Wheels to start a lift club

2014-08-07 00:00

Alwyn Viljoen

EVEN with this month’s slightly lower fuel price, it costs at least a rand just to drive a kilometre in an average 1,8-litre car. A lot of neighbours have done the sums and are asking if they can save money by starting a lift club.

The answer is always “yes”, but aspiring lift-club members who aim to transport more than four people in a car need to discuss thoroughly the insurance and driver licensing issues before they decide which vehicle to get. For clubs that need to transport 10 to 15 people, a midi-bus provides the most comfort seats and the greatest cost efficiencies.

Two proven names

Luckily for aspiring lift-clubs owners, the taxi bosses have long done all the homework on which midi-buses last.

Their taxis have to stop and start up to 10 hours a day, which demands a lot from a vehicle. The fact that more than a thousand Quantums sell in South Africa each month — compared with the hundred or fewer for all the other panel vans — says a lot. But reliable as the Quantum has proven, it is not the lightest on fuel. For a smaller diesel thirst, taxi bosses who drive long distances choose European names, with Mercedes-Benz the best seller. Few taxi bosses are, however, aware that there is a twin German they can buy.

What is in a name?

A panel van is basically an enormous bread bin on wheels. Rather than try to design a new bread bin with each model change, the panelvan builders keep the price low by sharing parts.

That is why everything, from the front seat backwards in a Mercedes-Benz Sprinter and Volkswagen Crafter, are basically the same. (This co-operation agreement between VW and Merc dates back to 1995 but ends this year.)

Merc/VW each offer tens of models and all their list prices are negotiable. So, first look what a used German sells for, before you negotiate for the club.

Mercedes-Benz’s Charterway service plan makes budgeting and maintenance easy. VW’s Crafter comes with an app to monitor services.

In Italy and France, panel-van builders share even more parts. The Fiat Ducato, Peugeot Boxer and Citroën Relay use the same suspension to engines, with Iveco or Peugeot supplying turbo-diesels.

To avoid cannibalising each other’s markets, Peugeot specialises in moving three- to four-ton loads, while Iveco’s rear-wheel driven Daily rides on a heavy ladder-frame chassis that is popular among taxi bosses using a lot of dirt roads.

Panel van to taxi conversions

It costs about R50 000 to convert a short-wheel-base panel van into an SABS-approved 14-seater taxi.

A good used European panel van sells for less than a new bakkie, which means it can be a bargain for a lift club even with the conversion costs added.

Note, however, that the Daily’s roof did not fare so well in homolugation roll tests and to convert this panel van into a taxi costs about R10 000 more.

New names

The Ford Torneo and Nissan Impendulo are the newest competitors among passenger movers.

Nissan’s 2,7 petrol taxi is almost R15 000 cheaper than the 2,7 petrol Toyota Sesfikile, but the Nissan’s engine is a few numbers short of the Quantum’s, with sales as yet 10 times lower.

Overseas, the Ford Torneo is seen as both an excellent and affordable van, but the weak rand and almost 40% tax mean sales are low against the likes of the previously new, but now proven Hyundai H1.

Chinese competitors

Beijing Automotive Works (BAW) and the Maxus recently entered the market with very good offers.

The 2,7 16-seat BAW Sasuka is built in Springs on Johannesburg’s East Rand, but this taxi is not yet seen a lot outside Gauteng.

Maxus claims British genes for its 2,5 TD V80, and the engine makes an excellent 330 Nm from 1 800 rpm, but its price of R329 900 also shows this.

The BAW has a five-year or 100 000 km service plan and a three-year or 100 000 km warranty, but there is still a question mark over its after-sale service. For example, the Maxus website proudly shows its V80 with only a big plastic gab where there should be a roof light.

Dealers selling either BAW or Maxus know, however, that they need to offer good deals if they don’t want to sell like the Foton Inyathi and CMC Amandla, only on Junkmail. This creates a gap for new lift clubs to arm-wrestle for better prices.

So many choices, so few options

Sales figures show South Africa has two kinds of panel-van buyers, those in a Toyota — and those in other vans.

For the Toyota buyers, the recommended retail prices for the Sesfikile 2,7 VVTi petrol is currently at R329 500, while the 2,5 D-4D sells for R345 800.

Watch the press for dealer specials.

The other kind of panel-van buyer can chose from a dozen names, but we recommend the Citroën Relay.

At R305 900 for a 15-seater midi-bus with a five-year or 100 000 km service plan and a three-year or 100 000 km warrantee, plus 20 000 km service intervals, the Relay has the best offer.

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