February 18, 2020

Chassis builder goes lower and lighter

One of the biggest builders of bespoke chassis for the UK leisure market is planning to increase its presence in the commercial vehicle sector.

AL-KO Kober, based in Southam, Warwickshire, supplies chassis for some of the leading manufacturers of motorhomes and caravans in the UK, including Swift and Bailey. The leisure market currently accounts for most of the company’s total annual output in the UK of some 2100 units.

But, according to Paul Jones, senior manager marketing, AL-KO has developed a product that is ideal for converters aiming to meet the growing demand for lighter and lower commercial vehicles with increased payloads and easier access. Converters like Mellor, with its compact easy access community bus, KFS with their Plant & Go vehicle, and Supertrucks with its new Space Van range (see p17), are already building vehicles that use the AL-KO chassis.

Jones says AL-KO’s experience in the leisure sector – which demands highly flexible chassis solutions – has meant its engineers have developed a product which is also ideal for LCVs, particularly in the logistics/home delivery sector. “It is a prime target for growth for us,” he says.

The AL-KO AMC Chassis can be up to 220mm lower than the standard thanks to the cranked bracket which is supplied to the manufacturers – such as Fiat, Peugeot and Citroen – who build this into their cab in the factory. AL-KO can then build and fix its chassis for this lowered fixing position.

“It is ideal for many applications,” says Jones. “It means easier loading and unloading and as the centre of gravity of the vehicle is lower, it is more stable. The lower step level helps address key health and safety issues and driver acceptability is definitely higher with lower vehicles.”

Another issue for many converters is weight and again, AL-KO’s experience in the leisure market (where they have worked with their customers to minimise the weight of the chassis to provide increased payloads for users) is paying dividends in the commercial sector. Jones says their construction methods can save as much as 150kg in build weight which is transferable to payload. “Weight depends on the cab and chassis variant but we are anything from 60kg at the minimum and up to 145kg at the top end lighter than the manufacturer’s standard chassis.”

Weight savings are achieved by using thinner (2.5mm) steel made lighter still by removing sections. The strength is built in using engineering and profiling. The majority of AL-KO’s chassis components are manufactured in the company’s plants in France, Germany and Italy and assembled in Southam.

“We use finite element analysis, a very scientific process to test the structural strength of our products,” says Jones. “We work closely with our engineering department in Germany.”

All chassis leaving the factory carry Type Approval and AL-KO also works with converter customers on vehicle testing as part of the development process. “The low floor bus project with Mellor Coachcraft (using air suspension to lower the whole vehicle closer to the pavement for easier access by passengers) is a good example of how we have taken a finished product and tested it to ensure it is capable of withstanding the demands of a combination of factors such as constant stop/start operation, continuous use of air suspension and poor quality road conditions. We were able to prove the reliability using a test facility in Germany, putting the vehicle through the equivalent of a lifetime of use.”

As well as offering a lower, lighter platform, AL-KO is unique in offering an option of a non-manufacturer tandem axle chassis and can also increase the width of track on the rear axle to give a larger load area. Optional air suspension – widely used in the motorhome sector – is also offered.

AL-KO is offering an alternative to the “one size fits all” manufacturer chassis, working with customers to develop tailor-made solutions.

“We are looking for organic growth in our commercial vehicle business by building relationships with vehicle converters through to bigger fleet operators who are looking to gain increased flexibility, bigger payload weights and larger load spaces. We have the chassis options to suit their application.”