Vision Manufacturing LTD’s new high-capacity van (HCV) offers fleets an American-made OEM upfit with the characteristics of the Dodge Sprinter, while taking advantage of Ford and GM’s powerful V-10 and V-8 gas and diesel engines and thousands of service centers.
The HCV, aka the “Armadillo,” is designed to fit the Chevrolet Express, GMC Savana and Ford Econoline van chassis. The walk-thru van provides more than six feet of headroom and plenty of cargo capacity while being fuel efficient for its size.
The Ford regular and extended vans are currently available for upfitting. The full GM line is expected to be ready in April.
“Our vision was to give the Ford and GM customer an intelligent alternative to the Dodge Sprinter,” says Darryl Connors, president and CEO of Vision, an authorized Ford and GM pool manufacturer.
Where the Chassis Meets the Upfit
In business for more than 25 years as a conversion van maker, Vision spent more than $2 million to design a product that Ford and GM customers would embrace.
“We are able to provide a vehicle that has the ergonomic benefits and the same easy ingress and egress as the Sprinter while benefiting from Ford and GM architecture,” says Connors.
In terms of design, consumers will not be able to tell where the chassis meets the upfit, Connors says. The design incorporates a complete van chassis instead of a cutaway. The vehicle is cut below the beltline to enable integration of the upper and lower portions of the vehicle with a seamless finish. “It improves aerodynamic appeal,” Connors says.
The HCV van was designed by Applied Technologies, an automotive engineering firm that specializes in chassis and drivetrain design for the Big Three.
The upfit is designed to incorporate the factory door hardware and electronics to cut down on servicing issues. Metal support systems were integrated into the top to reinforce the vehicle’s structural integrity.
“Safety is carried through the entire design from the ground up,” says Craig Winn, president of Applied Technologies. “Because the design uses the full body of the van, not just the chassis, the new top and doors incorporate the structural rigidity engineered into the original van body.”
The van has met the government recertification requirement for roof crush, Winn says.
Specs Offer Flexibility
With 75 inches of rear-door clearance and 73 inches of side-door clearance, Vision offers cargo doors on both sides as opposed to the Sprinter’s passenger-side slider. Vision’s standard high top is approximately 6 inches taller than the Sprinter and offers a slightly wider footprint.
Total cargo volume ranges from 395 to 500 cubic square feet, depending on make and model.
The HCV conversion adds only 90 to 120 pounds of extra weight, according to Bill Molitor, fleet chassis manager for Jackson, Miss.-based Watson Quality Ford. Other upfits can add significantly more weight, which lowers the payload capacity.
Molitor says the vehicle is ideal for any industry with payload needs ranging from 3,300 to 3,900 pounds and walk-in convenience.
The Vision HCV takes advantage of Ford’s numerous powertrain options on the Econoline E-150, E-250, and the E-350 chassis, in both standard and extended versions. The E-150 and E-250 models offer 4.6-liter and 5.4-liter V-8 gas engines with automatic transmissions. The E-350 models offer 5.4-liter V-8 gas, 6.8-liter V-10, and 6.0-liter V-8 diesel engines.
Price and Ordering
Many fleet customers made the commitment to the Armadillo based on initial cost savings which, according to Connors, can be substantial.
The cost to have the Armadillo body added to a Ford or GM ¾- or 1-ton van is $9,995 for the regular-length vans and $10,995 for the extended. Shipping is extra.
Vision’s HCV van can be paired with Ford’s E-Series fleet, government or retail price programs.
The Ford van with the HCV conversion carries a three-year/36,000-mile warranty while Ford’s powertrain comes with a 60-month/60,000-mile warranty.
GM and Ford cargo van factory orders require a lead time of six to eight weeks at present, some longer depending on options stops. When coordinated with upfit production and shipping, total lead extends to approximately 10 to12 weeks from the time of the signed order.
At present fleet customers can order the HCV from 23 Ford dealers across the country.
HCV Enters Fleet
Target markets are delivery fleets that require more cargo capacity than the standard Ford or GM vans as well as the ability to stand up inside the van. The unit will also be introduced to floral, dry cleaning and pharmaceutical companies.
“With the Econoline making up more than 70 percent of the van market, [the HCV] is a great place to start,” says Tom Meeks, CEO and president of Continental First Federal Inc. (CFF), a major truck supplier to FedEx contractors and other logistics companies, located in Mt. Juliet, Tenn.
Meeks is a fan of the Sprinter, a Mercedes-Benz product built to international width and powertrain standards. Yet he was frustrated with the Sprinter’s lack of repair centers, parts availability and servicing cost. “The Vision HCV offers fleets an American product that is reliable, easy to load and unload and serviceable at more than 5,000 Ford dealers in the U.S.,” says Meeks.
Meeks sees the van’s expansive panels as good white space for company advertising. He bought the second HCV test van and branded it with his company logo.
Vision Manufacturing is building 600 units for CFF at its factory in Georgia. The first van has just entered the FedEx fleet in Vermont.
CFF is a fleet customer as well as an authorized reseller. Meeks intends to keep 50 upfit units in inventory for immediate sale at CFF’s retail location in suburban Nashville.
Built for Adaptability
The HCV upfit will evolve depending on the industry it serves, including installing shelving systems for electricians and plumbers. “Fleets that purchase and use the van will determine future product improvements and options,” says Molitor.
Aftermarket manufacturers will build interior and exterior options for the Vision HCV according to market demand. Ladder racks, lifts, racks, bins, back-up cameras and other products are already available for the end user.
Vision Manufacturing Ltd.