April 26, 2019

Riding on air

VB-Airsuspension has carved a reputation for itself in the ambulance sector. Now it’s turning its focus to van operators. Simon Tooth reports.

With vans available in just about every height and width configuration imaginable, operators really can specify the vehicles that best meet their needs. And while manufacturers build vans to meet a variety of payload and volume demands, what is out of their hands is how those vans are used. So racking, for example, will be left to customers to specify exactly what their business demands.

Few operators look at suspension in the same way. Mike Woodhouse, general manager at VB-Airsuspension thinks more should. And this Blackburn-based company is hoping to convince a wider spread of operators – from large fleets to owner-driver tradespeople – of the benefits of upgrading van suspension.

VB-Airsuspension is the UK distributor for the Dutch parent company’s products and was started by Oliver Drinkwater in 2006. In Holland, the company employs 120 people in design and manufacturing.

In the UK, the business to date has been largely involved with the blue light sector, primarily ambulances, fitting a fully automatic air suspension system to improve ride and handling at high speeds which can be crucial for critically ill passengers. The system also allows the vehicle to be ‘dropped’ – by as much as 10cms – for ease of access.

The technologically-advanced system fitted to ambulances will be over-specified for most LCV operators. But VB has solutions ranging from reinforced coil springs through upgraded shock absorbers and ‘semi-air’ systems for less demanding applications and for vans from 2-tonnes to 7.5-tonnes.

“We’re not just about high end modifications,” said Mike. “But all upgrades will help improve ride, handling and longevity of the vehicle – particularly when vehicles are regularly running at full payload. Typically, OEM suspension products are not designed for maximum payload at all times.”

VB’s products have vehicle manufacturer approval to meet Type Approval regulations and without compromising warranties. While the ‘full air’ system requires fitting by an accredited installer, ‘semi-air’, springs and shock absorbers can be fitted by any competent garage or workshop. “It’s impossible to locate them in the wrong place” says Mike.

Air suspension was adopted early on by the truck and bus sector and for high- end cars. Mike says the technology has “come on in leaps and bounds” and can deliver real benefits for van users – from driver comfort, through vehicle handling, efficiency and longevity, to safety and duty of care. And in a sector where overloading is widespread, air suspension can help.

“We can’t prevent overloading, but we can help when vehicles are running constantly at maximum load” says Oliver Drinkwater.