LCVs power ahead 04 September 2012

Van and LCV manufacturers have shown their hands with new hybrid and electric models, but Steve Banner confirms that there is plenty of life left in the internal combustion engine, and that there are other issues to consider

Van powertrain developers are increasingly concentrating on cutting fuel consumption and CO2 emissions, without compromising their vehicles' ability to carry out the jobs required of them, or the price. Innovations such as engine downsizing, advanced diesel technology and so-called micro-hybrids (misnomer really: not a diesel-electric hybrid, but involving related fuel-saving technology, such as auto stop-start) are among the answers.

Citroën's Berlingo e-HDI Airdream – powered by a Euro 5-compliant 1.6-litre diesel engine developing 90bhp at 4,000rpm and a peak torque of 215Nm at just 1,500rpm – is a case in point. Touted as a micro-hybrid, the French manufacturer's latest environmentally-friendly LCV features stop/start technology that kills the easily-restarted engine every time the driver allows it to idle. Consumption of diesel – typically top of any operator's list of costs – falls by up to 15% on city centre work, says the manufacturer, which makes the modest premium for the vehicle – from just £145 – recoverable in a few fill-ups.

Ford has followed in a similar direction with its latest ECOnetic version of FiestaVan. The small Ford also comes with auto start-stop, as well as other refinements designed to cut CO2 and fuel usage. Enhancements include: low-rolling-resistance tyres; revised gear ratios; an aerodynamic pack made up of an undershield and wind deflectors; and the seemingly-ubiquitous shift indicator light, which advises drivers when to change gear for maximum fuel economy.

Boxing clever

When it comes to transmission choice, persuading van operators to specify anything other than a manual gearbox has had only mixed success. And that's still the case. While several LCV manufacturers offer automated manual gearbox options on certain models (claiming a reduction in fuel bills, driver fatigue and clutch wear), the percentage uptake is no more than single figures, because few operators will pay the higher front-end price.

Take Vauxhall: less than 5% of Movano buyers opt for its Tecshift automated box – although the company admits it only recently introduced the option on that model. Volkswagen reports a little more success (possibly thanks to praise in the passenger car market) with its Direct Shift Gearbox (DSG). In all, 7.4% of Caddy and 11.5% of Transporter buyers (including passenger-carrying models, such as the Caravelle) took DSG last year – which was a surprise. "There was more demand for it than we were able to supply," states a VW spokesperson.

Volkswagen's DSG can be used either as a manual or an automatic and features two wet clutches, rather than a torque converter – in effect, making it two gearboxes in one. One clutch takes care of the even-numbered gears while its stable-mate looks after the odd numbers plus reverse. So there is no loss of traction during gear changes.

Currently available as a six- or seven-speed option, the dual clutch gearbox family is set to grow by the end of this year. Coming soon, for esample, is a 180bhp, 2-litre diesel VW Amarok 4x4 double-cab pick-up, complete with eight-speed automatic. This combination, says the German manufacturer, offers even better fuel efficiency because the spread of gears means the engine works efficiently throughout the rev range.

Top gear is configured as a fuel-saving overdrive and the box is combined with stop/start. CO2 emissions are set at 199g/km and fuel consumption will average at 37mpg, says Volkswagen.

Body builders cut bills

Alongside the vehicle manufacturers, many body builders are also prioritising reduced fuel consumption in their development work. Last year, for example, Bevan Group launched its stylish Icon – a highly-aerodynamic Luton body designed for 3.5-tonne chassis, developed with Cranfield University and Hatcher Components. Managing director Anthony Bevan says this LCV should return fuel savings up to 12%, compared with the company's standard Luton ("which is pretty aerodynamic anyway") and 15—20% against traditional box Lutons.

"Furthermore, Icon can handle a 1,200kg payload and we're looking at using plastics for the rear frame, which should increase capacity by another 20kg to 30kg," insists Bevan. And he adds: "Factory-built vans have rear wheel boxes that intrude into the load area, don't have the internal height and are more difficult when it comes to fitting tail-lifts than the Icon.

" With 21m3 of cargo space – some 4m3 more than the largest factory-built integral van – Icon is impressive, and to date 200 units have been sold.

That may soon rise: Bevan says that capacious 3.5-tonners such as Icon, which usually sits on a Mercedes-Benz Sprinter chassis, are attracting the attention of operators running 7.5-tonners. "Anybody with a car licence can drive it. You are not subject to O licensing. You do not need to fit and use a tachograph. And the fuel economy is better," he reasons. Nor is there any need to worry about mandatory speed limiters or the driver's CPC (Certificate of Professional Competence) – whatever you think about the pros and cons.

How low can you go?

For operators primarily concerned with moving goods in city centres – who rarely tackle long, high-speed motorway trips that show aerodynamics to their best advantage – may take the view that ease of loading and unloading is the priority, not fuel-efficient powertrains. In that case, it's worth looking at, for example, Supertrucks' Space Van 3.5-tonner.

Employing a bespoke AL-KO chassis plus a front-wheel-drive package typically sourced from Citroen (Relay), Peugeot (Boxer), Fiat (Ducato) or Renault (Master), this LCV offers a load deck height of as little as 370mm, if you specify the optional rear air suspension.

For those wanting to go lower, options are available, with serious thought given to the aptly-named SuperLow from Roadload. Using a Boxer cab, engine and gearbox, SuperLow boasts a cargo body that can be dropped to a mere 200mm, thanks to its Dunlop self-levelling rear air suspension. Gross weights of the vehicle range from 3.5 to 5.6 tonnes; payload capacity goes up to 2.9 tonnes; while load cubes range from 16.8m3 to 35.8m3.

And if it's all about flexibility, LCV chassis cab manufacturers such as Renault UK are doing all they can to make body builders easier, contends conversions manager Gareth Matthews. "For instance, we provide body mounting points inboard and outboard of the chassis rails," he says. "Technical drawings are freely available and we operate a converter website and hot line."

Such facilities could prove invaluable once European Community Whole Vehicle Type Approval (ECWVTA) – which fully comes into force in October 2014 – starts to make its presence felt. "While the bigger bodybuilders are a long way down the road towards compliance, a lot of the smaller ones are hoping it will all go away, and will rely on the IVA [Individual Vehicle Approval] scheme instead," comments Iveco's UK product director Martin Flach. "That will not be as easy or as cheap a route as they may think, because they will still require the paperwork from the chassis manufacturer – and there will be a charge for that."

Easing the process, Iveco has recently joined forces with Ingimex to offer tipper and dropside bodies on Daily 3.5-tonne chassis cabs and chassis crew cabs under its revived, hassle-free DriveAway Options programme. Lutons are also being constructed by Alloy Bodies on Daily 3.5-tonne chassis under the same scheme. The entire vehicle is covered by an unlimited-mileage three-year warranty in each case.

A mix of factors determined Iveco's choice of Ingimex and Alloy Bodies, says Flach – including their design capabilities. "There are still some body builders out there whose design office consists of Fred doing the drawings with chalk on the factory floor," says the Iveco man. He admits he is exaggerating, but makes the point that, with the advent of ECWVTA, such businesses will not have much of a future.

Steve Banner

Related Downloads

Related Companies
AL-KO Kober Ltd
Alloy Bodies Ltd
Bevan Group Bodies Ltd
Citroen UK Ltd
Dunlop Systems & Components Ltd
Ford Motor Co Ltd
Ingimex Ltd
Renault UK Ltd
Supertrucks Ltd
Vauxhall Motors
Volkswagen Audi Group UK Ltd

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