It’s not easy spec’ing work vehicles these days. Yes, inventory is loosening somewhat overall. But if you’re running cargo vans, those will remain in short supply for a while — and manufacturers of small commercial vans are abandoning the U.S. market entirely.
In general, the ongoing supply chain disruptions have forced fleets into a needed rethinking of the types of vehicles that could be right for the job. “It's now more important than ever for fleets to do a deep dive into their operations to figure out how to get the job done using vehicles and manufacturers that they haven't thought of before,” says Dain Giesie, assistant vice president at Enterprise Fleet Management.
Fleets need to reexamine commonly held assumptions on drivers’ model preferences and whether the same vehicle is needed for the job, Giesie says. Has the job evolved to where drivers don't carry as many tools or parts to the job sites, and can move from a pickup or van to an SUV? Is it still true that sales drivers want SUVs, when they’d be just as happy and productive in a smaller crossover?
Demand for consumer-type vehicles for commercial applications has skyrocketed, as illustrated in shopper data from Comvoy.com, a national commercial vehicle marketplace. Searches for SUVs, hatchbacks, minivans, and passenger vans for commercial use shot up 350% in 2022, according to Comvoy.com data. This follows another 300% increase on the site from 2020 to 2021 from delivery service businesses, both bulk and final mile.
Those searches are coming from growing business sectors, and their vehicle needs are further exacerbating existing supply constraints. “In addition to delivery continuing to become an even more essential service, the franchise space predicts that home renovation, home restoration, home services such as in-home health care, mobile car repair, home security, pet grooming and pest control will be big in 2023,” says Kathryn Schifferle, founder and chief vision officer of Work Truck Solutions and Comvoy.com.
EV Proliferation Brings New Spec’ing Choices
With the availability of many new brand-new electric passenger models, it’s time to add EVs to the spec mix. Can a Chevrolet Bolt, or the slightly larger Bolt EUV crossover, do the same job? The answer is yes for Domino’s Pizza, which leased hundreds of Bolts through Enterprise Fleet Management for its delivery service.
“Generally a Chevy Bolt hasn’t historically been thought of as a fleet vehicle,” Giesie says. “But when you marry up the capabilities of that vehicle with the duty cycle or usage by Domino’s franchisees, it is an ideal choice.”
With EVs, fleets also need to consider range and time to charge into their spec’ing criteria. But when it all works, fleets can realize operational savings and other benefits.
Delivering pizzas in new, company-owned and branded electric vehicles is not only a great driver recruitment tool, but also a terrific example of companies working together to support each other’s sustainability goals, Giesie says.
Reimagining the Service Body
Today, light-duty trucks have many topper and tonneau options which can expand their utility for delivery and other services, including some unique toolbox configurations, Schifferle says.
“The open bed of a pickup can manage bigger loads and unevenly shaped freight,” she says. “Now, with expanded vehicle models being utilized for delivery services, as well as more professional and home services developing, are there new upfits to compliment those use cases?”
One solution isn’t exactly new — but is meeting the needs of the moment.
Truck caps (or camper shells in the retail world) are rigid housings made of fiberglass or aluminum that fit over a pickup bed and provide protection of cargo from the elements and theft.
Enterprise Fleet Management has partnered with Spacekap, a manufacturer of fiberglass commercial slip-in service bodies for pickup trucks. “When demand for commercial cargo vans started outpacing supply, Enterprise Fleet Management knew it needed to work with a client and suppliers to explore a new vehicle alternative. Marrying an innovative solution with industry-proven capabilities, team members partnered with a fiberglass manufacturer, SpaceKap to deliver a personalized product to best meet a client’s business needs,” says Giesie.
But don’t call it a truck cap: “I know it’s in our name, but we’re much more than the traditional pickup truck cap,” says Jack Lord, U.S. national sales director for Spacekap.
Spacekaps on pickups offer an alternative to service vans. They fit on all full-size trucks on either 6.5-foot or 8-foot beds going back to the 2002 model year. Like service bodies, they’re upfit based on vocation with shelving, sliding trays, racks and bins, steps, and other accessories such as ladder racks.
Installation of a Spacekap doesn’t require bolting, welding, or drilling. The tailgate is removed, and the unit is fastened directly on the truck using a tie-down system to lock it into position.
And, they’re transferrable — it’s common for Spacekaps to be transferred three or four times to new vehicles, Lord says. When the pickup is ready to be sold, the Spacekap is removed and leaves the bed without scratches, welds, or screws. Transfers take as little as 90 minutes.
Popular vocations for Spacekap include work bench applications, such as plumbers, electricians, and HVAC. About 20% of the upfits are custom. Spacekap has created specialized upfits for the likes of coroner's offices and CSI police units.
Spacekaps come in three versions: Compak, Wild, and Diablo. Lord says that telecom companies like the Compak because it’s the same height as the truck cab and can fit into underground parking. The Wild is eight inches taller than the Compak. Preferred by HVAC technicians, it’s commonly spec’d with an optional slide-out tray with seven locking positions.
Diablo has 6 ft., 3 in. of clearance inside — the same height as a Ford Transit high roof. Lord says parcel delivery is catching on, as FedEx Ground uses the Diablo model for more rural routes that are better suited for the durability of a 4x4 truck than a van.
Meeting the Moment
Spacekap was founded in 1972. The slip-in service bodies were launched in 1992 and are on their fourth generation. The models are manufactured in Quebec, with about 70% of production sold in the U.S.
With extended order-to-delivery times (OTDs) today, Spacekap bodies offer a versatile solution to the process of ordering a van that is shipped to and then equipped at an upfitter, which can take up to 18 weeks or longer to complete. Spacekap can satisfy an order in eight to nine weeks, Lord says.
That shortened OTD increases efficiencies as well as cost savings. When conventional cargo vans are sold, the shelving and upfits go with it. Spacekap bodies can be used across multiple truck lifetimes and the cost of the unit can be amortized across that span.
In terms of fleet management companies, Spacekap only works with Enterprise Fleet Management at present. For other situations, fleets can order Spacekaps through authorized dealer upfitters and upfit them through authorized installers throughout the U.S.
The OEMs’ abandonment of the small commercial van market is leaving some fleets high and dry. The full-size pickup market, it’s safe to say, is only growing and will keep offering the two standard bed lengths across all manufacturers.
For Spacekap users, that’s peace of mind: If a fleet can’t immediately source, say, a Ford F-150 in an eight-foot bed but a Ram 1500 or Chevrolet Silverado is available, the Spacekap bodies will fit – and transfer across — all three, as well as Toyota Tundra and Nissan Titan.
Supply chain constraints will ease, eventually. But Spacekaps won’t necessarily lose their desirability, as fleets are otherwise attracted to them for their functionality, Lord says.
Cargo vans, which haven’t evolved much since 1930, have a lot of dead spots, he says. For vocational work, more cubic feet isn’t always better, it’s about accessibility and ergonomics. For some, a better system is to retrieve tools and equipment from the sides and a pull-out tray.
“The first reflex of some clients is to say, ‘That looks like a high-roof service van,’” he says. “But once they compare them, many say they want the Spacekap. It’s not a consolation prize, they keep ordering them.”
“It's a change of paradigms,” Lord says.