ROYAL TRUCK BODY is giving the service body market an identity crisis.
We all used to know what a service body was supposed to look like. Ninety-degree corners. Flat sides. Maximum storage. Very utilitarian. The last thing a utility truck was supposed to look like was a pickup truck. And the last thing a service body was supposed to resemble was the pickup box that sometimes had to be removed so that the service body could be installed.
But that was before the Paramount, California, service body manufacturer blurred the line between pickups and chassis cabs — presenting a clear picture of a niche market that was not being fully served.
The first impression of the company's new Summit and Sport products for Chevrolet and Ford chassis is that Royal took a plasma cutter to the OEM pickup box, cutting out doors and creating storage compartments.
That first impression would be wrong. A fuzzy picture.
Because Royal first and foremost is a service body manufacturer, the company started developing the product by figuring out how to make its service body look like a pickup box. The result is a body designed to accept the abuse that the commercial market typically dumps on a service body. Yet when all the doors are closed, the appearance is that of a standard pickup with a few recessed door handles in some unexpected places.
While the company has gone to great lengths to secure some of the same OEM components that Chevrolet and Ford use on their trucks, Royal and the OEMs do not share sheet metal fabricators. Those steel panels that so closely resemble the lines of the cab and Detroit-looking pickup box are shaped right there in the Los Angeles area — either by Royal or outside fabricating companies, depending on the complexity of the shape.
Of course, the Royal Summit and Sport bodies are not entirely steel. Compound radii that might be difficult to stamp out of sheet steel are made from injection-molded, fiberglass-charged polyurethane.
The types of customers who have bought the Summit and the Sport have surprised Royal management.
“California customers tend to be more demanding when it comes to standard service bodies,” says Joe Valdiva, general manager. “We are isolated out here, but customers seem to place a lot of importance on quality and the continuous-improvement process. We knew there would be a market for a high-image service body out here, but we have been surprised at where some of the response has come from. Guys see it, ask what is it, and pay extra to buy it.”
While envisioned as a product for the commercial and personal use market, the Summit and Sport bodies also have generated interest in fleet markets. For example, the Los Angeles Department of Water & Power ordered 52.
“Supervisors use their trucks as personal vehicles,” Valdiva says. “But some subdivisions restrict commercial trucks. The Sport and Summit are allowed when other, more obvious commercial trucks are not.”
Other examples are plumbing contractors, pest control companies, and other enterprises where businesses drive their light-duty trucks home at night.
The California Highway Patrol also has expressed interest in the Summit and Sport for mobile inspections of trucks.
“A lot of companies and organizations are putting more value in having vehicles with higher images,” Valdiva says. “We have been surprised at how many there have been.”
Royal's latest model is the Summit, introduced in January to fit the redesigned Chevrolet and GMC full-size trucks.
The new Summit has two front side-opening panels, two rear side-opening panels, and horizontal doors over the wheel wells that drop down to serve as 42"-wide tables. The fuel fill, located on the driver side, is located behind the lockable horizontal door for added security.
Getting the new model ready for the redesigned GM vehicles primarily was a matter of getting the sheet metal of the body to correspond to that of the chassis cab. Beneath the curving sheet metal — its doors and end panels — the shells of Summit and Sport are the same.
Royal offers the Summit for 56" CA chassis with single rear wheels and the Sport for chassis with one of three configurations — a 56" CA, a 60" CA with single rear wheels, or a 60" CA with dual rear wheels.
Despite their curves, the weight of the Summit and Sport models is not substantially different from conventional service bodies. The model for 56" CA trucks, for example, weighs 1,080 pounds.
The weight similarity is not surprising, given the similarity in the materials used. The body is primarily made of 16-gauge electro-galvanized steel, with 18-gauge double-paneled doors. Floors are made of 12-gauge rigidized diamond plate steel. The diamond pattern is embossed into the A-60 steel. This provides the strength and slip resistance of conventional diamond plate plus the corrosion resistance of an electro-galvanized coating.
