Vans, Trucks and Vehicle Upfits
Published: December 2003
Large or small, electrical contracting companies rely on trucks to transport personnel, equipment, tools and supplies to job sites. The way vehicles are equipped to fit individual needs affects how efficiently electricians in the field do their work.
Full-size pickups and vans are the basic work vehicles for electrical contractors, and cab-over truck chassis with utility bodies and boxes are also popular alternatives. Cab-over truck chassis can be fitted with a variety of optional bodies that are larger than conventional vans and allow workers to stand upright inside the van.
While vans remain in wide use, enclosed service bodies are increasingly popular. Utility bodies provide covered and secure storage for tools, parts and supplies. A variety of body styles permit vehicles to be upfitted to individual needs.
“Enclosed service bodies provide a completely enclosed work and cargo area similar to a van, but have the added advantage of exterior storage compartments for easy access of frequently used items,” said Debbie Hartranft, vice president of marketing for Reading Truck Body. “And they provide increased storage capacity for greater flexibility and increased efficiency for transporting necessary tools to job sites.”
Hybrid van bodies with service compartments on the lower half provide the convenience and versatility of having access to a large cargo area as well as outside service body compartments, Hartranft said.
“In addition,” she continued, “manufacturers have introduced aerodynamic styling in service bodies. While traditional service bodies continue to be extremely popular, sleek new body designs offer consumers an alternative.”
Hartranft said the advent of powder coat painting has helped increase durability of utility bodies.
“An optional powder coating provides outstanding corrosion protection to various elements, adding years of life to a body,” she said. “Polyester particles, applied with high-voltage spraying equipment, create a smooth and durable white finish, allowing the body to withstand high levels of corrosion protection to salt, chemicals, humidity, scratching and impact, far surpassing that of conventional paint.”
Another option is a lightweight fiberglass body that mounts on a pickup, similar to a camper, and can be removed and replaced while fully loaded. These style bodies are available with basic tradesman packages with adjustable shelving, side doors for access from the outside and drop-down ladder racks, said Steve Cossalter, fleet sales manager for Cargobody USA. Upfit packages are available in various configurations to fit the needs of specific trade applications—including electrical contractors
“These bodies are popular both with small contractors—because they can remove the bodies and use the trucks for other purposes—as well as with fleet owners,” Cossalter said.
Whether stock van or truck vehicle with box or utility body, upfitting meets specific contractor requirements.
Common upfit products for vans include cab dividers, shelving, drawers, storage bins and file bins, reel holders, ladder racks and conduit carriers. For pickups, cross boxes, floor drawers, conduit carriers and ladder racks are popular.
Product categories haven’t changed dramatically over the past few years, although innovations and improvements make them easier to use and more durable.
While vehicle upfit equipment may appear to be unchanged from the products sold several years ago, there are important differences.
“In general, manufacturers invest a lot of engineering in more efficient use of materials,” said Mark Hassel, marketing manager at Adrian Steel Co. “There is an emphasis on weight consciousness to provide customers maximum payload. Determining the optimum weight of steel for different products is important, and heavier is not necessarily better because it can increase cost and reduce payload capacity of the vehicle.”
Most upfit products still are made primarily of steel, but components of other, lighter materials also are used.
“Shelf bins with plastic dividers are a flexible, lightweight alternative and are designed to allow the user to remove a bin from the truck and take it to the job site,” said Hassel. “With standard dividers, inventory has to be removed and taken to where it will be used. Cab-cargo barriers for years have been all metal with a perforated look-through area. Some newer barriers have clear Lexan window panels, and they are becoming very popular.”
Hardware adds to user convenience. Some door units have door-glide to facilitate opening and closing. Drawers can be closed and locked, closed but unlocked or open and locked.
Some traditional products have changed significantly.
For example, drop- or swing-down ladder racks make it easier to load and unload ladders. Manual, hydraulic and electric versions quickly and easily bring ladders down to user level and raise them back to transport position.
The addition of cable spool holders is a valuable one to upfit products, said Tom DeVaux, director of distributor sales and marketing for Masterack.
Adrian Steel’s Hassel believes evaluating upfit products is easier today than in the past because there is wider access to product information through the internet, truck dealers and upfit equipment distributors who are making contractors better aware of the equipment and upfit options available to them.
Contractors can select and purchase equipment and upfits from either the truck dealer or upfit equipment distributor.
“The majority of new equipment is selected when the contractors purchase or lease new vehicles,” said Hassel. “In most cases, the truck dealer makes arrangements for the customer with the equipment distributor to have the vehicle upfitted. Local truck equipment distributors usually work in conjunction with the truck dealer to provide equipment and installation.”
Added Masterack’s DeVaux: “Good commercial truck managers know and understand contractors’ vehicle needs and maintain working relationships with local equipment distributors who are committed to the same standards of customer service as the dealership and who provide upfit installation. Working with the commercial truck manager, the distributor, which usually represents several manufacturers, should be able to recommend and deliver safe, quality products that meet all the contractor’s needs. Most contractors like the single source turnkey delivery that working through the commercial truck manager gives them.”
Correct installation can be as important as selected upfit products.
“Most truck dealerships prefer the distributor do the install,” said DeVaux. “A quality installing distributor, in addition to having more familiarity with the products they are installing, are more likely to be knowledgeable and informed about current safety standards and federal and state government regulations. They have the resources, experience, and in the best cases, are certified. Most of the quality ones will belong to a trade association such as the National Truck Equipment Association, which qualify, educate and govern their members.”
Small and medium contractors—those with 25 or fewer vehicles—often purchase out of local dealer stock with equipment also installed locally through a distributor, said Hassel.
“Larger fleets with multiple operations and delivery destinations,” he said, “may choose to have the vehicles equipped via an upfitter located near the vehicle’s assembly plant. This process is commonly referred to as a ‘ship-through’ and is available via the manufacturer’s dealer network and commercial leasing companies. Vehicles are temporarily diverted before final shipment to the dealer to an upfitter for equipment installation, then returned to the manufacturer’s traffic system for final delivery to the dealer. This provides fleets with a standardized installation, nationwide furnish and install pricing and savings on the transportation costs of shipping vehicles and/or equipment to multiple locations to be installed.”
Basic considerations when evaluating and comparing upfit products include durability, materials used, rust protection package, convenience, security and price,” said Reading’s Hartranft.
“Payload capabilities in conjunction with the chassis GVWR, are also important considerations,” she added.
Incentives also may be a factor in purchasing decisions.
Hassel suggests buyers always ask truck dealers about incentives and special offers that often are used to encourage purchasing or leasing their vehicles.
“For the past several years, truck OEMs have offered their various ‘free packages’ through their dealerships,” says DeVaux. “These offers were targeted to small commercial business fleets that most contractors fall into. The draw of a free upfit has been a powerful enticement for these fleet owners, causing many to compromise on the expensive customization of their vehicles they have gotten in the past. They have learned to adjust with these generic OEM packaged interiors when a good commercial truck manager can work with each customer and a local distributor to get the add-ons specific to that contractor’s needs.” EC
GRIFFIN, a construction and tools writer from Oklahoma City, can be reached at 405.748.5256 or email@example.com.