Although lightweight materials enable fleets to reduce weight, improve fuel economy, and increase legal payload, they’re not suitable for all fleets.
The use of lightweight materials in upfitting has become more prevalent, primarily due to the desire for increased fuel economy, payload capacity, and corrosion protection. The amount of light-weighting will vary from vehicle to vehicle depending on the application of the body and equipment. Typically, lighter materials also come with a higher price tag, versus traditional materials.
To increase fuel efficiency and reduce the overall weight of a van, upfitters are transitioning from steel racks and bins to heavy-duty plastic composites and aluminum. The same thing is happening with service bodies, as upfitters are concentrating on reducing the weight of service bodies on truck chassis.
Specifying lighter-weight upfit materials decreases the vehicle’s curb weight, which, in turn, lowers operating costs by reducing fuel consumption. In addition, by reducing fuel consumption, fewer greenhouse gases are emitted, which contributes to meeting corporate green fleet goals.
A second benefit is that it creates the potential opportunity to downsize to a smaller vehicle. In certain situations, the lightweight upfit may enable the fleet to select a smaller chassis, which not only improves fuel economy but also lowers initial acquisition costs.
Ergonomics & productivity
Over the years, work trucks have evolved into mobile offices equipped with a variety of in-cab devices, such as GPS and mobile data terminals for job-site reporting, routing, and work orders; along with in-cab filing bins and swivel writing boards, all of which have dramatically enhanced driver productivity. But, these devices and equipment take space, creating a cramped cab environment, restricting a driver’s body movement, which can potentially lead to ergonomic injuries.
Fleet managers are giving increased consideration as to whether an up-fit will be ergonomically safe for the driver over the service life of the vehicle. Fleets are focusing on ergonomic specifications to enhance driver safety and comfort, which will ultimately increase employee productivity.
Adding ergonomic safety equipment, such as grab handles or a drop-down ladder rack in lieu of a fixed ladder rack, can reduce insurance claims and improve operator efficiency.
Lightweight materials aren’t appropriate for every application. Lighter-weight materials, in many cases, have a lower strength compared to steel. Also, lightweight materials, for the most part, have a higher initial cost relative to conventional steel. Depending on the type of material and amount of that material used in the upfit design, it may increase fuel economy if the vehicle travels a minimum number of kms per year to recoup the higher materials price.
Some lightweight materials do not have the same durability as steel, which is required for extended lifecycles or severe-duty applications. If it’s a heavy- or severe-use application and the vehicle is operated daily in these conditions, then lightweight materials may not be appropriate or cost effective.
The bottom line
A common misconception is that one material fits all situations. There are so many different applications, and every fleet has different needs. Some fleets may want to carry more on the truck without bumping up to a bigger chassis. Others may want to go in the opposite direction and fit the body on a smaller vehicle without sacrificing payload. Others still may want to increase fuel economy.
When mixing and matching to try to find the right solution for the job, fleet managers need to be aware of the trade-offs between lightweight and traditional materials. In the end, it’s all about weighing the pros and cons of lightweight materials.