The right conversion will save you money

Respectable payloads can be achieved through the use of more traditional body building materials than plastics and composites, although it may at times be necessary to go up a weight category. A subsidiary of Italian body-building giant Scattolini, VFS of Eastleigh, Hampshire, has constructed a tipper body with a high-strength steel floor and alloy sides on a Nissan NT400 Cabstar, but on a 4.5-tonne rather than a 3.5-tonne chassis.

As a consequence it can handle a 2.2- to 2.3-tonne payload depending on the exact specification as opposed to the 1.1- to 1.2-tonnes that would be more typical on a 3.5-tonne platform.

Bodies constructed out of steel and alloy have the advantage that plenty of bodyshops can repair them. Bodies built out of more exotic materials may be more difficult to fix if they are damaged in an accident. Operators contemplating opting for them should first find out if there is anybody out there capable of knocking out the dents or replacing a panel if a driver has a bump. It should be remembered, too, that the materials used to construct a body can have a bearing on the cost. Alloy, for example, is three times the price of steel. On the other hand, it is one-third of the weight – good news from the payload viewpoint – it does not rust and will not need painting.

European Community Whole Vehicle Type Approval (ECWVTA – see panel, right) has had a massive impact on commercial vehicle body building and has compelled many businesses in the sector to up their game and get themselves better-organised. Other, less reputable companies have been forced out of the market.

While improving quality and helping to contain costs, ECWVTA has also resulted in greater standardisation of products, with less scope for individual variation. One-off products for specialised applications can still be built and put into service under the Individual Vehicle Approval Scheme administered by the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA). However, at present, inspections can only be carried out at a limited number of locations and there may be a wait of several weeks before the exercise is completed.

Ready to Run scheme

One consequence of ECWVTA is an acceleration of a trend already long-apparent at the lighter end of the rigid market towards manufacturer-approved conversions. Almost all light commercial producers operate approved conversion programmes with the body building firm typically obliged to support its work with a warranty that matches the warranty on the chassis. Manufacturer involvement means that any Type Approval requirements will be complied with and that, if there is a problem, it will have to be resolved by the dealer who supplied the vehicle. There is no need for the customer to become embroiled in a wearisome dispute between the dealer and the body builder over who is responsible for what.

Citroën has recently expanded its Ready to Run range. The line-up includes tippers, dropsides and Lutons and is being well-received by fleets.

“We’re now having 120 chassis a month bodied under the Ready to Run scheme and we’re asking the factory to increase right-hand-drive chassis production,” says Jeremy Smith, Citroën’s head of commercial vehicles and business sector operations. Moving up the weight scale, Daf builds and bodies trucks at its Leyland plant in Lancashire. Last year it supplied its 5,000th truck bodied there – an LF 7.5-tonner – to Royal Mail. Daf also liveries, taxes and registers the trucks it produces for Royal Mail, and arranges transportation to a designated depot, reducing delivery times.

The Paccar body-building programme – Paccar Inc is Daf’s US owner and also owns American truck makers Kenworth and Peterbilt – includes curtainsiders as well as box bodies on chassis grossing at up to 18 tonnes.

“It ensures consistency throughout in both fit and finish and the customer has only one point of contact,” says Daf managing director Ray Ashworth.

The Daf line-up includes the aerodynamic Aerobody. Two Aerobody LF 7.5-tonners have recently gone into service with furniture retailer Arighi Bianchi and should deliver a fuel saving of up to 8% at a cruising speed of 53mph compared with a truck fitted with an unadorned box body. The Macclesfield, Cheshire, firm despatches its 7.5-tonners to destinations as varied as Inverness and Monaco and – as indicated earlier – these extended runs should mean that the Aerobody’s streamlining will come into its own.

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