Wheelwright MD talks up importance of load indexing
Wheel distributor Wheelwright spoke positively about the burgeoning market for commercial vehicle alloy wheels at its stand at Brityrex 2012, since it says it opens up a whole new customer segment and the chance for tyre bays and specialists to win new customers. However, the company also raised concerns that many retailers are currently supplying customers with incorrectly-rated packages, suggesting that the current situation could be a time-bomb of potential litigation and disaster. Wheelwright managing director, Kevin Greer suggested to T&A that it is up to dealers to ensure they are not supplying end users with potentially dangerous modifications to their vans, while stressing the opportunity for increased business this market can offer.
As recently as ten years ago vans were a very different showroom proposition to their current appearance. Before the new millennium, commercial vehicles were created with a pretty clear raison d’être – namely the transportation and safe delivery of goods and personnel from one place to another. The odd air-con and audio option aside, most manufacturers were sparing with their styling and option lists on everything but the smallest, car-based vans. Mid-sector Transit-type vans were generally left alone in servitude. In the 2000s, searching for USPs marketing departments realised that, suitably dressed and attired, these boxes on wheels could appeal to owner-drivers and create a pride of ownership more akin to that of a typical car. This led to Volkswagen, Mercedes and Ford models rolling out of their respective showrooms sporting Shelby Stripes, huge alloys and even sports suspension.
The aftermarket was quick to follow suit, and van wheels went from being a single, paltry offering at the back of most manufacturer’s brochures to being a range staple, with several styles for a multitude of fitments. With businesses cutting back on expenditure, Wheelwright suggests it is all the more likely that van owners are likely to spruce up their commercial vehicle, rather than invest in a separate car for personal use. Kent-based Wheelwright says it has added a diverse range of styles and fitments to its portfolio as a result, but it’s not simply a case of picking a style and adding to the line-up, says Greer.
“Designing and sourcing wheels and tyres for our commercial range is even more stringent than our passenger car ranges,” he explains. “The van manufacturers themselves are the best source of data for load requirements, so we work closely with them to ensure that everything we add to the range exceeds the ‘worst case’ scenario for a fully laden vehicle. The market we’re seeing for these wheels is very diverse, with everyone from plumbing contractors and motor-home conversion companies looking to augment their base vehicles. In certain cases, and particularly with camper builds, the finished vehicle can be right on the GVW limit, so the wheels must be engineered for that – and fitted with a suitable tyre.”
Greer is increasingly concerned about the lack of knowledge in the market place about the possible implications of fitting passenger car wheels with incorrect ratings. “I see it all the time; either on dealer visits, on social media feeds, or even out on the road. With vehicles like the Vito and T5 having such common car PCDs, many retailers are offering packages from their car ranges to these customers. It’s not only irresponsible, but it’s also downright dangerous. The best case you can hope for is minor tyre damage and a hacked-off customer. The worst case could be total wheel failure on a vehicle that weighs well over two tons. It doesn’t bear thinking about.
“Dealers need to stick to their guns more. We get so many calls saying that their end-user wants to fit, say, a BMW wheel to a VW T5, just because they like the look. If the wheel and tyre doesn’t have the correct load rating, then you’re playing with fire – and possibly creating a world of grief further down the line.”
In addition to the potential liability issues from product failure, Greer is quick to point out that Wheelwright’s discussions with major insurers have thrown new light on this issue. “They’re aware of this problem for sure,” he says. “And they’re taking a very dim view. From what we understand, if the wheels or tyres were instrumental in a crash or loss of control that lead to a claim, they would reject it out of hand – as well as nullifying the policy. It all gets into horrendously difficult territory then, and the wheel and tyre’s manufacturer product liabilities also won’t save you if you’ve knowingly fitted them to vehicle that falls outside of the products design parameters and stress limits.”
According to Greer, the solution is simple: “There’s so much choice out there now that is correctly designed and rated to these platforms, I don’t believe that responsible retailers won’t be able to make a sale and retain a customer, giving them something that they really want, but with the umbrella of warranty and liability protection – as well as ensuring they are fully legal and insured, of course. There will always be the retail customer that has their heart set on a car fitment that you know will fit, but our advice is not to be tempted. If you can’t switch-sell the end-user to something that has true suitability for purpose then walk away from the sale. Better to lose a few hundred in profit today than create a potential seven or eight-figure liability for yourself tomorrow.”