Flatbed conversions in North America?

smbisig

Adventurer
Polling the board here to see what you all think about flatbeds.

With so many popular overland trucks coming with shorter beds (Gladiator, Ranger, Tacoma, Colorado), what are your thoughts on flatbed conversions to increase the useable space and functionality? Seems to be super popular in other countries, such as Australia where they even cut SUVs in half and convert to a tray. Your thoughts?
 

ChasingOurTrunks

Well-known member
Polling the board here to see what you all think about flatbeds.

With so many popular overland trucks coming with shorter beds (Gladiator, Ranger, Tacoma, Colorado), what are your thoughts on flatbed conversions to increase the useable space and functionality? Seems to be super popular in other countries, such as Australia where they even cut SUVs in half and convert to a tray. Your thoughts?

I've looked into this as this was my original vision for my Canyon, and in fact this is one of the reasons I purchased the Canyon, because the frame would match several Australian trucks so an easy "bolt it on" approach to a tray/canopy would be an option for me. But I ran into weight issues really quickly. It definitely can be done and there are a few places that offer Australian canopies here in North America, but it can get tight on weights fast.

What I found was that the Payloads of our mid-size trucks are typically only around 1500 lbs, which already is often much less than our Australian friends who see payloads of 1-ton or more in many of their equivalent mid-size trucks. The trucks appear to be identical in many respects, and these ratings appear to be based more on emissions control classifications than anything, but the sticker on the door is the sticker on the door, regardless.

Losing the tub will give you back probably 200-250lbs; adding the tray and canopy will be at least that back on, but often a few pounds more (an extra 100-200 lbs over a blank truck tub, depending on materials, is a "rule of thumb" that I read). The issue then gets compounded from all that space -- it's a full square metre of extra space with a typical tray and canopy system, and that space gets filled, so again more weight. Plus, canopy interiors are often built out with even more weight -- fridge slides, dividers, water tanks, etc. These things exist in non-Canopy builds too of course but it's important to know if you plan on adding these features before you decide, because it adds up to a lot of extra weight fast.

Overseas in Australia, many canopy builds come with a GVM upgrade, which is not a legally recognized option here in North America. Frames and axles are stiffened and gusseted, brakes are upgraded, and suspension is changed to match the new GVM. In some cases, chassis are extended too, and thus axles are relocated, which has a profound impact on weight carrying as it can get the bulk of the canopy over the rear axle. In many mid-size trucks, the rear axle is tucked up close to the back seat passengers, and the bulk of the cargo area is hanging off the back of the axle which isn't great for load hauling. Sure, you CAN do all these things to a North American truck, but it's not super common and at the end of the day, there's no regulatory framework that will officially change the specs of the cars (which they do have in Australia), so finding a ticketed shop to do all the engineering and work properly might be nigh on impossible unless anyone knows of a shop who is willing to be the "Manufacturer on Record" for any problems.

(As an aside, when AEV made a deal with Chrysler to get a handful of J8 Jeeps -- the mil spec JKs -- they did so with the need to find local dealerships or shops who would go through the hassle of being the "manufacturer of record" for the J8 sold to a civilian, which meant they were responsible for everything -- warranty, engineering, etc. -- and that was a hard sell and not many folks jumped on that from what I understand. And that was for a mil-spec vehicle, unmodified from a known manufacturer, Chrysler. It is because of this that I think it would be hard to find a shop that would modify a 4x4 the way the Aussies do and be "Manufacturer of Record" over here).

As it is, my build is right on the limit, but I'm not a solo traveller -- 3 people and two big dogs -- so while I couldn't afford the extra couple hundred pounds, a solo traveller likely will be able to make a canopy and tray work better.

Here's a few links of North American tray and canopy Providers that I looked into; both Mits and Norweld are extremely well tested in Australia and I wouldn't hesitate to purchase either product from a quality perspective. I would give the edge to Mits Alloy in terms of design (i.e. usability) over the Norweld as Mits has a lot of really neat modular options for their canopies, but there may be other features that are more important to you to compare.


 

Herbie

Rendezvous Conspirator
They would be more popular here if they were more... popular.

Weird sentence, but hear me out - since flatbeds are mostly an industry thing in NA, they're on the spendy side. I think that hurts their popularity for our purposes. If there were more people using flatbeds, the range of options would expand and the price would go down, which in turn, would make them a more viable option for more people. They're popular in Australia because they're reasonably priced and they have a lot of options.

There are other threads on this subject here already - the paucity of suppliers (and oftentimes poor customer-service or limited options from the ones we have) mean you really need to want it, and most of the stuff that's off-the-shelf is a poor fit for overlanding. $10k for a Norweld tray puts them into rarified consumer territory, but there's a reason many folks like us have swallowed that pill - it's the best choice on a short list of choices.
 

ChasingOurTrunks

Well-known member
They would be more popular here if they were more... popular.

