Champion Bus seals the deal and gets to work
The company wastes no time in bringing the new Federal bus to production
By David Hubbard
Progress has been swift since the recent acquisition of Federal Coach by Champion Bus, Inc., Imlay City, MI.
“We signed the agreement with Forest River on December 20, 2012,” says John Resnik, president of Champion Bus, Inc. “The trucks started loading the next day”
Federal Coach team leader Alex Nikora says his crew had already begun setting up the production line as the first trucks and chassis arrived at the new home of Federal Coach. Within days, they began assembling the first unit.
“Federal Coach has a reputation for quality products,” says Resnik. “We knew a smooth transition would be important in creating our new Federal buses.”
Champion is offering the Federal Spirit model on E350 and E450 chassis in various lengths. The Federal Premier model features either a Freightliner or International chassis.
“We spent several weeks studying the Federal product,” says Nikora. “We studied the line and the buses in all phases of production. We visited with Federal employees and studied the documentation to learn how to assemble. We took hundreds of pictures.”
According to Theresa Smith, a Champion vice president heading up the new Federal Coach, customer feedback was an integral part of the process.
“We have been communicating constantly with customers as their units proceed through production,” she says. “We are striving to make every gap a little smaller, every bus a little tighter, every ride a little quieter.”
She says the results thus far have been impressive.
“We were impressed with what we saw at our predecessor, but we knew we could build it better,” say interior finish specialist Phyllis Howse. “We have high standards at Champion and we knew we could integrate them quickly.”
Chris Norlin, a Federal Coach dealer and sales manager for Nationwide Bus Sales, a division of Midwest Transit, had several Federal Coaches on order at the time of the sale.
“One customer insisted on a plant tour three weeks into the start of production,” he says. “He came away extremely impressed by our professionalism, attention to detail and quality of product.”
Norlin test drove one of the new Federals at a nearby Altoona-style track designed to shakedown the bus prior to water test and electrical tests. He says he found the new Federal incredibly quiet on the demanding test track. His customer concurred by ordering two more Federals shortly after the tour.
“The Federal acquisition just made a lot of sense to us,” says Resnik. “We have a core group of talented professionals who were ready for a new challenge. We have state of the art facilities that house our engineering and material systems. We have a competitive spirit and a desire to build great products. All of this will help us succeed in the luxury bus market.”
John MacKinney, sales manager, Luxury Products, represents both Federal Coach and the newly acquired Krystal Koach manufactured by ElDorado Kansas.
“These two new brands for Thor Industries represent a terrific opportunity for a select group of luxury bus dealers,” he says.
“I’ve been extremely impressed by the team atmosphere at the new Federal. To exceed the quality level on the first units is truly amazing.”
In addition to improvements in structure, fit and finish and ride quality, McKinney says product documentation and aftermarket support will improve as well.
“Since starting, I’ve been everywhere in Champion — on the plant floor, preparing product service documentation and customer service,” says Mikal Schenkel, who joined Champion last year as an intern and is now on the Federal team. “One of our goals over the next 90 days is to provide as-built, customized parts and electrical manuals for every new Federal coach.”
According to Smith, key vendors have been essential to this prompt integration.
“We have independent design and installation resources for electrical, air conditioning and audio-visual systems,” she says. “As a result, our HVAC systems go through testing in a climate-controlled environment. We test electrical systems after the shakedown.”
Kevin Searer of ACC Climate Control, Elkhart, IN, sees it as a great partnership.
“We install and certify all air conditioning systems to exacting standards,” he says. “It’s a pleasure being a part of the new Federal team.”
Champion is excited about the future.
“We believe we offer the perfect solution for the luxury market,” says Smith. “First, the bus has to be beautiful — precise fit and finish, impeccable paint and a quiet ride. Just as important, the organization itself must be well-financed, secure and committed to quality.”
An obvious question: What’s next?
“Well, without divulging any secrets, I’ll just say everyone with an interest in this sector of the bus industry will see some great new products, as well as our relentless commitment to quality,” says Resnik. “Our clientele is luxury travelers and we’re proud to be their preferred mode of transportation.” BR