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Whole Vehicle Type Approval is here!

Oct 06, 2014
On 29 October all commercial vehicles produced in the EU will require Whole Vehicle Type Approval. Steve Jordan spoke to Steve Thomson of Essex Bodies to find out what the industry is doing to help its customers.

Whole Vehicle Type Approval has been in place since last year for vehicles up to 35cwt, but later this month it comes into force for all commercial vehicles.  Outwardly, there might not be much change in vehicle appearance, but the process of ordering a new one might change rapidly with potential delays and added expense for some if they don’t get it right. 

Steve Thomson from Essex Bodies gave some examples of the type of bodywork changes that will be required on all new chassis under the new regulations.  Side skirts, for example, need to conform to the EU approved standards.  The vehicles might not look different on the outside but whatever is on the outside will need to conceal an approved structure.

The underrun bar will need to conform too and be made of a much heavier material.  This will inevitably change the geometry at the back of the vehicle especially for removal vans made with dropwells as the heavier material specified is accommodated within the design.

Light positioning might cause a little head scratching too as body builders struggle to find suitable horizontal surfaces for their location or specify lights that are tested to operate vertically.

“These are all things that we need to be aware of, but outwardly they are mainly cosmetic,” said Steve.  “The real problems come with the testing process once the vehicle has been built.”

The problem is that from this month any new chassis must conform to Whole Vehicle Type Approval.  This means that, once built, it must be tested by the Vehicle Certification Agency (VCA) to make sure that it conforms.  Before a vehicle can be taxed and registered in the UK it must be registered with Swansea and booked in at the testing station.  It’s a time-consuming and expensive job even if all goes to plan.  But there are very few testing stations that can test anything above 35cwt and even those, according to Steve, are running on short staff.  “If you get there and there is nobody available to test the vehicle you have to re-apply and go to the back of the queue,” he said.

Meanwhile, the vehicle is built but cannot be used on the roads.  The manufacture hasn’t been paid, the body builder hasn’t been paid and the moving company is still short of a vehicle.  “It’s also possible that the mover has a trade-in vehicle that is losing value as every day goes by,” said Steve.  It’s a potential nightmare.

Fortunately, there is an alternative - but it’s costly.  The body builder can apply for certification on a chassis which, once granted, will allow him to certificate any body he builds on that same chassis.  The problem is that it costs around £3500 a time to get certified and the body builder need separate certification on every type of chassis.  “Right now there are around 80 different types of chassis available all of which will need separate certification,” explained Steve. “We’ve already got our own certification on some but it’s an expensive business.”

It’s an expensive business either way and those costs inevitably have only one place to settle: with the end user.  But at least using a body builder that has his own certification on the chosen chassis means that movers can plan for when their vehicle will be delivered.

The body building industry, of course, has known that Whole Vehicle Type Approval was on its way for many years.  I remember being chairman of a panel discussion for the BAR conference in 2007 (Steve Thomson was a panellist) to discuss this very subject.  Although the details have not always been clear, and they are not crystal even now, the industry has planned ahead to make sure that its customers could get the vehicles they needed when they needed them.

Early this year a new organisation emerged: VBTA.  VBTA members are all also members of the VBRA (Vehicle Builders and Repairer’s Association).  Every one of them is audited to make sure they work to an agreed standard.  Conformity of Production must be reached and in place in order to join the VBTA.  They co-operate.  Approvals gained by any member are held centrally meaning that every member is covered and their work is acceptable to the VCA.  The more members the organisation has, the less the cost for each of them – and the better deals they can each offer their customers.

It’s a very neat way around a difficult and costly problem.  “It might make sense for a specialist body builder to get their own approvals on the chassis they use,” said Steve.  “But for our company, and many others, there are just too many chassis, so our VBTA membership is critical for both us and our customers.”

This does seem to be an example of good planning and common sense from a whole industry working together to find a practical and cost-effective solution to an imposed problem. Vehicles are always expensive and delivery dates can sometimes slip.  But by sticking with members of VBTA it does look as if movers are giving themselves the best possible chance of getting the right vehicle, at the right time, without paying through the nose.

Photos: Underrun bars and light position are two of the cosmetic issues that will affect body building once Whole Vehicle Type Approval comes into force.

Members of VBTA

Essex Bodies Ltd

Rayleigh, Essex

Tel: 01268 778326


Wheelbase Engineering Ltd 

Darwen, Lancashire

Tel: 01254 819399



Bespoke Bodies

Warrington, Cheshire

Tel: 01925 850722


A G Bracey Ltd

Bristol, Avon

Tel: 0117 937 2705



James A Cuthbertson Ltd

Biggar, Lanarkshire

Tel: 01899 220020



Kurt Hobbs Coachworks Ltd

Kettering, Northamptonshire

Tel: 01536 330515



Fred Smith and Sons (Motor Bodies) Ltd

West Bromwich, West Midlands

Tel: 0121 553 4845



Cartwright Group

Altrincham, Cheshire

Tel: 0161 928 0966



Chassis Development Services Ltd

Walsall, West Midlands

Tel: 01922 410990



Newland Coachworks Ltd

Far Cotton, Northampton

Tel: 01604 700616



PPS Commercials Ltd

Bury, Lancashire

Tel: 0161 767 9554



Commercial Body Specialists

Tunstall, Stoke-On-Trent

Tel: 01782 832554



Roco Truck Bodies Ltd

Bradford, West Yorkshire

Tel: 01274 606056



Unique Van Bodies Ltd

Warrington, Cheshire

Tel: 01925 846464



Marshall Spares & Services Ltd

Bolton, Lancashire

Tel: 07715 905959


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