Fleet Management, Workhorse
Fit for purpose

The boom times for New Zealand’s building and infrastructure sectors has resulted in more light commercial vehicles on our roads, and busy times for the country’s commercial vehicle fit-out specialists. 

Take a look inside a tradie’s van, or ute, and you get an idea of how organised the driver is.

Some interiors are a dog’s breakfast – gear thrown in, tools buried, items misplaced. 

But those owners who make a comparatively small investment in a vehicle fit-out when purchasing their vehicle, are more likely to perform better on the job as well. 

It’s about being organised and efficient – and having a commercial vehicle that’s fit for purpose.

Unless you’ve been on another planet, you’ll have noticed the enormous growth New Zealand’s infrastructure and building sectors have been through in recent times – growth that’s mirrored in the booming light commercial vehicle (LCV) fit-out industry.

The companies that specialise in total “one-stop-shop” fit-outs are especially doing well.

Steve Newland, manager – Automotive division at Hale Manufacturing, Auckland and Wellington, explains how they manage each fit-out as a ‘total project’. Often that means coordinating work with the lease companies and clients or fleet managers – as well as various contractors, such as signwriters and body wrap specialists, vehicle tracking specialists, window tinters, tyre companies, and so on.

Steve took NZ Company Vehicle on a tour of their Auckland facility, where there was a range of new utes and vans in various states of assembly and modification – and a paint booth for colour matching canopies.

“Solutions focused and customer-driven” is how Steve describes their operation. He explains that there is now a heavy health and safety focus when it comes to fit-outs.

Times have changed dramatically since he finished his apprenticeship in 1975. Today it’s about protecting the driver with accessories such as cargo barriers, or sealed bulkheads if necessary – and applying safety features; highlighting the vehicle’s presence with such things as reverse alarms and cameras.

Custom fitting canopies are a particular specialty of Hale Manufacturing. 

Steve points out their big-selling Alpha canopies, sourced from Thailand, feature single-handle central locking and tinted glass for extra security. “People want canopies that are dry and secure – and that’s exactly what these are.”


Options galore

Another one-stop shop for LCV fit-outs is Vehicle Construction and Maintenance (VCM) – and again, they handle one-offs or whole fleets. 

Director and owner Debbie Davis offers a long list of considerations for van and ute owners who want to customise their vehicles to their exact needs. For example, are there specific items that you need to allow for in terms of storage, such as shovels or tripods?

Canopies are a major consideration too. Lighter style canopies may require internal supporting for a roof rack. And there’s the issue of spare parts. For example, can you replace the rear door glass if it is damaged? Some are curved and a different thickness to what’s available in New Zealand, explains Davis. So if you damage it your vehicle may be off the road until a replacement can be brought in. That can be costly in terms of downtime and the vehicle off the road.

VCM also specialises in fitting flat decks to utes; even installing a tipping body. 

Flat deck options include aluminium versions or hot dip galvanised steel with timber decks – a decision which hinges on the environment the vehicle will be operating in and loads it will carry.

As for vans – the list of potential add-ons and enhancements is a long one. 

Interior shelving is the obvious one, the width of which should still allow you to carry specific items. 

Security enhancements may also need to be considered. Factory-fitted security may need to be supplemented with a passive infrared sensor (PIR) in the rear of the van, so if the glass is broken and door unopened, the vehicle alarm is still activated.

Care must be taken with the positioning of roof-racks; and depending on the length of loads you intend to carry, you may require a front or rear airbag-compatible ‘goal post’. 

Not all model vans have airbag-compatible nudge bars either.


Security first

Fitting out vans is also a specialty of Jackson Enterprises – and again the emphasis is on security. Tradie vehicles are regularly targeted by thieves – but Jackson can help prevent this by providing lockable storage and other security measures such as metal mesh screens for windows. So tools and equipment, as well as being stored tidily and efficiently, are harder to steal.

Jackson Enterprises have some great advice for businesses or individuals wanting to set up vehicles too. They say it’s important to ask the person using the vehicle how they like to work, and choose a fit-out that can be utilised by future employees and vehicles. Some of the more costly components can often be transferred across to new vehicles, saving fit-out costs going forward.


Suspension issues

Your ute or van may look the part with its bull bar, large diameter wheels, canopy and various tool boxes on board – but add in extras like several bags of cement, and up to four 100kg-plus occupants, and there’s real potential for overloading the vehicle.

SAS Autoparts have a solution in their Gross Vehicle Mass (maximum total weight) suspension upgrade kits. When a Pedders GVM+ kit is installed by an approved installer, the NZTA allows an increase to the vehicle’s registered GVM. On some utes the increase can be more than 700kg.

The kits comprise of new heavy-duty front struts and coil springs, rear leaf springs and shock absorbers, plus all necessary bolts and bushes.

In Australia this payload capacity issue is already being policed. However, in New Zealand the relevant authorities are only just beginning to become aware of the problem.

So it would seem that in 2017 safety, security and functionality are still the major considerations when fitting-out light commercial vehicles. And if you want a ute or van that performs as well as it looks, it pays to talk to the fit-out specialists.

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