The span between the sidepacks is wide enough to enable the truck to carry 4 × 8 sheets of plywood or other building material.
The Summit and Sport models are the results of an extensive developmental process. The first model Royal developed was for the S10 pickup in 1995. The company then designed models for the Sierra and Ford Super Duty trucks.
“We got a lot of help from Ford and GM to develop these bodies,” Valdiva says. “For example, we had one ready for the new Ford Super Duty before the chassis even existed.”
To produce a real body for a nonexistent chassis required considerable communication between Ford and Royal. Ford loaned Royal all the drawings of the vehicle that Royal needed to design and produce a prototype. When Royal had a body ready, Ford sent a pre-production Super Duty to try it on. The Royal prototype fit almost perfectly, Valdiva says, off a quarter of an inch from one side to another.
“We have worked to improve that a lot,” Valdiva says. “We now assemble our Summit and Sport models in fixtures that the pieces to be assembled will not even fit in if they are off 1/8".”
Fit and finish are important on a product of this type. Royal points out that the typical chassis cab has two doors to fit properly. Summit and Sport models have six.
Styling is not the only influence the major chassis manufacturers are having on Royal. The company also is borrowing suppliers and a few manufacturing techniques.
“When we were developing the Sport for the new Chevrolet and GMC trucks, GM helped us a lot in getting some of the same suppliers that they use,” Valdiva says.
This was particularly the case for lighting suppliers. The Summit uses the same lighting package as GM.
Although Royal does not produce the Summit and Sport bodies with anywhere near the volume of a Ford or Chevrolet, some of its production ideas resemble those of larger manufacturers.
Cellular manufacturing is one of the concepts that Royal has been quick to use in producing the Summit and Sport. The method has worked well for that product line and will be used to produce standard Royal service bodies.
Spot welding is another change. Royal believes this welding technique makes sense at a time when coated steels are something customers demand.
“We pay for that coating,” Valdiva says. “With conventional MIG welding, you burn away some of that coating and grind away more of it. Why not use a welding method that keeps as much of that coating in place as possible?”
Manufacturing changes are only part of the picture. Dudley DeZonia, president, would say that personnel changes are even more important.
“It's not so much the technology as how our company works together,” DeZonia says. “We start with team building. We also believe in training and education. It is not unusual to find 20 people in class here at any given time.”
The classes can be directly related to the employee's job, or they can help pave a career path. Royal sponsors college education for its junior management team. Purchasing's Marc San Paolo, for example, is working on a degree in management from UCLA with financial assistance from Royal, and Justin Samper just received his AA degree. He is a business major with emphasis in purchasing.
“Some companies may expect employees to punch in and leave their minds with their time cards,” DeZonia says. “That's not the case here. We encourage our employees to generate new ideas. We need first class designers and engineers We need line people who generate new ideas. Working while going to school triggers new thinking. A number of our employees have returned to school and have blossomed.”
Royal has been focusing on quality improvements in recent years. The company received its first ISO certificate in 1999 and has passed every inspection since then, Valdiva says.
DeZonia says the company sought its ISO certification primarily to create more discipline in the manufacturing process and to do a better job of documenting what it does.
“Our products are so complex,” DeZonia says. “We needed to force ourselves to document each step that we perform. ISO 9000 is all about consistency and quality.”
Royal hired a consultant to help prepare the company.
“We were not in a rush — we spent two years leading up to the start of the process,” DeZonia says. “But it's been good for us. We audit everything we do now. Even our management team is audited. The idea is to consistently improve everything we do.”
Royal has been doing a lot of improvements lately — from an expanded product line, to employee training, and manufacturing upgrades.
“It's been an expensive process, especially getting the Summit and Sport line set up,” DeZonia says. “We probably have spent between seven and eight figures. If I had a clear idea of how much I spent, I probably would shoot myself.”