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Distribution advantages with Bedford Ms

12th December 1981
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Page 27, 12th December 1981 — Distribution advantages with Bedford Ms
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Which of the following most accurately describes the problem?

An operator tells David Wilcox why he opts for the more expensive IL rather then the TK. Its easier access cab is a big factor in multi-drop deliveries and detail benefits include a shelf useful for delivery notes

HE ONLY DRAWBACK with wilding the model that holds he all-time sales record for a Iritish lorry, is that it's a hard act o follow.

Bedford's TK range was first itroduced in 1960 and has sold teadily ever since. By 1978 over 00,000 had been sold and the otal is now in the region of 46,000.

With a track record like that to onsider Bedford obviously had o think very carefully about a uccessor for the TK. In the end :edford hedged its bets by introucing in May last year a deelopment of the TK called the L, but still offering the TK for lose who want it.

So for every model in the TK 3nge there is a new TL equivamt. This is an interesting piece f marketing by Bedford, which rmly believes that there is still a lace for the TK. Figures seem to how Bedford is right: the cursnt split between TK and IL ales is virtually 50/50.

Why should an operator -loose the new TL? What is he etting for the extra price he is sked to pay? And can a dealopment of a basically 21sar-old design really be a good

buy in the 1980s?

Somebody who is well qualified to answer these and other questions is Chris Howard, chief fleet engineer for UB Distribution Services, so I went along to talk to him at the group's head office in Isleworth, West London.

The UB replaces the United Biscuits name; the group now prefers to be known by the UB initials with the products sold under the various brand names — Crawfords, McVities, TUC, etc. Originally a dedicated delivery service for the group's own products, UB Distribution Services made the switch to taking on third-party work as well a couple of years ago and UB Distribution Services became a profit centre in its own right.

The backbone of the fleet is the 430 four-wheel rigids in the eight to 14-ton-gvw bracket for shop delivery. Then there are 35 small artics for the large bulk deliveries plus 42 refrigerated boxvans for the small amount of frozen food distribution. Finally, there is a 96-strong trunking fleet matched with 230 40ft box trailers. But let's concentrate on the 430 rigid shop deliver vehicles.

They are split between Bedford and Ford in the proportion of 51 per cent to 49 per cent respectively. This near-equal split is no accident; UB deliberately keeps it this way. The company is a long-standing buyer of DSeries and TKs and has designated each of its 24 depots either as a Ford depot or a Bedford depot.

I asked Chris Howard how he decides whether a depot should run all Fords or all Bedfords? Chris explained that it is largely a historical decision, based on the proximity of a good local dealer for either Bedford or Fo About 70 per cent of the ma tenance on the company's rig is contracted out so the preser of a good dealer will play a lar part in the choice of chassis the depot.

As it turns out, many of I UBDS depots in the south( half of the country tend to r Bedfords while those in the M lands are predominantly Fo which may or may not reflect 1 two marques' dealer networks With such a large fleet I Distribution Services u doubtedly has the power exert a lot of pressure dealers, but Chris Howe pointed out that it deliberati avoids these tactics. "I think the large operators like o selves have a responsibility the industry not to carve up t agents. We don't jump arou the dealers trying to get ti little bit of extra discount.

"We rely on the local deal( near the depots for maintenar so we try to strike up a go relationship with them. For stance, the new vehicles for ea depot are purchased through t local dealer. So we're getti something longer term than j( a discount."

Until a couple of years ago bought the 10-ton-gvw versio of the D-Series and the TK, now opts for the 14-ton-gN models. The reasons for tl change reflect the changes distribution patterns over t last few years. The average dr size has grown with t growth of the lar supermarkets at t

ense of the smaller grocery .85.

3 UB finds that it not longer ds the good manoeuvrability ie 10-tonner so much as the ?rcarrying capacity of the onner. Why not extend this ciple further and go up to the on limit for four-wheelers?

Chris: "We felt that was lg too far and would be a too big. The 14-tonner is the if size distribution vehicle for needs."

rice taking on some thirdy business UB Distribution /ices has had to look for flexty in its vehicle specification. mows only too well the 3ht/volume of its own inse products but, as Chris yard commented, you never or what is round the corner in you take on third-party k. A new client's products be particularly bulky and so vehicles need to be a com-nise to allow for this varia

nris Howard firmly believes his 14-tonners are just such )mpromise, giving the flexiy UB Distribution Services d. The majority of the fleet still 10-tonners, but as they re up for renewal 14-tonners taking their place.

rhy still stay with Bedford Ford? There are plenty of rnatives in this sector of the icet. UB has fairly recently pled a buy-British policy, n stipulating that the vehicle it actually be built in this ntry rather than just carrying itish manufacturer's badge. ver the years Chris Howard built up some comprehen. cost figures on each and ry vehicle in the fleet. He can te operating cost figures for vehicle or an average for all Bedfords or all Fords and compare them with the fleet average. As well as having the figures in computer data form Chris has the main cost elements displayed in simple bar chart form on his office wall. It vividly illustrates the strong and weak points of the Bedfords and Fords.

