We can handle everything, from the initial concept right through to design, testing and delivery,” he says.

Ingimex is by no means the only UK body builder to embrace the idea that small is beautiful.

Trucksmith’s Target

Best-known for its LoLoader low-floor Lutons, last year saw Trucksmith unveil Target, a dropside based on the platform cab version of Renault’s Trafic. A clever – though by no means original – aspect of this conversion from the Cullompton, Devon body builder is a weatherproof cargo compartment underneath the load bed.

Accessible through a rear lockable hatch, it can be used to keep easily-stolen items such as strimmers and leaf-blowers secure. It can also be employed to transport a small stack of 8ft x 4ft sheets.

The upper part of the body and the sub-frame employ pressed and welded steel, hot-dip galvanised then bonded and mechanically-fixed to the vehicle’s floor pan to form a one-piece monocoque structure.

A 12mm resin-coated anti-slip mesh-faced birch plywood floor is fitted and the body’s removable 350mm-deep sides are made from extruded aluminium. They are fitted with over-centre catches.

A 3.0-tonner, the vehicle can cope with a 1,050kg payload. The upper deck offers a maximum cargo length of 2,770mm and a maximum width of 1,920mm – both perfectly respectable – while the lower deck extends for 3,000mm.

Its door aperture is 1,260mm wide and 320mm high.

3.5 Tonne Conversions Abound

Not that the death-knell should be sounded for 3.5-tonne conversions quite yet.

Sticking with Renault, grounds maintenance and landscaping specialist idverde – the omission of the initial capital letter is alas correct – has recently ordered eight front-wheel-drive Master 3.5-tonne chassis cabs fitted with closed-deck beavertail bodies. They can be used to transport ride-on mowers and lightweight pieces of plant.Renault Conversions

The bodies make extensive use of aluminium and come with a spring-assisted aluminium tailgate which doubles as a loading ramp.

Executed by Advanced KFS which has operations in Clay Cross, Derbyshire and Andover, Hampshire, the conversions form part of an order for 40 Masters placed by idverde which also includes vans and factory-built tippers.

Standardising on one vehicle for a variety of applications has some distinct advantages. Drivers can easily switch from one to another, all the derivatives can be serviced by the same dealer, service intervals will be pretty much the same and running multiples of the same make and model give the operator more influence with both the dealer and the manufacturer should there be a problem.

“If we can stick with one manufacturer and one vehicle that already meets, or which can be converted to cater for, our needs, then that’s a massive plus in terms of convenience,” says ideverde UK group head of assets and fleet, Angus Lindsay. “Master allows us to do this, our operatives like the cabin space and our older versions have proved to be both reliable and durable.”

Advanced KFS is one of over 30 converters accredited by Renault. Like VW and almost all other light commercial manufacturers, it has an extensive conversions programme.

Trucksmith has forced close links with the PSA Group. “The Peugeot and Citroen products sit perfectly with our LoLoader conversion,” says managing director, Daniel Trebble.

“We were delighted to take 35 orders for the Citroen Relay-based LoLoader within four weeks of launching it,” adds executive sales manager, Simon Partridge.

Investment, Brexit or Not

Politicians on both sides of the Channel – and the Irish Sea – are continuing to tie themselves in knots over Brexit. Many UK companies, especially those that export to other European Union countries, are understandably wary of making further investments in production facilities at present given the continued climate of uncertainty.

Business has to go on however and manufacturing cannot afford to become inefficient.

Earlier this year Ingimex announced that it was investing £1.8m in its Telford plant, installing an automated laser cutting machine and a six-axis machining centre among other new facilities.

Elsewhere, Cartwright Group has acquired a 26-acre location in Belton, Lincolnshire which will become the new home for Cartwright Conversions. The business employs 72 people at present, but the workforce should expand to 250 over the next 18 months says the firm.

Its product line-up includes welfare vehicles and ambulances.

If the Brexit negotiations end up without a deal been struck then truck drivers may end up queuing for many a long hour on the approaches to Dover. Drivers of 3.5-tonners on courier work may face the same delays.

Unlike trucks however, 3.5-tonners tend not to be fitted with sleeper cabs. So how on earth will their temporarily-marooned drivers be able to get some rest?

The Brexit Bunk

One option could be for operators to equip their vehicles with cab-top sleeper pods. Kuda offers pods that will fit most makes of light commercial and they come complete with a mattress, an interior lining, a window, lighting and electrical sockets.

“We also offer options such as a night heater fitment and curtains,” says commercial director, Tim Vincent. The pods can be installed at Kuda’s Ipswich, Suffolk site or fitted by body builders and other converters.

A pod for the latest Mercedes-Benz Sprinter costs £2,150.

The drop-down and foldable load area bunks available from Hatcher Components are considerably less expensive. If the body is full of cargo however they may be difficult to deploy.

Gallen and his colleagues at other body builders are by no means oblivious to Brexit’s potential impact. Indeed they have already felt it thanks to the post-referendum decline in the value of the pound against key international currencies.

“The materials Ingimex uses tend to be priced in dollars and euros and represent 50% of the content of our bodies by value,” Gallen observes.

The UK’s departure from the EU may also result in a shortage of workers with the end of the free movement of European labour.

“The labour shortage is not a new problem, but it will get harder,” he comments. “And so far as Brexit is concerned, at present it looks as though we’ll end up with a messy fudge.”

About Jason Hodge (1361 Articles)
Editor of Commercial Vehicle Dealer Magazine, Jason has worked in the commercial vehicle industry since leaving university over 20 years ago.
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