A contractor’s four-wheeled companion

Accessing and moving around large construction sites in the desert is a logistical consideration for the Middle East’s contractors. Zoe Naylor explores how four-wheel drive vehicles have become man’s best friend in the region.

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By  Zoe Naylor Published  May 20, 2006

|~|122prod200.gif|~|Four-wheel drives provide contractors with the ability to travel across the soft and uneven ground commonly associated with construction sites; they can store equipment; and can double-up as ambulances in the case of emergencies.|~|If construction is one of the most ubiquitous sights in the UAE, four-wheel drive (4WD) vehicles surely come a close second. Getting to and from sites often means negotiating uneven road surfaces, not to mention dodging heavy construction traffic, which is when all-terrain vehicles really come into their own. Add to that the harsh desert landscape of the Middle East and it becomes apparent why 4WDs are widely used throughout the construction sector. “The advantages of 4WDs are obvious if you’re working on sites like Dubai’s Green Community, for example, where it’s all on desert sand,” says Iain Hood, plant manager at AST Overseas. “We’re doing pipeline work there, and need 4WDs otherwise we just can’t travel — an ordinary two-wheel drive will sink into the sand and have no traction,” he adds. According to Hood the main requirements are reliability, power and how the 4WD works i.e. whether it is a constant 4WD or manual 4WD. AST uses a fleet of 4WD pick-ups and 4WD Prados and Pathfinders: “We have around 50 4WD pick ups, about 12 Toyota Prados and eight Nissan Pathfinders,” says Hood. He adds that 4WDs are an essential element of working within the construction industry, regardless of a project’s location: “I’ve worked on construction projects in Georgia, Russia, Oman, Saudi Arabia and here in the UAE — and it’s all 4WDs. In some cases you are working maybe 100km inside the desert, so you’ve got to be able to get out of there.” Storage capacity is another reason why certain 4WDs make a popular choice within the construction industry: “We use the Nissan Pathfinder because it has enough room to put a lot of gear in the back. This is useful because we have to carry a lot of equipment,” explains Robert Whent, health and safety, security and environment manager at Parsons Brinckerhoff. “The kind of jobs that we’re doing, for example, on the Palm Jumeirah and now at Al Raha Beach in Abu Dhabi, are based around reclaimed land,” he continues. “The ground there is very soft, so at times it’s like driving in the desert dunes. This means the height of the vehicle needs to be right — if you have one of the low-slung cars then having to bend down and pick all of the gear out from the boot is not helpful — some of the gear we carry around is quite heavy,” he adds. Whent says it is common practice to have provision for certain equipment for a project’s engineers or client within the contract: “We may put in the written contract that the contractor needs to provide six Pathfinders, for example. “We’re going out to tender on the security contract for Al Raha Beach and in there we have another seven Pathfinders. We’ve also stipulated what equipment needs to be carried and the modifications that need to be made to the vehicles,” he adds. Another key reason for choosing a 4WD for use on construction sites is the vehicle’s ability to double up as an all-terrain ambulance. Construction sites are hazardous environments, and should someone need emergency transportation from site to hospital a conventional ambulance may be unlikely to make the grade. Step up again, the 4WD. “Traditionally, contractors here provide site ambulances as part of the law. They must also provide medical facilities and the means to get any casualties to medical facilities both on and off site,” explains Whent. But he says what can often end up happening is a contractor will offer their own pick-up truck as a means of transporting an injured person. “But this is not particularly good for the patient, so what we did on the Palm project and what we’re doing now at Al Raha is to provide proper 4WD ambulances i.e. dedicated vehicles that have been converted to properly equipped ambulances.” According to Whent, this means selecting a certain model: “You can’t use a Pathfinder for the job, for example, so a better option might be the Toyota Land Cruiser — they’re longer and more robust for that kind of work.” Having a suitable fleet of vehicles is paramount for most construction companies — especially the bigger ones, where the senior staff may work across more than once project. While some firms place the onus of providing a vehicle on the staff themselves, the trend nowadays is for a fleet manager to arrange this: “It depends on the size of the company and the number of fleet vehicles in use, but the majority of the large construction companies have fleet managers to look after their fleet of vehicles,” says Tariq Danish, marketing manager (SUVs), Nissan Middle East. “Some companies also go in for leasing based on the project the company is working on and the type of employment,” he adds. In addition to the usual on and off-road capabilities, Danish says that vehicle maintenance is another important consideration for a fleet manager. “Ease of maintenance, availability of spare parts and residual value are other important factors that influence their decisions.” Danish adds that he is noticing a demand in the region for all the SUVs in Nissan’s line-up: “However, considering the construction industry’s requirement for high off-road capability, the Patrol and Pathfinder are more popular. Also equally popular among the construction companies is the Nissan pick-up.” Using main dealerships, such as Nissan, for example, seems to be common practice within the construction industry when it comes to 4WD fleets: “We used to get calls from construction companies wanting fleets of 4WD vehicles but this has changed,” says Julian White, sales and operations manager, 4WD Motors, Dubai. “Most of the main dealers have now caught on to it and have beaten us to the punch. For example if a construction company wanted 20 Land Cruisers, the chances are they would go directly to the main dealers and get a special order for volume sales,” he adds. Power, durability, storage space and off-road handling are just some of the reasons why 4WDs are a perennial favourite with the construction industry. And the list of options is endless — from Nissan and Toyota to top-of-the-range Porsche and Mercedes — it seems most manufacturers are now offerering 4WD capabilities in some shape or form. One thing is certain: 4WDs are now as prolific a part of UAE life as the cranes and concrete mixers.||**||

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