One chart covers fuel consumption with Bedfords shown in one colour and Fords in another. A dotted line across the middle of the bar chart marks the fleet average. Almost without exception the Bedfords achieve a slightly better consumption figure than the Fords.

The second chart displays maintenance cost per mile and here the same system shows a very different result. The Fords are consistently costing slightly less per mile to maintain than the Bedfords. .

Before jumping to conclusions, Chris Howard pointed out that these figures need qualifying. Inevitably, the charts are showing historic data rather than current figures. Therefore, it is primarily the Bedford TK 1000 (or KE as it used to be called) and the Ford D1010 that are being compared on the charts, whereas it is the 14-ton models that Chris Howard is more interested in.

Turning to the computer data, Chris showed that the 10-tongvw Bedfords in the fleet average 21.4 lit/100km (13.2mpg) while the equivalent D-Series record 22.1 lit/100km (12.8mpg). The extra maintenance cost of the Bedford TKs more or less cancels out this difference and so cost-wise there is virtually nothing to choose between the chassis. Chris Howard told me that it was predominantly engine-related problems that pushed up the maintenance cost on the 10ton TKs. They have the Bedford 330 engine developing 73kW (98bhp) and although the more recent models show a distinct improvement, Chris said earlier 330 engines in the fleet have not been so reliable. He singled out head gasket and piston failure as weak points in his experience.

Moving up to the 14-ton bracket, which is now more relevant to UB Distribution Services, the Bedfords are averaging 22.4 lit/100km (12.6mpg) and the Fords are achieving 23.5 lit/100km (12.0mpg).

Because the 14-tonners in the fleet are still fairly new and their warranty periods distort the picture, it is difficult to assess their long-term maintenance costs per mile. The 14-ton Bedfords have the 8.2-litre Blue Series engine (112kW — 151bhp) whereas the nearest Ford equivalent has either a 6.2-litre naturally aspirated engine or a six-litre turbo. So Chris Howard is hoping that Bedford's 'beefier' engine at the 14-ton level will be reflected in lower maintenance cosys.

When Bedford launched the TL in spring last year,. UB Distribution Services had to choose between continuing to buy the TK or choose the new TL. Chris Howard said that he opted for the TL almost from day one with no hesitation. I asked him what made him feel that the £900 or so extra asking price for a TL 1470 rather than a TK 1470 is justified from the operator's point of view.

The two major changes introduced on the TL were the completely new cab plus the inclusion of a cab tilt mechanism.

Chris said that he valued bott features equally when assessin. them against the higher price From a maintenance point o view, the tilt improves enginE access enormously, althougt the TK's hinged inspectior panels are retained for mino jobs.

While it is the drivers whc most appreciate the new TL cab this in turn must benefit thE operator since it is in his owr interests to make the driver's en vironment as good as possible.

When it comes to cab comfor and design it is the tractive uni sector of the market that seem: to attract most attention. In tIN past, distribution vehicle cab: have tended to be rather spartar and functional — the Bedford Tlg was a prime example of a "nc frills" distribution cab.

Looking at the job of a distri bution driver, one begins to ap preciate that the cab is impor tant. He's going to be jumping ir and out of it all day long. He'll bE sitting in it for a couple of houn at a time outside a store waitinc in a delivery queue. And he's no spending most of his time on thE motorway — he's most likely tc be found in the congestec streets of a city shopping centre. So cab design — particularly from an ergonomic point of view — is crucial and Bedford set about improving matters with the TL cab. Wide-opening doors, a low step and a low floor are all features designed to make the multi-drop driver's job rather less like an acrobat's. With a deeper windscreen, large window area and rear threequarter windows visibility on the TL is good, so reversing onto a crowded goods inward door is a little easier.

Bedford has sensibly kept the wide shelf behind the seats on the TL which gives the driver somewhere to sort out his delivery notes. Although there is no glove box the TL does have a couple of cubby holes at head level, also useful for keeping invoices or POD notes separate.

