The Fiat Ducato "Pallet Taxi"

By: Matt Wood, Photography by: Matt Wood

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  • Plant & Equipment

Pallet Taxi Pallet Taxi Pallet Taxi
Pallet Taxi With the load snugly tied down this pallet wasn’t going anywhere Pallet Taxi
Pallet Taxi Pallet Taxi
Pallet taxi ABS Trailquip Managing Director George Green Pallet taxi
Pallet taxi Pallet taxi

Always a sucker for an idea out of left field, Matt Wood comes across an interesting Aussie innovation with a lot of potential

The Fiat Ducato "Pallet Taxi"
The Pallet Taxi offers a unique material handling solution to the Australian market.

Occasionally you come across an idea that makes you stop, do a double take, step back and have a second look. The eye-catching little yellow Fiat Ducato belonging to Brisbane-based trailer component and axle supplier, ABS Trailquip, was definitely one of these light bulb moments.

Dubbed the 'Pallet Taxi' I found the little Fiat rather annoying piece of machinery; mainly because once I'd seen what it could do, I couldn't help keep thinking of potential uses. The longer I looked at it, the more possibilities popped into my head. It was starting to drive me nuts.

The Pallet Taxi is effectively a self-loading tray back ute capable of picking a 1.6-tonne pallet up off the ground and putting it down wherever it's required, without the needing a fork lift or pallet jack.

The vehicle is the brainchild of ABS Trailquip Managing Director George Green, who got the idea when he was renovating and needed some tiles delivered.

"When the truck arrived it couldn't get up our driveway," Green says.

"So the tiles had to be moved by hand with a trolley and the whole process took two or three hours. That's how I came up with the idea for the Pallet Taxi.

"I wanted a vehicle that could drive in, pick up a pallet and drive off. There was no vehicle like that around, I had a look on the internet and there's nothing like that in the world. So I thought …well, let's try and make one."

It seems simple enough but I found that the vehicle like an itch you can't scratch, from dropping a pallet of turf, tiles or bricks up a residential driveway and even inside a garage, to a pallet of produce in a suburban shopping strip.

As it stands, the Pallet Taxi consists of a stock-standard Fiat Ducato pick-up with custom-made rear air suspension, a retractable floor, and a fork lift-type mast mounted in the back.

Both hydraulic pump and air compressor are powered a 12-volt power pack and at the rear is a two-piece tail gate that fold out of the way during loading and unloading operations.

The configuration is very similar to a 'Razorback' conversion where the floor lowers to the ground, a popular way of transporting motorcycles and light-weight access gear. During the build the decision was made to keep the Ducato's tare weight the same as a standard Ducato van.

"The Fiat for us is the ideal vehicle because it requires no real modifications at all, all we're doing is cutting the chassis at the back and adding two suspension arms," he explains. "There are no fuel tanks, exhaust, there's hardly anything to move it's all located up front under the cab."

I was really keen to get behind the wheel and take the unusual looking Fiat for a drive as well getting a feel for picking up and dropping off.

As this is the first one built there are couple of refinements required, the main one being the use of a wireless remote control for all functions.

However, for the time being I had to make do with the body-mounted controls to operate the loading and unloading procedure.

First of all it's a matter of opening the rear tailgate, then in the case of this unit using the aforementioned controls to retract the floor which slides up behind the cab then lowering both the airbag suspension and the fork lift tines to ground level.

I jumped into the driver's seat, reversed up to the pallet, manoeuvring the tines. Once that was done I just had to hop out, inflate the suspension, lift the pallet, roll the load bearing floor back down and lower the pallet on to the floor, job done. Clearly a remote control will make the whole procedure a much smoother one meaning the driver will only have to leave the cab to open and shut the tailgate and tie down the load.

I took the loaded Ducato for a drive to see how the conversion affected the on road performance of the Fiat. The short answer; not at all, this prototype was fitted with a manual gearbox, and I'm not convinced that this is the way to go; my feeling was that an auto would be more user friendly when reversing the fork lift tines under the pallet. Given the vehicle may well be used in tight inner-city area's only backs up the case for an auto. 

The 96kW 2.3-litre Multijet diesel powering the Fiat has more than enough mumbo for the task required and the 6-speed gearbox seemed well matched to the loaded vehicle, although it did take a bit time for me to get used to the tight spacing of the transmission gates.

But of more interest was what was going on under the Pallet Taxi body. The custom swing arm airbag suspension designed by Green gives the vehicle a very different feel to a stock Ducato.

However, it rides extremely smoothly with the load on, reacting well to bumps and dips in the road, with only a slight rocking motion on uneven ground. The nylon bushes on the suspension swing arms squeak a bit in the background, something the company confirms it will be addressing with some lubrication.

In a rather cute homage to some of its heavier road going brethren, the Pallet Taxi's air compressor cuts in periodically sounding very much like a scaled-down toy prime mover. 

At 2.1m high the Pallet Taxi will also make it into most underground car parks for CBD loading dock deliveries, but I was interested to see whether a reach attachment could be fitted to the fork lift mast.

This would mean the yellow machine could pluck a pallet off a truck or loading dock or even place a pallet on a dock, something that would come in very handy for deliveries in tight areas.

George Green confirms that, yes, that is indeed possible, but any machinery added to the vehicle will reduce its load capacity. Even taking that into account there's also the option of adding a tandem axle conversion to raise the load carrying capabilities of the Ducato.

So what does the future hold for the Pallet Taxi? Both Green and Business Development Manager, Wayne Smith, want to see the concept take off on the Australian market, but concede that as it's a new concept it may take a while to gain some traction locally. However, both can see a future for the machine both inside and outside of Australia.

And with Green holding a world-wide patent on the concept he clearly has high hopes for the Pallet Taxi. Having recently been to the United States he's seen some real potential there, as well as in New Zealand and the Cook Islands where goods need to be moved distances too far for a fork lift.

But he and Smith think Europe is the big one, where trucks often need to access villages with narrow streets.

"It's the solution to a problem that a lot of people didn't know they had," Smith laughs.

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