Make Your Ute Look Good

Flexiglass

The domestically made ute may be doomed, but that does nothing to diminish prospects for utility vehicle sales in Australia. And that means future demand for trays and canopies remains bright, according to Flexiglass, leaders in the field.

Flexiglass originated in Western Australia in 1949 when founder Harry Robins created his first canopy for fitment on a Holden, to convert it into a station wagon. He used a steam bent timber frame and sheet metal panels, and after this ‘prototype’ met with widespread approval he was soon making a range of designs from aluminium sheet, with sliding side windows. These innovative canopies featured laminated glass and an interior dome light.

This was just the beginning for Harry, who went on to produce the first ever fibreglass canopy in 1956. This canopy was years ahead of its time and featured many similarities to today’s canopies. In 1959 he diversified into the fibreglass boat building business and together with his two sons created the foundations of today’s Flexiglass. Together they designed and perfected a new system of fibreglass production which, unlike the rigid canopies that dominated the market at that time, was extremely lightweight and flexible.

Throughout the 1970s Flexiglass continued to grow and branches were opened in South Australia and Victoria. Demand grew rapidly throughout Australia, and New South Wales and Queensland branches soon followed, although the east coast was home to the company’s biggest rival. However, in 1989 Flexiglass and the rival – Challenge Canopies – merged via an acquisition by Flexiglass to form Flexiglass Challenge, becoming by some margin the largest canopy manufacturer in Australia.

Today, Flexiglass is owned by Fleetwood Corporation, an ASX 200 listed company that acquired the company in 2002. National Sales and Operations manager, Ergun Kirmaci explains that the Fleetwood connection is a bonus, but the company operates as a stand-alone business – although other Fleetwood brands such as Coromal and Windsor caravans are useful allies and there are some synergies between them.

He is confident that the imminent demise of OEM manufacturing in Australia will not dent demand for utes – most of which are already sourced from overseas anyway. The light commercial vehicle sector has in any case stood up remarkably well in the automotive market in recent years (double digit growth, plateauing somewhat in last year’s uncertain economic climate) and seems set to remain strong as long as there is a rural and regional economy, small business and the construction sector throughout the country.

While most of Flexiglass’s business is classed as aftermarket, the company retains a close relationship with Ford and produces canopies for the automaker. “We are the OEM tray supplier to the Ford Falcon and also the Ranger series,” explains Ergun. Ranger is imported as either a pickup or a cab-chassis. “No vehicle manufacturer supplies a utility vehicle already fitted from the factory with a tray or a canopy.” To be precise, given there is no direct OEM supply chain for this imported range, Flexiglass is included in Ford’s ‘supplier branded accessory programme’, supplying alloy trays to Ford of Australia which then engages Flexiglass or Ford dealer resources to fit them to the imported chassis cabs. “We are not directly dependent on the Australian auto manufacturing industry; as long as light commercial vehicles remain popular, the future is looking good for us.”

Ergun says a management restructure two years ago, together with a new national headquarters in Melbourne that opened last year – including some 5,000 square metres of warehousing at Tullamarine, near the airport – has boosted the ambitions of Flexiglass to expand its product base as well as to consolidate on its lead in trays and canopies. The company currently offers an extensive range of products for every major OEM brand available in Australia: not only Ford, Holden and Toyota but also Nissan, Mitsubishi, Mazda, Isuzu, Volkswagen, Ssangyong and even the Chinese Great Wall.

This product offering – the broadest in Australia within the canopy and tray market segments – has been key to the success of Flexiglass, shares Ergun. “Our company is the pioneer of canopies in Australia; we are the experts and as such we have the depth in our product offerings within this category.” The range starts with the ever-popular base Tradesman canopy, finished in the standard gel coat white and favoured by fleets and tradies for decades. This product offers great configuration flexibility, with opening and/or sliding side windows, high roof and cab height options, interior lining options, roof vents, security mesh, roof racking solutions and other customisations that have made this canopy the product of choice. If you want something a little more luxurious, with a smooth finish canopy matched to the colour of your vehicle, there is the Premier canopy, which offers all the flexibility of the Tradesman but includes interior felt lining as standard, to eliminate the condensation that may occur with hard finish surfaces.

The top of the range is the Flexisport canopy, not only stylish in design but with sports roof bars, demister for the tailgate window, roof mounted spoiler and vehicle integrated central locking for tailgate access.

The Worksmart is another of the Flexiglass canopies designed for use with light commercial vehicles with a factory fitted tub. This unit is not only a stylish product but offers integrated central locking for rear and side access, large side access, rear window demister and extra storage space with a high roof design.

Flexiglass also has the cab-chassis market covered with the Workezy and Combo products. The Workezy unit, available for all wheel bases, is a high-capacity fibreglass canopy with an alloy tray deck, offering pallet loading access from the side and rear doors. This can also be supplied with roof racking solutions. The Combo is a full alloy tray with a custom built canopy which can also be configured to allow pallet loading ability via side and rear access to the unit. It too can be coupled with roof storage solutions. Colour coding to the vehicle colour is an option that is offered for both products.

Distribution of Flexiglass products is nationwide through the company’s own full-service centres and through vehicle dealers. The network has been full of praise for the company’s website and its “design your own vehicle” page that enables customers to compile a realistic visualisation of what their vehicle will look like in a certain colour with certain products and accessories fitted. It is one thing to be able to see your new ute in the showroom and to see a canopy in the yard, but it’s another thing to be able to imagine the two put together – and the web page does just that. A canopy or tray is hardly an impulse purchase – and for business use, it’s a serious investment – so purchasers welcome every opportunity to research the product and ensure they have made the correct choice.

Dealers are not required to keep massive stocks of the different ranges and colour options – that is done at Tullamarine. Products are partly sourced overseas, and many of them are assembled in Victoria; the company keeps enough stock to ensure prompt delivery of any order and is happy to discuss any special requests or requirements of a fleet user.

Flexiglass is well poised to continue in its market position as a name of choice for light commercial vehicle accessories. Ergun promises that the future will see Flexiglass expand its product portfolio to offer customers a more comprehensive light commercial vehicle fit-out. The relocation to Tullamarine has provided the stimulus to build on what has been a most reputable and sought after brand, he says.

As to what the new directions taken by the company will be, Ergun assures us they will see the light of day in the new financial year. The company will remain within the automotive sector – Flexiglass will not be dipping its toe back in the fibreglass boat sector, for example – but will extend its range for existing and new purchasers and enable even more drivers to look good and feel comfortable in their light commercial vehicles.

For more information about Flexiglass, please visit http://www.flexiglass.com.au/.

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June 19, 2018, 10:33 AM AEST