A man-sized cab light helps him sort out paperwork on cold dark mornings or in dingy warehouses. And talking of cold, dark mornings, the TL is claimed to be fitted with a better heater than its predecessor. Inside the cab much of the painted metal and vinyl seats of the TK have disappeared and the TL sports fabric covered seats (double passenger seat as standard) and more trim panels.

Still not the quietest fourwheeler on the market, the TL is significantly better than the TK. All the above improvements have brought the TL cab into line with the 1980s competition, besides which the TK was showing its age. If you want a "no frills" cab, then the TK is still there.

Bearing in mind the flexibility that UB is seeking when it comes to weight/volume ratio, the company finds that it is generally volume that is in short supply. Therefore UB was looking for a fairly long body on its 14-tonners.

The maximum wheelbase offered by Bedford on the TL 1470 is 4.8m (189 inches) so UB Distribution Services has this extended by chassis specialists to 5.0m (197 inches) at a cost of f250-£300. This enables a 7.16m (23ft 6 inches) body to be fitted with a payload potential of 8.02 tonnes (7.89 tons).

When it comes to choice of bodywork, US Distribution Services also likes to keep this side of the vehicle fairly local and so uses several relatively small bodybuilders around the country to build a body to UB's specification. This basically means the use of TPI Glasonit panels with a Henderson full width rear roller shutter door.

Platform height is another important factor to be considered for distribution vehicles. Traditionally UB has worked on a figure of 1.14m (3ft 9in) which was fairly standard with the 10tonners on their 17in wheels, and so depot loading banks have been designed with this in mind. The introduction of 14-tonners running on 2 2.5in wheels threatened to upset this.

The solution has been to choose Bedford's Special Vehicle Option low-height package, usually the choice of the brewers, With the aid of lower. springing and low-profile tyres the platform height on UB's 14ton TLs is virtually the same as with the 10-tonners.

Many buyers are attracted to Bedfords in the first place because of their low initial cost. Chris Howard said it was purely incidental to him; he was looking at total life cost. UB disposes of its vehicles through the auctions and finds that the TK's have always had a relatively good residual value, even in these days of poor secondhand values. Chris thought this was partly owing to the popularity of Bedfords abroad in developing countries which are common destinations for some vehicles sold in auctions. He added that he could partly offset the extra cost of the TL by the higher residual value compared with the TK.

US Distribution Services plans for a life of five to six years or roughly 100,000 miles for its shop delivery vehicles.

The company has tried other vehicles in its fleet but has decided to stay with Bedford and Ford. When a couple of Dodges were tried they just did not prove successful. In Northern Ireland the company uses Leyland for the simple reason that it has had a good relationship with a local Leyland dealer there through difficult times.

Its trunker fleet is a mixture of Seddon Atkinson 400 and ERF BSeries with some DAF 2300 units which were bought before the buy-British policy was implemented. The newest batch of units are Leyland Roadtrains.

Bedford offers the TL 1470 with the option of the turbocharged version of the 8.2-litre Blue Series engine developing 129kW (173bhp) at 2,500rpm. UB Distribution Services does not choose this; Chris Howard does not believe that turbocharged engines are particularly suitable for distribution work and so opts for the naturally aspirated version producing 112kW (151bhp) at 2,500rpm.

The gearbox is the five-speed overdrive Turner, used without the optional two-speed Eaton axle.

A note of criticism that is occasionally levelled at Bedford is that the turning circle on the TK and TL is not as small as those on competitors' vehicles. Chris Howard said that this had not arisen as a problem at U8 — because each depot is either Ford or all Bedford, it is not ofi that one driver can compare c vehicle with another.

Although UB Distribution S vices is expecting the 14-ton

to prove less costly to mainti than the old 10-ton TK, tl doesn't mean that the 51/49 St between Bedford and Ford in t fleet will be swinging drarr tically in favour of Bedford. E cause this is forgetting the int duction of Ford's newcomer, t Cargo.

Although Chris Howard h no hesitation about immediatE switching to TL instead of TK has been rather more cautio when it comes to Ford's D-Seri successor. Because the Cargo a completely new vehicle rath than an update of an existii one, he thought it worth lookit at it in rather more detail.

After an extended trial wi Cargo UB Distribution Servic. is now ordering Cargo in qua tity, maintaining the Bedforc Ford balance.

It is an interesting situatio For UB Distribution Services ti two evergreens of the distrib tion world, the D-Series and tt TK came out neck and Ile when everything was taken in account. Will the status quo maintained now that it's TL VE SUS Cargo at 14 tons?