Vehicle converters report business is booming

Line up of Ford commercial vehicles

Demand for specialist conversions on vans and chassis cabs is booming regardless of the continued uncertainty caused by Brexit, say bodybuilders.

“It’s a strong market,” says Justin Gallen, managing director of Telford, Shropshire-based Ingimex. “We’re aiming to produce 2,300 conversions this year, 30% up on 2018.”

Scott Hadley, head of sales at Aldridge, West Midlands-based JC Payne, adds: “We received a lot of orders for Lutons during the first half, and we’ve just supplied 50 to a well-known daily rental company.”

Sales are surging ahead despite the challenges generated by changes to Euro 6 and complications caused by the roll-out of the Worldwide harmonised Light vehicle Test Procedure (WLTP). A conversion can impact a vehicle’s WLTP figure.

It is a level of interest Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles (VWCV) is determined to capitalise on, says specialist sales manager Nick Axtell.

VWCV has built up a network of 17 UK converters approved to work on its products, including CoolKit, VFS, Paneltex and Bri-Stor as well as JC Payne and Ingimex.

“Around 22% to 24% of our output is on VW chassis,” says Gallen.

Their efforts are being supported by a newly-introduced team of local business development managers tasked with working with VW van dealers to help them boost sales to small- to medium-size fleets.

“We’re 12 weeks into this programme. It involves 40 of our van centres and the managers are working with 14 of them particularly closely,” Axtell says.

A number of VWCV’s approved converters were present at a presentation and exhibition organised at the Telford International Centre aimed at giving fleets and leasing companies a better understanding of what they can deliver. Converters are expected to match the warranty VWCV offers on its products as well as the standard of its aftersales back-up.

VWCV has two approved conversion programmes – Engineered to Go and Engineered for You.

The former denotes a range of standardised off-the-shelf products that appear in VWCV’s price list. Leading the way are the dropsides, tippers and Lutons that Ingimex builds on Crafter chassis.

Engineered for You describes conversions that are more closely-tailored to individual operators needs and may serve niche markets. The car transporter body built on Crafter by Derbyshire’s Advanced KFS is one example.

Among the bodybuilders present, CoolKit of Burnley was especially proud of the temperature-controlled dual-compartment medium wheelbase front-wheel drive 3.5-tonne Crafter van it had on display.

Complete with a sliding bulkhead, which allows the operator to alter the respective sizes of the front frozen and rear chilled compartments that can be removed if necessary, it is fitted with an Alex Original refrigeration unit.

It can handle a 908kg payload – a competitive figure for a medium-height van of this size.

Rather than the more-usual plastic strips, both the side and rear door apertures are equipped with an air curtain; a downward-facing fan positioned to reduce the amount of cold air that escapes when the doors are opened.

It makes it easier and quicker for drivers to unload products for delivery, says CoolKit, because they do not have to wrestle with lots of dangling plastic.

Alongside what it can offer on Crafter, Ingimex has also developed a dropside and a tipper based on VW’s Transporter chassis cab. Built on a 3.2-tonne chassis, its Tip-up tipper can shift up to 1,000kg – as much as some 3.5-tonne tippers are able to carry.

The body comes with a steel floor and tailgate but the sides are made of aluminium and it relies on an aluminium and steel sub-frame.

Major increases in the price of both metals could force bodybuilders to put their own prices up, which could dampen demand.

“Fortunately, they’re both quite stable at present, with no significant movements,” says Gallen.

Read more on the impact of WLTP on conversions and vehicle lead times.

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