Fabien Collet, Gruau: It's all about reduced carbon footprint and ecological transformation
The LCV market has two sides to its supply chain: the vehicle manufacturers and the transformation – or fit-out – specialists. To look at current and future trends we turn to French fit-out specialist Gruau, and its International Sales Development Director Fabien Collet.
Is it true that 2015 has been a good year for light commercial vehicle sales in Europe?
Fabien Collet: Overall growth in Europe has been fairly substantial this year, it is true. The highest growth has been seen in the United Kingdom and Spain. We are in fact in a sort of catching up period, coming out of the crisis, but we are still a long way behind 2007, for example.
Why do you believe that this catching up is going slowly, rather than suddenly?
Fabien Collet: In general terms, the LCV market follows the overall economic trend. And while we are coming out of a crisis, most European economies remain fairly fragile. The recovery cannot yet be described as solid, as there is the slowdown in China, Brazil… which has worldwide repercussions. On top of this, of course, this market is dependent on its own internal factors, and relies on new models being launched.
Do the same phenomena apply to the LCV fit-out business?
Fabien Collet: We are very closely connected to the LCV market as a whole, so the fit-out market is subject to the same effects as this market. But I think that we can observe a fundamental trend towards having vehicle specifically suited to the individual needs of users. Also, vehicles are being more and more transformed to very closely match the clients’ needs. Indeed, manufacturers are more likely to offer a transformation service today, because they cannot simply launch a van onto the market and not be in a position to offer this service. I would estimate that around half of all small vans sold by manufacturers are transformed one way or another.
Has there been any evolution in Europe in this transformation market in 2015?
Fabien Collet: Transformations are becoming even more specific, even more detailed, and then they have to follow the fundamental trends of the economy’s evolution, particularly in terms of connectivity, of ergonomics or on the development of new opportunities like home delivery. Where this last point is concerned, internet shopping has obviously a great impact on the market. I would add that the transformations are becoming very technical. Whereas in the past we might have been asked to add an extra bench seat or some storage, the market is now moving towards making loading and unloading easier. Clients are looking for transformations which take account of social laws and of well-being at work.
What trends do you see in the immediate future?
Fabien Collet: There is going to be an increased trend towards vehicles which offer a reduced carbon footprint to users. The transformation industry has a role to play in this, and will develop further the upcoming years. In our case, we are offering 100% electric vehicles to help mitigate the carbon footprint. We have to be part of the new distribution trends. This includes taking account of city centre congestion and pollution, last mile deliveries and so on.
This would seem to imply that LCVs, which are already quite small, are getting smaller. Does this cause problem to the fit-out industry?
Fabien Collet: Well it is certainly true that the evolution of the overall market leads to fit-out companies reviewing their traditional activities. Transforming an electric vehicle is not the same as transforming a traditionally-powered vehicle. This is important regarding one point in particular: if the equipment fitted during the transformation consumes electricity, this could decrease the driving range of the electric vehicle. There will be Wi-Fi, data transfer and then there is always safety. So the industry has to develop new know-how. Engineers and experts are needed now, not just people who can alter the bodywork a bit.
What about the trend towards more lightweight materials?
Fabien Collet: There is a move towards ecological transformation, recyclable materials etc., which a company such as Gruau is already working on. This wasn’t a preoccupation a few years ago. It all now has to do with the payload of the vehicle, the amount of goods and equipment it can carry. The Euro 6 norms are going to decrease the payload and so this is another challenge for us. One of the solutions for this is to make sure that unnecessary equipment is not fitted into the vehicle.
Can you point to one or two major trends you expect to see in this industry in 2016?
Fabien Collet: More electric vehicles and more companies to complete the offering of the manufacturers with transformation products. Standardized solutions will no longer be the norm, but we will have the ability to work in an industrialized way on smaller runs.
One piece of advice for a fleet manager thinking about LCV transformation?
Fabien Collet: Work on this question in a close relation with a referent up-fitter who has a significant experience in his field as much in advance as possible and develop a project which encompasses all of its company’s needs.