Producing more than 7,000 truck bodies a year, Telford-based Ingimex is one of the largest producers of 3.5-tonne vehicle bodies in Europe.
However, in common with all the other body builders, Ingimex now needs to follow European N1 Whole Vehicle Type Approval (WVTA).
In a speech made in 2012 Justin Gallen, Managing Director at Ingimex, warned that registering new vehicles with special bodies could be a problem, due to VMs dragging their heels over making technical data readily available. Fortunately, VMs supplied the goods, so now the Shropshire firm can offer bodies in a range of styles on a choice of chassis.
The changes required on the designs of bodies were relatively minor. “We were doing 90% of it anyway,” he explains. Only a few changes to light bar positions, and where tow hitches had been combined with tail lifts, were design changes needed. Instead, Type Approval has put all of the requirements in one place. “We’ve been able to start with a product matrix. With things like mudwings we had to meet the Road Traffic Approval Act anyway, as the products have always had to meet with these requirements.”
While changes to the product have been fairly small, the amount of paperwork has not. “Although chassis cabs are by definition incomplete vehicles and there is an expectation what the finished product will be like, you will nonetheless have to reference every base system approval to prove it is not relevant to what you have done,” Gallen says, adding; “The body of work, by which I mean the folder of documentation needed, will run between 30 and 60 pages for each base.”
Gallen adds that a certain amount of extra administration is generated every time the base vehicle was changed, which could happen up to five times per year. There is also the fact that if the VM alters the chassis to the extent where the body requires a redesign there is the possibility that the body would have to be retested – although this hasn’t happened yet. Despite having to contend with more red tape, he is positive about both the spirit and the implementation of the rules. “There is a logical, commercial and possibly moral reason for following the directive,” he says, adding that the business advantages to WVTA were clear.
“Commercially, the rules should level the playing field. If you are trying to do the job properly – and in most cases with good reason– then obviously we would become aggrieved if you are losing to someone who is circumnavigating those rules.” He adds that under the pre-existing guidelines, it was possible for some builders to construct a cheaper body at the expense of usable payload, with the result that the majority of the finished vehicle would be overweight almost as soon as the operator put anything in it.
Legal issues can also be avoided by adhering to type approval rules, according to Gallen. “If you had an accident and HSE was examining the vehicle, if it found the lighting to be obscured and thought that was relevant that would be a big problem,” he explained. “After all, how many 7.5 tonners have you been behind on the motorway where the number plate is obscured by the under-run bar?” He added that said under-run bars tended to be fitted for reasons of box-ticking, but were generally made from metal too lightweight to stop a speeding vehicle. “It’s serious, because if someone does drive under it and gets decapitated then you’d wish you’d stuck to the correct cross section,” he said.
One of the challenges of Type Approval from a builder’s perspective has been mass and dimensions. Gallen explained, “If it doesn’t affect the vehicle by more than 3% in mass then it doesn’t require re-testing. For example, in terms of dimensions, a toolbox tucked between the axles doesn’t increase the total area so doesn’t need approval, but a crane might very well increase the height of the vehicle, so would need approval.” He adds that all configurations available from Ingimex had been tested and approved, although the firm was unable to offer a tail-lift on a tipper, due to the lights being obscured when the lift was in certain positions.
Finally, he believes that despite all of the changes that there was still plenty of life in the 3.5 tonne market. “Certainly last year was a record year of 3.5 tonne vehicles,” he said. “The only problem is that the vehicles themselves are getting heavier, which reduces the payload.” Regardless of the design changes to come, we are sure that Ingimex will rise to the challenge and turn what could be perceived as a difficulty into a competitive advantage.