Weird sentence, but hear me out - since flatbeds are mostly an industry thing in NA, they're on the spendy side. I think that hurts their popularity for our purposes. If there were more people using flatbeds, the range of options would expand and the price would go down, which in turn, would make them a more viable option for more people. They're popular in Australia because they're reasonably priced and they have a lot of options.

There are other threads on this subject here already - the paucity of suppliers (and oftentimes poor customer-service or limited options from the ones we have) mean you really need to want it, and most of the stuff that's off-the-shelf is a poor fit for overlanding. $10k for a Norweld tray puts them into rarified consumer territory, but there's a reason many folks like us have swallowed that pill - it's the best choice on a short list of choices.
I think that's part of it too Herbie - not a lot of industry guys use the midsize trucks, so there's not much to drive the demand for lightweight tub replacement options. That's probably related to the Payload issue I posted above, too. We see a ton of flatbeds up here in Northern Alberta, however, they are almost all steel flatbeds on HD trucks (2500 or bigger) as they have a lot of extra payload and the durability of steel is seen as more important than the lightness of aluminum. That's not to say you can't get aluminum ones - you can, but as you said, they are spendy and rare for smaller trucks.
 

smbisig

Adventurer
All good points. To be transparent, we import the MITs Alloy brand, as the marketing manager, I am researching the direction to focus on. So far, most of the installs we have done are on larger (2500+) trucks and some with Four Wheel Campers installed at a later date. As someone who has a Gladiator, I was really leaning toward the tray conversion knowing that it would make the vehicle more usable as a truck. But then I ultimately decided I wanted something I could pull into a camp spot and be in bed in under 5 minutes with shelter if needed (canopy camper). Thanks for the thoughts.
 

ChasingOurTrunks

Well-known member
All good points. To be transparent, we import the MITs Alloy brand, as the marketing manager, I am researching the direction to focus on. So far, most of the installs we have done are on larger (2500+) trucks and some with Four Wheel Campers installed at a later date. As someone who has a Gladiator, I was really leaning toward the tray conversion knowing that it would make the vehicle more usable as a truck. But then I ultimately decided I wanted something I could pull into a camp spot and be in bed in under 5 minutes with shelter if needed (canopy camper). Thanks for the thoughts.
I guess I kind of referred you to yourself there eh? :D I appreciate the transparency! Honestly I love the canopy setups I've seen - they are, in my opinion, the ultimate in "usability" for a touring truck. I think if you could address the weight issue, it would increase the prevalence of people exploring these.

As a customer, I really want the data to make an informed decision. It's one of my biggest pet peeves in the industry here in North America -- actual off-road specs are scant. What's the wading depth of a Tacoma? What's the roof load of a Colorado? How much does my towing capacity change off-pavement? These are important figures to know in an off-road vehicle but they aren't offered. I would encourage you not to follow that example, and provide as much data as your reasonably can -- like how much does a MITs canopy change the weight of my rig in net KGs? Those numbers I had above are all from the web -- unsubstantiated articles on 4x4 sites, and discussion forums, but I could be totally wrong about those so word from "the manufacturer" would be fantastic. Obviously net change is different from vehicle to vehicle and canopy model to model, but even a ballpark would be helpful. Knowing how this applies to a variety of situations (solo traveller, couples, families, etc.) or their build intention (4 wheel camper, canopy, open deck with skeleton rack and RTT, Dogbox, etc.) so that we can make an informed choice would be great.

I will say that in this game, based on my experience, spending $10-$20k on an accessory like a deck and canopy is not unheard of if the use case is presented properly -- as evidence, just try to find an Alucab Canopy Camper or any of the other Wedge Campers available in the next 6 months! These are all in that price range, and are actually in many ways a smaller modification than a tray and canopy, so I think there could well be a decent market for these things if they can be made to work within our allowable payloads.
 

eyemgh

Active member
I'm building a new rig as we speak. It will be based around a F350 Super Cab 6.75' bed. It will carry a Hallmark K2, but with the elimination of the standard bed and adding a Bowen Custom flatbed, I'll be able to run the full 8' camper, with LOTS of outside storage, no goofy overhang and still have the COG right.
 
Overseas in Australia, many canopy builds come with a GVM upgrade, which is not a legally recognized option here in North America. Frames and axles are stiffened and gusseted, brakes are upgraded, and suspension is changed to match the new GVM. In some cases, chassis are extended too, and thus axles are relocated, which has a profound impact on weight carrying as it can get the bulk of the canopy over the rear axle. In many mid-size trucks, the rear axle is tucked up close to the back seat passengers, and the bulk of the cargo area is hanging off the back of the axle which isn't great for load hauling. Sure, you CAN do all these things to a North American truck, but it's not super common and at the end of the day, there's no regulatory framework that will officially change the specs of the cars (which they do have in Australia), so finding a ticketed shop to do all the engineering and work properly might be nigh on impossible unless anyone knows of a shop who is willing to be the "Manufacturer on Record" for any problems.

