The commercial van marketplace’s landscape is changing rapidly with the introduction of a number of completely new van designs. Fleet upfitters are taking advantage of these new vehicles’ designs to provide a wider range of upfitting solutions that meet the diverse needs of today’s businesses.
Business Fleet magazine received responses from representatives of five companies that provide upfitting services and products, including Adrian Steel, Auto Truck Group, Masterack, Ranger Design and Utilimaster.
In addition to discussing their product and service offerings for new vans, these representatives also discussed how the new vans’ designs are changing their approach to product design and upfitting.
VERSATILE VAN LINEUP
The new vans arriving in the marketplace fall into the full-size van or compact van group. The Ford Transit, the Ram ProMaster and the 2014-MY Mercedes-Benz/Freightliner Sprinter fall into the full-size van group.
Compact vans include the Ford Transit Connect (a new version of which is set to arrive in the market next year); the Ram C/V (cargo van), which is currently out; the Nissan NV200, which is also available; and the Chevrolet City Express, which is set to arrive in late 2014 as a 2015 model-year vehicle.
One of the main advantages of the newer full-size vans is versatility. The Transit, ProMaster and Sprinter all offer a range of roof heights, body lengths and configurations that can meet the needs of different types of businesses.
Jenn Voelker, Masterack’s marketing manager for Leggett & Platt Commercial Vehicle Products (Masterack’s parent company), says the company recognizes that its fleet customers are focusing on fuel-efficient vehicles, cost-savings and alternative fuels, and that these factors are behind the range of configurations the new full-size vans offer.
“OEMs are widening their breadth of products to include more commercial vehicle options,” Voelker says. “For example, the full-size Ford Transit cargo van will have seven different length and cube configurations, and the Ram ProMaster will have eight configurations. At Masterack, our focus is on solutions that provide customers with weight savings, modularity and cost savings.”
All of the upfitters contacted say the range of new designs is a welcome change and will benefit businesses that operate fleet vehicles.
“Adrian Steel is expanding its product line to provide cargo management products for all the new vans listed, including the Chevrolet City Express,” says Todd Goldmeyer, marketing manager for Adrian Steel.
“The new taller vans, like the Nissan NV, Ford Transit and Ram ProMaster, will have much more storage capacity than many of the standard size vans on the market today. Our new shelving platforms will allow customers to maximize the cargo area of those vehicles in both length and height.”
Rick Pilgrim, marketing communications and brand manager for Ranger Designs, says that Ranger Designs also plans to take advantage of the higher roof heights to provide more solutions for customers.
“The higher roof heights are welcomed by technician-users,” says Pilgrim. “Ranger has taken advantage of this extra space with tall shelving. This helps the technician-user capitalize on all the potential area of the work van’s interior. Users and customers will quickly see the advantages of higher roof heights and how our designs capitalize on fact.”
The additional space and wider range of configurations allow for greater customization and for the creation of a fully enclosed mobile workspace, says Sean Otterberg, special projects manager for Auto Truck Group. These characteristics lead to a number of business benefits.
“The vehicles, as far as the scope of what is being offered goes, are more versatile and offer more configurations,” says Otterberg. “The jumbo version of the Transit, for example, will offer extreme versatility at the job site. [The new vans allow you to] lengthen your routes and really expand the length of a workday or the amount of supplies that you’re moving. It’s going to make the industry more efficient.”
Fuel economy and aerodynamics are the two major differences that the new full-size vans bring to the marketplace, says John Marshall, senior vice president of sales and marketing with Utilimaster. He also agreed with the other assessments, adding that the vans’ higher roofs allow for more cargo room and for drivers to stand up inside.
When designing the new vehicles, the different automakers added specific features that make the upfitting process easier.
“Reinforced mounting points have been designed into some vehicles in the cargo area and on the roof for ladder racks,” says Voelker. “This certainly does assist upfitters with installation and helps retain the resale value of the vehicle.”
The new compact cargo vans also offer a number of features designed to make employees’ lives easier and business more efficient, Goldmeyer says.
