As businesses seek more control over fleet costs, they are looking more closely at what is being carried on their vans and how.
This may be partly due to the impact extra weight can have on fuel efficiency, but most operators have their eyes on the prices charged for interior racking systems and ply-lining options.
Compared with how they think of racking, it could be argued that customers are less concerned about the quality of ply-lining, which has led to it falling significantly in price.
“We have suffered from a massive erosion in prices, and ply-lining is now cheaper than it has ever been,” says Demar’s product development manager, Mark Edwards.
Good news for the customer, if not for companies such as Demar – Edwards estimates that getting an average panel van ply-lined costs 60-70% what it did five years ago.
But despite the price drop, he says the specifications – 9mm or 12mm exterior grade hardwood plywood for the floor, with 6mm side and door panels – remain the same.
David Byatt, managing director of Anglian Vehicle Linings (AVL) has put a focus on quality, despite recognising that cost is still the biggest priority for operators, large and small.
“We’ve invested a lot of money in CNC machines and that is the only way for us to compete,” he says, adding that the company has recently taken delivery of its fourth machine.
“The justification for investing in these products is seen in the quality finishes of the ply and the uniform products that are produced, compared with doing the work by hand.”
Nick Tremaine, managing director of Ply Lining Services, explains that his company offers three main wood products for van lining: standard plywood (typically sourced from China), superior plywood (from Malaysia), and Latvian and Russian birch for the added bit of quality that some customers request.
Ply Lining Services also offers a 9mm heavy duty hardwood ply floor, and 6mm wall and door panels. Tremaine says close to 80% of vans use the Chinese ply.
“Our business model is based more on volume and turnover, and the PDI centres and dealerships we work with are looking for the best deal they can get.
"While we believe our fitment quality is one of the best in the industry, customers will forgo that in place of a cheaper ply because they know it still looks good.