It is many years since Rolls-Royce customers could order a chassis before arranging to deliver it to HJ Mulliner, James Young or the coachmaker of their choice for the bodywork of their choice, writes John Kendall.

But that is how truck buyers still order vehicles today.
The reason is simple. The list of likely uses is long – dry freight, refuse collection and refrigerated produce among them. Body builders have become specialised to meet those needs.

At the CV show in Birmingham this week, two truck manufacturers revealed plans to challenge the established order. Swedish manufacturer Scania and UK market leader DAF Trucks of the Netherlands will start building their own truck bodies.

Both will pioneer the concept in the UK, before possible rollout in other European markets. Established body suppliers may not have much to fear in the short term. The two companies are starting with simple box bodies consisting of GRP panels on extruded aluminium frames.

But the message is clear. Both companies plan to extend the range of body options if the pilot programmes are successful.

In Scania’s case this will include curtainside and hookloader bodies, while DAF will include curtainside bodies too. DAF will build the bodies at its Leyland production plant while Scania will rely on a network of approved body builders and dealers to assemble the body to order.

Why? Roger McCarthy, Scania’s UK sales director says, “Shorter lead times, consistent build-quality, the full backing of the Scania service network and a full Scania warranty covering both truck and bodywork”, are the reasons. It’s a similar story from DAF. Marketing Director Tony Pain also pointed to consistent build quality, “They are not bought in bodies, but type approved from the factory”, he says. Shorter lead times are also a significant factor. DAF believes it can supply a bodied vehicle in eight weeks, around four weeks shorter than at present. Scania says it can build a body from supplied parts in one man-week.

Both companies also cite the expected 2009 legislation on whole vehicle type approval as a trigger. If type approval is extended to include the vehicle and body, manufacturers will want more control over complete vehicles. It could signal the biggest shake-up in truck body building for years.

John Kendall