“The compact cargo vans like the [Ford] Transit Connect, the [Nissan] NV200 and the [Chevrolet] City Express are great because the technician can access the cargo area from the side and rear doors without having to crawl inside,” Goldmeyer says. “Adrian Steel products are designed to complement that feature.”
NEW PRODUCT LINES
Each company provided details on either a specific product or a general range of products for the new vans. Modularity, lightweight and efficient designs and accessibility are the core ideas that upfitters say they are focused on when designing products for the new vans.
According to Auto Truck Group, it will offer solutions for all of the new vans.
“We’ll be providing interior solutions for the cargo, Transit, ProMaster, City Express and Ram C/V,” Otterberg says. “Also for the Transit chassis cab and cutaway and ProMaster chassis cab and cutaway. We may also offer a small aluminum contractor body, a lightweight service body solution for the ProMaster chassis cab and cutaway. This is a new entry for us. We’ll be designing our own interiors in both steel and aluminum.”
Adrian Steel plans to offer a new product called the LoadsRite Drop Down Ladder Rack for customers.
“All these new vans will also have new types of ladder racks,” Goldmeyer says. “Many of the tall vans will need a specialized rack to help load and unload ladders off the roof. Our LoadsRite Drop Down Ladder Rack will do just that. Drop the ladder down to a position that it makes ergonomic for the user to load and unload."
Masterack is planning to offer an all-new composite cargo management system called SmartSpace, Voelker says. The company worked with its largest fleet customers to design the system. During development, Masterack focused on reducing its weight and making it effectively work with the vehicle’s size, regardless of which specific vehicle or configuration a given business is using.
“The SmartSpace cargo management system is manufactured from lightweight materials including composites and aluminum,” Voelker says. “It can offer fleets a significant fuel savings over traditional steel systems. For example, based on a fleet with 1,500 vehicles and current fuel prices of $3.50/gal, a fleet can save over $200k in fuel per year simply by selecting the SmartSpace system.”
SmartSpace’s system is modular and allows customers to add and reconfigure drawers, lockable doors, dividers and even shelves, Voelker says.
“Additionally, because there are so many new vehicle configurations coming to market, Masterack has designed SmartSpace to be installed on an aluminum rail system that can easily be adapted to all vehicle lengths and heights,” she added.
For each of the new vans, Ranger Design will offer its Fleetline and Proline products. These product lines are specifically engineered to save weight, offer a quiet ride with no rattles and optimize interior workspace, Pilgrim explained.
“With the arrival of so many new vehicles to the market in one year, fleet managers have tougher decisions to make and the decision-making process may take longer,” Pilgrim says.
“When the vehicles do land, though, they need them in service quickly. Due to the success of our new Quickship service, which ensures next business-day shipping from Rochester, N.Y., we have now expanded the service to include all of the new Ram ProMaster and Nissan NV200 products (select products for the other vans are also available). Clients expect fast service, and our drive is to reduce fleet downtime. Ranger will be offering more and more products with this Quickship service to help keep fleets on the road, where they are most profitable.”
Utilimaster plans to offer a range of products for the new vans, Marshall says. The company focused on standardizing the vocational packages it offers.
“Our goal was to make the cargo containment and vocational packages similar in that Utilimaster has adapted them for the envelope of the van,” Marshall says. “For the Ford Transit, Ram ProMaster, Ford Transit Connect and the Mercedes Sprinter, Utilimaster offers shelving and upfit solutions for multiple vocations. Whether you are a parts-and-delivery company, a linen company or a utility company, Utilimaster offers solutions for a number of different industries.”
Getting into specifics, Marshall says Utilimaster will offer refrigeration and heating solutions for the new vans in addition to the vocational packages mentioned previously. “These are important for florists, restaurants looking to cater or even soda companies with deliveries,” he says.
In addition, Utilimaster also plans to offer truck bodies for the Ford Transit and Ram ProMaster, since they are large vehicle platforms.
For more information, visit Adrian Steel (www.adriansteel.com), Auto Truck Group (www.autotruck.com), Masterack (www.masterack.com), Ranger Design (www.rangerdesigninc.com) and Utilimaster (www.utilimaster.com).