From utility services and trades-work to interstate transportation and even food trucks, there are countless drivers, contractors, technicians, and craftsmen across multiple industries who all require commercial vehicles to do their work. Yet each worker has a unique job performing different tasks. A wide range of work requires a wide range of vehicles and equipment. The diversity of labor is what makes truck and van upfits so popular. Here’s what you need to know about commercial vehicle upfits, including what they are, how you can acquire upfits, and what’s trending in the industry:
What Are Upfits?
Work vehicles need to be as diverse as the jobs to which they’re assigned. Upfitting is the process of customizing vehicles according to the vocational needs of a buyer or user. For instance, an HVAC technician might want specific storage, while a locksmith needs an in-vehicle work bench. The actual additions and upgrades made to a commercial product are called upfits, which range from simple ladder racks or shelving to comprehensive body overhauls.
Upfits can be installed onto chassis, cab chassis (also referred to as half-trucks), or complete vehicles. Commercial trucks and vans are typically upfitted by either the vehicle manufacturer or by upfit distributors. Original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) usually provide standard upfits, while distributors can meet custom upfit specifications. While there are approximately 16 major OEMs that produce light-, medium-, and heavy-duty vehicles, there are nearly 2,000 distributorships.1 The exact process for upfitting can vary by industry, OEM, distributor, or upfit.
Upfit Path 1: Factory Upfitters
Some chassis and cab-chassis manufacturers will modify the bodies of their commercial vehicles with upfits while still on the OEM assembly plant or factory floor. By installing additions and upgrades at this early stage, often before the production or assembly of the vehicle is fully complete, upfits can seamlessly align with the original dimensions of the work truck or van chassis. Because this upfitting occurs at the mass-production level, these modified vehicles incorporate simple, standard upfit packages — such as tool box upfits — designed to broadly meet common vocational needs. This process allows business owners and contractors to buy work trucks or vans with standard upfits directly through a dealership.
Having standard upfits, like partitions, shelving, and safety equipment, means that your vehicles are versatile and available for use on different jobs, while a custom upfitted vehicle may sit idle if its specifications don’t match current work. The consistency of standard upfits also means that stock parts and equipment can be easily interchanged between vehicles. Finally, limiting differences between vehicles by having uniform upfits can enhance worker safety and simplify new-hire training. However, standard factory upfitting may prevent you from taking specific jobs that require specific custom upfits.2
Upfit Path 2: Upfit Distributors
Often, a vehicle requires more complex upfits that are not available directly from the manufacturer, This is where upfit distributors step in to source specific materials from suppliers and install custom upfits. Distributorships are best understood as “final-stage manufacturing facilities, designing and building end-product vehicles for specific applications”.1 You can connect with upfit distributors in two primary ways:
1. Work with a Dealership
In this single-source scenario, you go to a commercial vehicle dealership and let them know you want a custom upfitted truck or van. They’ll sell you the relevant chassis, cab chassis, or vehicle, then coordinate on your behalf with an upfit distributor. The distributor will provide and install the tool box, cabinets, racks, or other upfit. Upfitting your vehicle this way means that your purchase is turn-key ready from the first moment you drive it off the lot.
2. Keep Transactions Separate
With this method, you figure out the chassis, cab-chassis, or vehicle you need and buy it from a dealership. Then, on your own, you take it to a local upfit distributor to install the upgrades. Pursuing a multi-source plan requires more involvement, but you can also feel a greater sense of control over the process. This is a popular choice for those with smaller fleets (25 or fewer vehicles).
What’s Trending Up with Upfits?
Increasingly, contractors and business owners are aware of the many benefits of upfits, from expanding storage to increasing worker safety. So, it’s no surprise that there is an increased demand for upfitted commercial vehicles. Specifically, buyers are increasingly seeking out custom upfits. According to the National Truck Equipment Association (NTEA), custom upfit distributors have been consistently claiming more and more of the upfit market from dealerships offering standard factory upfits3.
While upfits are trending up in popularity, there have been recent frustrations with upfit order-to-date (OTD) times, due in-part to the COVID-19 pandemic. Even before 2020, some upfit distributors were backlogged with orders. Then the coronavirus pandemic caused OEMs to temporarily suspend production and disrupted supply chains4. These events dramatically slowed distributor acquisition of the materials necessary to complete upfits. Luckily, the nation is turning a corner in our fight against the virus, and there are already early signs that upfit OTD times are improving.
Conclusion: Upfits are sought after by plumbers, electricians, HVAC technicians, locksmiths, painters, construction workers, food trucks, and many other craftspeople, technicians, and contractors. The process of upfitting commercial vehicles can seem complex, but upfits can be a huge benefit to your business, improving your capabilities, efficiency, productivity, storage, and safety. Finding upfitted vehicles is easy on CommercialTruckTrader.com, where you can filter your searches by upfit make and type.