Plastics News: Firm Steps Up Production of Plastics-Intensive Delivery Van

Spartan Motors Inc. is getting its composite delivery van ready for full production, moving assembly to a dedicated facility in Charlotte, Mich., and expecting to deliver 500 to 1,000 of the vehicles by the end of the year.


Charlotte-based Spartan’s Utilimaster Corp. brand introduced the van in 2011, designing and building the Reach, a lighter composite-body alternative to its existing aluminum-bodied vehicle. The Reach comes in about 1,000 pounds lighter than the standard van, which also allows the company to use a more efficient engine -- leading to fuel savings for users.


Key customers such as delivery service UPS began using a test fleet of the Reach last year and the company now has orders in hand for both UPS and FedEx.


Spartan CEO John Sztykiel said in a June 25 news release updating the Reach’s progress that Utilimaster expects to ship 150 completed vans during July and August.


“This represents an important milestone as we work to realize the long-term opportunities for Reach,” he said.

The Reach uses a variety of thermoset and thermoplastic composites. The walls are a molded-in-color polyester sandwich structure with a honeycomb inner core. The bumpers are urethane and interior uses thermoplastic polyolefin. It has 650 cubic feet of cargo capacity, just 50 cubic feet shy of the aluminum van.


Utilimaster has had some fit-and-finish quality issues to address on early versions of the vehicle which has slowed production, the company admitted.


“As is often the case with game-changing new products, we have encountered some challenges to overcome as we bring the Reach to the marketplace and believe it is appropriate to slow the production ramp up,” Sztykiel said. “But all problems have identifiable solutions. Those solutions are being put into effect now and customers’ delivery requirements will be met.”


Utilimaster buys its plastics from outside suppliers.


Early production was at Utilimaster’s facility in Wakarusa, Ind., but in June the company began moving assembly to a permanent line in Charlotte. It also hired Frank Fata, a former executive with Daimler AG, Chrysler Group LLC and Fisker Automotive Inc., to oversee the full production launch of the Reach.