June 8, 2017
The saying is that necessity is the mother of invention. If that’s the case then in the fleet and haulage industry the rising price of fuel and running costs are the mothers of innovation. Currently, there are companies up and down the country looking for new and innovative ways to make fleet vehicles lighter, leaner and more efficient. Not only does it save money on running costs, but it could mean increased load capacities too, boosting those bottom line numbers.
Commercial vehicle operators are now looking for lightweight vehicles and the new raise in unladen weight limits imposed by Euro 6 has made the search for leaner, more efficient options even more urgent. Euro 6 has added anything from 30-60kg to the average 3.5 ton chassis, while estimates show the average 18-ton chassis has gone up by as much as 100Kg, when compared to Euro 5.
Steel or Aluminium for Lightweight Vehicles
Basically, you have two options when it comes to vehicle bodies at the moment – aluminium or steel. And while an all-aluminium chassis will certainly up the amount you can carry considerably, it will also cost you more to install. Steel is heavier, yes, but it’s much cheaper than aluminium, and physically stronger, making it more resistant to damage from heavy loads. But the extra weight it adds to your unladen weight means a considerable reduction in the amount of load you can carry and a lower load-to-fuel ratio too, which means every kilo of load costs more to transport.
Steel has the advantage of being strong but for longevity aluminium definitely has the edge. It doesn’t rust and doesn’t require painting, although after a while you may have a white powdery deposit on the metal that indicates the surface is oxidising.
Conforming to FORS
Cutting the weight of the body allows you to add on extra features such as cages, tool boxes and tail lifts. It also means you can ensure vehicles comply with FORS – The Fleet Operator Recognition Scheme – and fit features such as side guards to protect vulnerable road users or even CCTV cameras. A lightweight body means all of these extras can be added, without impacting the limits on unladen weight, as well as providing plenty of room to carry a maximum load.
Stick to a steel body on a 3.5 ton chassis and payload capacity is likely to be limited to 450kg, whereas changing to an aluminium version will push that number up by around 150kg. That decision could have a big long-term effect on the efficiency of the vehicle, how much payload you can carry, and even how many more trips you can make within your normal operating cost parameters when compared to a like-for-like vehicle with a steel body.
Compromising Strength for Weight
However, aluminium bodies do have their drawbacks and the main one is strength. Aluminium is a soft metal that can easily be punctured or torn. So, if you’re planning to go for an all-alloy body swap, look for bodies with floors that are made out of cut, folded and fully welded sheets for extra strength.
It’s also important to look at the weight of your base vehicle and whether you need a vehicle with rear-wheel drive or twin rear wheels. A lighter front-wheel drive and single rear wheels set up could boost the payload capacity on a 3.5 ton tipper by around 140kg. Conversions to reduce the weight of vehicles are increasingly popular, as a ‘make-do-and-mend’ approach to fleet management rather than a replacement policy saves money.
And with new, high-strength steel that means you can get away with a body that’s constructed from lighter, thinner gauge materials coming online, it has never been easier to slim down your fleet and boost profits.