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June 26 2017
By Tim Deakin

Tim is the Senior Journalist at routeONE magazine is also the title’s chief test driver, with considerable vehicle knowledge

A new brand and a new focus on minibuses

The established Vapor Ricon name – one of the market leaders in wheelchair lifts – recently became Faiveley Vapor Ricon. But a focus on small PCVs remains, with a strong range of products for minibuses

Wheelchair lifts are FVR’s best-known products but it does much else too

As part of a group re-organisation, Vapor Ricon – best known for its wheelchair lifts – was recently re-titled Faiveley Vapor Ricon (FVR).

It remains a subsidiary of the Wabtec Group, and it also retains a strong commitment to the minicoach and minibus markets, says Business Unit Manager Paul Hemingway.

“There is no difference at all as far as our customers are concerned; all that has changed is our trading name. In Wabtec, we’re part of a large group, but we remain small enough to react on the rare occasions that product support is needed.”

During 2017, FVR’s branding will gradually change to ensure that the transition is smooth and professional. It’s of critical importance to the company that its customers know that it’s continuing to operate exactly as it did before – just under a different name.

FVR’s is planning to grow its product range and thus its customer presence. It’s already well established in the lift market, but it has its eye on providing minibus convertors with what Paul describes as “a complete package” for a particular vehicle.

“We are able to deliver a kit for the conversion of that vehicle: A door, a floor, a lift and seats, and a ramp if required. The floor is a new product. It is the lightest on the market and has been fully tested with seating. It is CNC cut and fits the vehicle exactly, with no trimming needed.”

Like the floor, the seats are to a lightweight design, and in either fixed or folding configuration. Conversion kits are available in bulk.

“We have recently quoted on a batch of 100 Mercedes-Benz Sprinter-based vehicles,” says Paul, who adds that FVR has a Ford Transit that is kitted out as a demonstrator to show many of its products.

Lightweight lift

Currently in the final stages of testing is a mainly aluminium lift, which to complement its slightly narrower space claim offers a 70kg weight saving over some other models. It is expected to be available later this year.

Variety of lifts are offered, including fixed- and split-platform versions

“The aluminium lift will not be available in all configurations. Instead, we’ll pick out where it will work best,” says Paul. He adds that in addition to the already-developed inboard variant, FVR is looking at an outboard version as well.

Its existing lift for use in accessible minibuses it the S-series. Available in solid- and split-platform options, the company describes it as being compact and simple to operate. It is rated at 350kg as standard, with a bariatric version available rated at 500kg.

FVR is also working with a third party to supply wheelchair restraints. Again, they are available now.

Door developments

A further target for FVR is the door market. It has systems that are proven, says Paul, and they are ready to go. Its electric-powered products have a clever energy release system for emergencies, and it is targeting all convertors and bodybuilders.

“We already supply most of them with our S-series lift and the target is to build on that,” Paul says, adding that FVR is mindful that different convertors use different-sized doors.

“We use CAD modelling for the design, and then provide a price. A small initial number of doors are be installed by our engineers at convertors’ premises to ensure that everything works correctly, and after that they are provided for its own staff to fit.”

Despite the size of FVR and its parent group, one-offs for particular applications are not beyond its grasp. “We’re building a reputation working with smaller bodybuilders and convertors, and we have done many one-offs in various areas. Our view is that if it works, people will come back to us, and then the product is no longer a one-off,” says Paul.

The door market is a target for Faiveley Vapor Ricon, says the company

FVR’s doors undergo extensive durability proving on a dedicated rig, and electric models are tested to 1m cycles.

Backing it up

With new developments already here and more still to come, FVR points out that it offers a strong backup network. Its engineers who are already competent with existing products are being trained to deal with new additions.

“We are proud of the fact that the Vapor Ricon brand is established in the UK and that we are highly regarded for the quality of our aftermarket service. We offer up-front engineering support and customers deal directly with ourselves, not an agent,” says Paul.

In cases where support is required, an engineer will be despatched, and parts can also be couriered to the operator. Vehicle off road incidences are prioritised, he adds.

FVR is a company that has big plans for the future in the minicoach and minibus markets, and in Wabtec, it has the backing behind it to succeed. Stay tuned for more news on coming developments.

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