Fleet News

LDV: the British bulldog is poised to bite

THE year 2002 will be a time of looking forward for LDV. The company has been going it alone since troubled South Korean manufacturer Daewoo pulled out of its partnership with the Birmingham-based van builder.

And despite lengthy talks over the sale of Daewoo's 50% stake in the firm - with persistent rumours that the buyer would be Volkswagen - discussions broke down in March 2001.

Then 2001 turned out to be a year without growth in sales despite a growing market. LDV cut 130 jobs last year in an attempt to reduce costs and improve its competitiveness.

The move was put down to tough conditions in the van market combined with the strength of sterling against the euro - making the product seem expensive abroad. However, the company now fees it is better placed to take up its challenge to rivals, and there is a new product on the horizon.

Tony Lewis, sales director of LDV, said: 'We made a very clear decision that we would not service certain sectors of the market, particularly where margins are cut-throat in some fleet business. We have cut our cloth in some areas of the market and others have picked it up and I think that goes some way to explaining our falling level in a growing market.

'We still manage to trade profitably and this year we have positive cash flow, which compares well against some of our competitors who are recording losses.' In spite of a difficult trading environment, LDV still managed to secure strong orders last year, including a £1 million order from Everest, the home improvement company, for 40 Convoy Hi-Loaders featuring LPG dual fuel capability.

It is also gearing up for a potential sales boost for delivery vehicles with the increasing popularity of shopping online.

At last year's Commercial Vehicle Show at the NEC in Birmingham, LDV unveiled its home-grown delivery vehicle, built on the Convoy platform, equipped to run on LPG and fitted with a camera to help as a reversing aid.

Despite proof that LDV can keep its head above water as an independent entity with new ideas, the company is still keen to seek out another partner.

And despite the termination of LDV's agreement with Daewoo, the van manufacturer believes it still has enough to offer to make joining forces attractive for another company.

Lewis said: 'It would be unrealistic to rule out any involvement with a potential partner in future.

'Following the termination of our partnership with Daewoo we gained the product development and full intellectual rights over our new medium-sized commercial vehicle.

'It is 100% owned by LDV and we are pretty determined to bring that product to market in 2003. The automotive industry has a good many partnerships, whether it is in the development of vehicles or component development, and we are currently involved with Ford on components.

'When we severed our relationship with Daewoo we gained the new medium-size van which we are still developing, but we also need to accelerate development of the Pilot and Convoy.'

There will be four new engines - two new diesel engines, a new Euro III LPG and a new engine for the Pilot.

Lewis says much of the appeal of the vehicles lies in their competitive wholelife costs, and the ready availability of gas converted vans is a significant factor.

LPG is becoming available on an ever increasing number of filling station forecourts, and costs about half as much as diesel, while there is a similar advantage for larger businesses which bunker their own fuel.

'Fuel is the single biggest cost in running a commercial vehicle, and any advantage which will show on the bottom line helps.'

Many LDV customers are public sector fleets such as local authorities that are conscious of the need to set an example when pursuing 'green' policies and can also find it helps reduce the amount of public funds spent on fuel.

LDV has also been trialling electric vehicles - modified battery-powered Convoys with onboard recharging units.

Lewis said: 'The Convoy is one of the few vehicles that can carry a big enough battery and the recharging unit without compromising practicality.'

One of the cornerstones of LDV's success has been its special vehicle operations division.

'We offer a unique proposition to customers,' said Lewis. 'We are able to deliver vehicles to a diverse range of customer requirements. More and more customers are operating businesses where they need specialised vehicles.

'We can provide solutions if customers need a particular type of vehicle, or they need a particular vehicle to carry certain goods.'

One particular vehicle which might have pleased LDV's customers but annoyed some road users is a mobile speed trap.

Several of the Convoys have been put into force and carry specialist equipment to detect law-breaking road users.

Lewis said: 'We have a full range of vehicles which can be adapted. We can do virtually anything.'

However, with an eye on 2003, the company has high hopes for its new medium-size van. The sector was revitalised in 2001 with the introduction of the Vivaro and Trafic - the latest joint venture between Vauxhall and Renault.

Lewis said: 'We think our new product will be class-leading. We have done a fantastic job of packaging it and it will either be as spacious as its main rivals or even roomier.' If the van can compete on equal terms with vehicles like the Vivaro and Trafic – with the collective might of two of Europe's largest manufacturers behind them – it will be a significant achievement for Britain's only independent van builder.

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