New EU regulations could lead to cheaper light commercial vehicles for fleet managers.
However, the new rules will also force the country’s van body builders to deal with a massive upheaval that could leave many of them being forced out of business.
The new type approval regulations, which come into force in April 2009, mean motor homes and minibuses will have to have a ‘certificate of conformity’ before being registered.
Other commercial vehicles, such as tippers, box bodies and Lutons, will follow between 2009 and 2014.
Manufacturers using outside body builders will be forced to apply for type approval for each separate model they sell, which is some cases could amount to hundreds of different models.
Even some vehicles with different engines will have to have separate certificates.
However, while being a huge headache for the manufacturers, the new laws could result in cheaper prices for fleets, according to a spokesman for the SMMT.
He said: “What this means is that body builders from across Europe will be able to pitch in for UK business and that means prices could come down.”
However, there are several issues which could muddy the waters.
While manufacturers offering standard off-the-shelf products such as Citroen’s Ready to Run range will probably benefit, fleets wanting special one-off models could well find themselves facing much higher prices.
“What this will mean for UK fleets is that we will see safer vehicles and that can’t be a bad thing.
"However, for the people who supply the bodies, it is the biggest shake-up in the industry since the Second World War.
"Type approval is at consultation stage at present but it is consultation with the fuse lit,” said the SMMT spokesman.
“These proposals will definitely go ahead and those who are sitting with their heads in the sand at present are in for a nasty shock.
"The bigger outfits are largely gearing up for the change but some of the smaller ones aren’t even aware of what’s ahead.”
He estimated that at present, there are around 1,000 van body builders in the UK.
In 10 years time he believes that 90% of those will be out of business.
“The number of bodies produced won’t drop but there will be massive consolidation in the industry.
"This move will raise the standards and could eventually bring prices down,” said the SMMT.
While the manufacturers are aware of the huge amount of work ahead of them, they are largely resigned to the task and are determined that neither prices nor lead times will be affected.
But the workload is huge. If, say, a Luton body van then has an electric tail-lift fitted, two separate certificates will be required.
The same will apply for certain different engine variants.
Robert Handyside, commercial vehicle operations manager at Citroen, described the work ahead as ‘a significant project’.
He said: “Citroen is well ahead of the game on this and we plan to gain type approval for our vehicles by April 2009.”