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Safety, Efficiency or Looks?

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Well-laid-out and stylish-looking van load area racking systems from companies such as Bri-Stor and Bott not only help to boost operational efficiency. They enhance security too because drawer units and cabinets can be locked; and security is without doubt a key concern for light commercial owners countrywide.

 4x4 AT32 - Check out the wheel arch extensions
4×4 AT32 – Check out the wheel arch extensions

The results of research by Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles released last autumn show that tool theft from vans had risen by a worrying 15% during the previous three years costing businesses over £46m. A record 23,859 incidents occurred in 2017/18 alone according to police figures says VW.

The worst area for tool theft is central London with the Metropolitan Police recording over 8,000 cases a year costing businesses around £11m in total. Northumbria (4,000 reports) and West Yorkshire (1,000 reports) are second and third.

If trades people such as plumbers and electricians have all their tools stolen then they cannot work until they are replaced. Downtime costs companies an estimated £550 per van per day says VW.

“The findings are startling as they show that the problem is getting worse right across the UK,” says VW Commercial Vehicles head of service and parts, Trevor Hodgson-Phillips.

Installing lockable drawers and cabinets is not the only security measure trades people can take.

Extra locks can be fitted to the van’s load area doors along with an alarm capable of alerting the vehicle’s owner via a smartphone that a break-in is being attempted. A tracking device can be installed too, so if the van and its contents go missing there is a chance that they can be located and recovered.

Well-known for products such as van roof racks and bars, roof vents and bulkheads, Van Guard is supporting an online petition launched by tradesman Peter Booth that asks government to consider what further steps can be taken to tackle the fast-growing problem of thefts of tools from vans, and van theft itself. At the time of writing it had attracted almost 38,000 signatures – visit petition.parliament.uk and key “van” into the search box in order to sign.

Van Guard has come up with a number of measures that van owners can take, including investing in window grilles and lockable ladder clamps and pipe carriers.

Efficiency and security are both vital concerns, but so is the weight of anything installed in a van’s cargo area. The heavier the units are, the greater the impact on the vehicle’s fuel consumption.

It is a concern that has long been recognised by Modul-System, which operates through its subsidiary Tevo in the UK. It has been busy taking weight out of its drawer units, but without sacrificing robustness of construction says vice president, Thomas Johansson.

“Despite the fact that that we have reduced the weight by 20%, the load capacity and strength remain the same,” he states. The reduction ranges from 1kg to 2kg depending on drawer size.

One of the keys to cutting weight so far as load area storage systems are concerned is the use of ultra-high-strength steel rather than mild steel. The former is more expensive than the latter, but is four times stronger so less needs to be used.

Modul-System switched to ultra-high-strength steel when it introduced new racking some two years ago. It is not the only route to weight reduction however.

The company has also come up with a strong but light-in-weight workbench constructed out of an extruded polystyrene and fibreglass reinforced polyester sandwich. It is around 60% lighter than an equivalent product made from wood.

A 1.5m workbench made using this type of sandwich, and with an aluminium edge-protector, weighs 7kg compared with a wooden one of the same length which tips the scales at 19kg, says Modul-System. It is resistant to oils and chemicals says Johansson and because it is not sensitive to moisture, there is no risk that it will warp; a problem that wooden benches can suffer from over time.

While load bay racking systems should ideally look attractive and leave customers with a positive impression of the tradesperson that is using them, first and foremost they need to be practical. Other items that can be fitted to vans – front and rear spoilers, fancy wheel trims, and in-cab embellishments such as brushed aluminium handbrake levers for instance – are primarily cosmetic.

Sometimes however the practical and the cosmetic can be combined. Offering a wide range of extras for light commercials, Van Demon makes the point that the exterior black acrylic sun visor it markets for models such as Citroen’s Relay reduces sun glare as well as making the vehicle look just that little bit different.

Van Demon stresses that some of the items it supplies – the glass fibre front splitter spoiler for Ford’s Transit Custom for example – require painting and should really be fitted by a body shop or a van body styling products specialist. That is potentially extra work for a dealer workshop, and dealers with used vans on their forecourt would do well to take a look at what Van Demon and other accessories suppliers have to offer.

Fit a few extras to an otherwise-mundane white panel van that has been sitting there for rather too long and make it look more interesting, and you may find it sells more quickly than it would otherwise do.

Van Demon is by no means the only company to market extras and accessories for light commercials.

Best-known for its pick-up hardtops, Truckman can supply front grilles in either a black or stainless steel finish for pick-ups such as Ford’s Ranger, Toyota’s Hilux and VW’s Amarok. It has also ensured that it has a variety of products available that are suitable for the premium-price Mercedes-Benz X-Class, including a tonneau cover as well as hardtops.

Much of the interest in Truckman at present however is centred around the award-winning DECKED drawer system for pick-up beds.

Originating from the USA, it consists of twin full-bed-length roll-out drawers mounted in a galvanised steel frame beneath a raised cargo deck. Accessible when the pick-up’s tailgate is dropped down, each of the drawers can hold 100kg while the raised deck is capable of carrying up to a tonne.

It has been approved by a number of pick-up manufacturers says Truckman, including Toyota.

Toyota has also granted its seal of approval to the firm’s Retrax roller tonneau cover and its Undercover Swing Case truck bed toolbox. “We have an excellent relationship with Toyota and its official endorsement of our products gives owners added confidence in the Truckman name,” says Truckman executive chairman, Mike Wheeler.

Truckman’s other activities include the supply and installation of ALUCA van and pick-up racking.

Anybody who wants to see how far van styling can go could do worse than take a look at what MS-RT has done with Ford’s Transit Custom. Changes include everything from sill extensions and a rear spoiler to 18ins Anthracite OZ Racing alloy wheels.

MS RT Transit Custom - fully pimped
MS RT Transit Custom – fully pimped

So far as pick-ups are concerned, Icelandic engineering firm Arctic Trucks has come up with the Nissan Navara 4×4 OFF-ROADER AT32 with wheel-arch extensions, 32ins tyres and a raised suspension system offering 20mm extra ground clearance. It is on sale through the Nissan network priced from £33,480.

Some light commercial racking and accessory manufacturers are diversifying into related fields in a bid to broaden their appeal; none more so than Sortimo.

Last year’s IAA Hanover Commercial Vehicle Show in Germany saw it unveil ProCargo CQ1. With an enclosed cab and scooter-type controls, it is a concept four-wheel electric vehicle which can be used for last-mile delivery work says the company.

ProCargo CQ1 Concept Van - Last Mile Delivery
ProCargo CQ1 Concept Van – Last Mile Delivery

It can transport euro pallets or one of Sortimo’s demountable sContainers which can hold tools and parts for use by trades people.

Top speed is just under 30mph and lithium-ion phosphate batteries give it a range of approaching 40 miles between recharges says Sortimo.

Its debut follows on from that of the ProCargo CT1 cargo cycle which appeared at the IAA exhibition in 2016 and has been displayed at the UK’s Commercial Vehicle Show.

Admittedly ProCargo CQ1 cannot carry large quantities of goods; but with the roll-out of Clean Air Zones across the country and the imminent introduction of the Ultra Low Emission Zone in central London, there is no denying that Sortimo is in touch with the spirit of the times.

About Jason Hodge (1360 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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