(As an aside, when AEV made a deal with Chrysler to get a handful of J8 Jeeps -- the mil spec JKs -- they did so with the need to find local dealerships or shops who would go through the hassle of being the "manufacturer of record" for the J8 sold to a civilian, which meant they were responsible for everything -- warranty, engineering, etc. -- and that was a hard sell and not many folks jumped on that from what I understand. And that was for a mil-spec vehicle, unmodified from a known manufacturer, Chrysler. It is because of this that I think it would be hard to find a shop that would modify a 4x4 the way the Aussies do and be "Manufacturer of Record" over here).
Although you are technically correct...

Custom fabrication on vehicles is super common here. Engine swaps, suspension conversions (not just lifts, changing the type) bigger or smaller brakes, frame stretching or cutting...

Because of the lack of legal framework to change ratings, there are a lot of shops who make all sorts of crazy modifications.
 

ChasingOurTrunks

Well-known member
Although you are technically correct...

Custom fabrication on vehicles is super common here. Engine swaps, suspension conversions (not just lifts, changing the type) bigger or smaller brakes, frame stretching or cutting...

Because of the lack of legal framework to change ratings, there are a lot of shops who make all sorts of crazy modifications.
Oh yes for sure, excellent point! Modding cars in general is big business, you are correct.

I’m thinking specifically If “Ute Trays”. In Australia their popularity was driven by tradesmen and commercial users. Commercial users have a higher bar (insurance and regulations) that regular folks, and so in Australia they do have a framework that can legally verify your modified rig, which allows one to get properly insured, etc. I think what Herbie said is a key part of the discussion - if we had more commercial folks buying these things it would likely drive the prices down and drive more adoption, but we won’t get that without a regulatory framework to make it legal for the commercial operators and since their needs are well met by HD trucks (and most of our infrastructure accommodates trucks of that size) I don’t see this shift happening quickly.

But I do think there’s a market for Overlanders if the manufacturers can make them work with our payloads.
 
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4000lbsOfGoat

Well-known member
I've been living full-time out of my Tacoma for 2.5 months now and I would just about give my left arm for a proper tray\canopy setup. I spend hours looking at the truck and lamenting all of the wasted space involved with a standard bed\cap setup. I get it that the standard bed arrangement works for 98% of users but it's just terribly inefficient for long-term camping use. I dream of the day when everything I ever need is accessible right in front of me rather than having to crawl into the bed....

It would be especially great if Toyota offered a factory flatbed option! It seems like that wouldn't be all that involved from an engineering and manufacturing standpoint. If it was available I bet you would see a whole lot more of them on the road.
 
Oh yes for sure, excellent point! Modding cars in general is big business, you are correct.

I’m thinking specifically If “Ute Trays”. In Australia their popularity was driven by tradesmen and commercial users. Commercial users have a higher bar (insurance and regulations) that regular folks, and so in Australia they do have a framework that can legally verify your modified rig, which allows one to get properly insured, etc. I think what Herbie said is a key part of the discussion - if we had more commercial folks buying these things it would likely drive the prices down and drive more adoption, but we won’t get that without a regulatory framework to make it legal for the commercial operators and since their needs are well met by HD trucks (and most of our infrastructure accommodates trucks of that size) I don’t see this shift happening quickly.

But I do think there’s a market for Overlanders if the manufacturers can make them work with our payloads.
Ahhhh, I misread it as being in general people don't do it because of the lack of regulatory framework.

Yeah, it would definitely be a game changer if the ability to upfit midsized trucks for commercial use became more common.

Maybe with the Ranger and Colorado becoming more common, and commercial trades becoming more and more specialized, we'll see more options!
 

Zuber

Member
All good points. To be transparent, we import the MITs Alloy brand, as the marketing manager, I am researching the direction to focus on. So far, most of the installs we have done are on larger (2500+) trucks and some with Four Wheel Campers installed at a later date. As someone who has a Gladiator, I was really leaning toward the tray conversion knowing that it would make the vehicle more usable as a truck. But then I ultimately decided I wanted something I could pull into a camp spot and be in bed in under 5 minutes with shelter if needed (canopy camper). Thanks for the thoughts.
Have you crossed the river and checked in with ProTech Flatbeds in Vancouver, WA? They can make an aluminum flatbed of any size. Were very reasonable a few years a go.
 

DirtWhiskey

Western Dirt Rat
Truck beds suck. Seeing more and more flatbeds in the 3/4 ton and up range. But very few canopies. People in America can be slow on the uptake but it will come around. If I had one of those teensie tiny 2 foot beds on a Tacoma (et al) I would be even more happy to enjoy the many benefits of a flatbed tray/canopy combo. I have a giant Scott platform bed on my F450. Happened to find a custom flatbed canopy that fits it perfectly. I feel lucky. I will never go back to a conventional bed.
 
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