AL-KO Kober Limited – a leading manufacturer of vehicle chassis systems for the automotive, commercial and leisure industries – has been working in partnership with Manchester-based commercial vehicle bodybuilders Alloy Bodies to create the HiLo, an all-new, low-floor ‘Aero Luton’ conversion based on the Citroen Relay ‘back-to-back’ cab.
The Citroen Relay HiLo is the latest addition to the Alloy Bodies range and is described as an ideal solution for manually-handled loads in a multi-drop environment. By adopting a low-floor AL-KO Kober chassis conversion to create a Luton-style commercial vehicle, the HiLo offers a range-topping 1,335kg payload, increases volume by approximately 1.5 cu m, provides easy access, and offers a low centre of gravity to improve on-road stability.
Commenting for Alloy Bodies, business development manager Anthony Clayton says: “Our first partnership with AL-KO Kober was in 2009 when a commercial vehicle OEM asked us to create a concept using its AL-KO converted chassis. Unfortunately, the concept was eventually shelved by the OEM as it was deemed that demand wasn’t significant enough at that time.
“However, when a UK-based Citroen dealer and customer approached Alloy Bodies and asked that a solution be developed for the ‘back-to-back’ Relay cab, we knew that AL-KO had the best and only solution for the project in the UK.”
As trends in the market have progressed, AL-KO Kober’s chassis systems have become more attractive because they offer a low-frame which, when coupled to the right build solution, is better suited to carrying freight thanks to its ease of loading and potential for increased payloads and volumes.
The order potential from the Citroen dealer was significant, so Alloy Bodies knew from the outset that it needed to work closely with AL-KO Kober’s engineering department as this wasn’t simply a case of building a box frame on a chassis. It instead required a design partnership where Alloy Bodies was building the bodywork to suit the chassis and AL-KO Kober was building the chassis to suit the bodywork.
Commenting for AL-KO Kober, a spokesperson says: “It became apparent after some very early conversations that we needed to get our design teams working together to provide the right solution. The partnership worked very well and was quite refreshing for both Alloy Bodies and the Citroen dealer who, historically, were used to chassis manufacturers telling them that they can have anything they want, as long as it’s one of five or six chassis styles!”
It goes on to comment that the downside for the off-the-shelf approach to chassis supply is that commercial vehicle OEMs or bodybuilders often have to add components to a chassis, or remove parts from it, to suit the final build.
For Alloy Bodies, the ultimate goal was for AL-KO Kober to deliver the Citroen cab to it with the chassis ready for the Luton conversion. Says Anthony Clayton: “It’s preferable to avoid any substantial remedial works to factory chassis as it affects throughput, so it was a considerable advantage for us when AL-KO Kober happily designed-in and integrated some of our own designs to its chassis to reduce our build process.
“The partnership has been a real benefit to us. Improving efficiencies and adopting a pre-engineered approach on a new product shows how technology is continually shaping our industry. Commercial vehicle body building in the UK has been somewhat of a ‘cottage industry’, historically using people skills to design and develop bodywork instead of opting for a wholly-engineered approach from concept to creation. To maximise our considerable investment, most of our new products are now designed and modelled with 3D Solidworks.”
As AL-KO Kober’s spokesperson explains that by creating an engineering partnership during the vehicle’s design and build, the benefits are clear. Alloy Bodies and AL-KO created systems and components that were as light as was structurally possible which, in turn, created a vehicle that was Alloy Bodies’ easiest to assemble and lightest yet.
“Because AL-KO Kober ensured that the chassis was delivered to Alloy Bodies as specified and ready for conversion, the concept HiLo was assembled in no time and with no issues during the build cycle,” it says.
What’s more, having invested over £500,000 with COP and Type Approval, introducing ISO management and manufacturing systems, and introducing 3D systems in 2012, Alloy Bodies now has EC Whole Vehicle Type Approval of the Citroen Relay, AL-KO chassis system and its HiLo conversion to add to its comprehensive list of Type Approvals.
The partnership between the two companies also provides a flexible approach to the ordering and build processes, with Alloy Bodies offering the AL-KO chassis within its costs, or AL-KO offering the HiLo solution within its conversion costs. Either way, the UK-based Citroen dealer can arrange for the ‘back-to-back’ cabs to be delivered direct to AL-KO Kober’s manufacturing facility in Warwickshire, which helps to reduce the overall build time.
And, far from seeing a reduction in the number of standard Luton-based conversions the company builds, the HiLo conversion on the AL-KO Kober chassis has enhanced sales for the company and now accounts for about 25% of all conversions for Alloy Bodies.
Summarising for Alloy Bodies, Anthony Clayton says: “The low-floor ‘Luton’ sector, and our share of it, has seen significant growth over the past decade and we are certainly manufacturing more HiLo conversions year-on-year.
“Even as market leader, we’re not the only company offering a low-floor solution in the UK. But, with almost 50 years of body building heritage and experience, we know we have brought to market a solution that innovates and will stand the test of time.”