Their short lengths mean that Waltons of Oban’s fridge-bodied Fuso Canters travel on the ferries that connect Scotland’s Western Isles at lower prices than other commercial vehicles.
Indeed, the 3.5-tonne model goes for the £48 cost of a car rather than the £140 fee payable for many vans that cannot meet the ferry operator’s 5.0-metre length rule.
Waltons’ 7.5-tonne Canters are just 5.0 metres long too, so the fares it pays for these trucks are also lower than those charged for virtually every other vehicle in the same weight category.
According to proprietor Eric Walton, these savings make a crucial difference to the viability of his operation. "Without the Canter our costs would be a lot higher; in fact, the business just wouldn’t work," he said.
Mr Walton used a redundancy cheque to found his company in 2002, with a single van. Today, Waltons of Oban has its own coldstore and freezer, and relies on a fleet of nine temperature-controlled vehicles supplied by Central Belt Mercedes-Benz dealer Western Commercial, to distribute chilled and frozen foods throughout Argyll and the islands, as well as Glasgow, Edinburgh and Perth.
A 7.5-tonne Atego and a couple of 3.5-tonne Sprinter vans wear three-pointed stars. The other six, though, are all Fuso Canters – the German manufacturer’s UK dealers are also responsible for sales and support of the popular Japanese light truck range.
The most recent arrivals were a 7.5-tonne Canter 7C15 and a 3.5-tonne Canter 3C13. Both are fitted with dual compartment insulated box bodies with movable bulkeads, by Tekbo, of Glasgow, and Thermo King refrigeration units.
The vehicle lengths are minimised by the Canter’s cab-over-engine design and both were also specified with the shortest available wheelbases – 2500mm in the case of the smaller vehicle and 2750mm for the larger.
Mr Walton explained: "By restricting them to maximum lengths of 5.0 metres we pay lower fares for both Canter models than we would if they were 5.1 metres long. And that’s quite right too, because we’re not taking up any more space on the boat than a typical family saloon."
Power for both trucks comes from a clean-burning, fuel-efficient 3.0-litre engine that not only meets Euro 5 emissions limits but also the more stringent – and voluntary – Enhanced Environmentally-friendly Vehicle (EEV) standard.
The operator has just ordered two more Canters, a 6.5-tonne 6C15 with 2750mm wheelbase and a 3.5-tonne 3C13 TF model from the new range to be launched in 2012.
"As well as having a small footprint the Canter has also proved to be exceptionally reliable," continued Mr Walton. "The mpg returns are very good too, while Western Commercial’s sales and warranty service is also first class."
Waltons of Oban distributes a wide range of food products for an impressive customer base and is also a franchisee of Wiltshire Farm Foods, a role that entails delivering frozen meals to the elderly in their own homes.
"Many of these people are vulnerable and unable to cook for themselves," added Mr Walton. "Our service provides a lifeline to the islands at a very competitive cost – we can deliver meals to elderly people on Jura for the same price customers in Birmingham or Manchester pay."