Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Step Vans duke it out in the streets of Halifax (and everywhere else)

Just as the school bus builders are down to two main competitors (Thomas/Freightliner and Bluebird) so the step van builders are down to a pair of main players.

1. Purolater runs this Utilimaster.

2. Canadian Linen Supply has a Morgan Olson, that carries a Freightliner hood badge - very rare!

3. Canada Post operates a fleet of small Utilimasters.

4. FedEx ground has thisUtilimaster in its fleet.

Utilimaster builds the Aeromaster model. Utilimaster was, until 2009 owned by John Hancock/Manu-Life, the Canadian Insurance giant. They have now found a home with Spartan Motors Inc, which builds chassis/cabs for fire apparatus and entire fire trucks, specialist and military vehicles. Interestingly they do not build the chassis for step-vans! Utilimaster is based in Wakarusa, Indiana and Spartan in Lansing, Michigan.

Morgan Olson (until 2001 Grumman Olson) is owned by JB Poindexter & Co (JBPCo) which also owns Morgan truck bodies, Commercial Babcock truck bodies (Toronto based), Eagle Coach and Federal Coach (hearses and buses) and a raft of truck accessory outfits including Leer, Raider and Pace Edwards and other companies. JBPCo is based in Houston, and Grumman Olson in Sturgis, Michigan.

All step vans are built on"strip chassis" - basically a frame with a drive train. These are made by only three manufacturers: Ford, Freightliner and Workhorse (a division of International Truck & Engine Corp, which is owned by Navistar International Corp)

Both Utilimaster and Morgan Olson offer step-vans built on any of the three strip chassis. There is usually a choice of Diesel or gasoline engines and light duty and heavy duty frames.

On any given day it is possible to see about equal numbers of step-vans from each manufacturer, but it is not always easy to determine whose they are! There is little badging going on, sometimes the mudflaps are used to advertise the step van builder, and very rarely does the strip chassis manufacturer get any credit.

Both builders offer specialist vans for bakeries, linens, utilities and other uses, in addition to the more or less standard vans, but even these are offered with many options. All the big van operators such as FedEx, Purolater and UPS seem to buy from both builders, and all are rather coy about which strip chassis they use. It's a bit of fun to try to guess.


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