BUSRide spoke with thought leaders from the small and midsize bus industry on the current state of their market, growth opportunities and technological innovations.
The panelists for this discussion were:
Brent Phillips – vice president of sales, commercial bus and mobility – REV Group
Josh Davey – national sales manager – Davey Coach Sales
Describe your dominant market niche – which applications do your customers specialize in?
Brent Phillips: REV Platinum dealers are specialists in meeting with our customers and fully understanding the needs and application of a given operation. This local touch and attention to detail results in a much higher-end product quality and level of service for operators and their passengers.
Josh Davey: At Davey Coach, we pride ourselves on not focusing overly on any particular market vertical. This helps us to stay ready for anything. Every industry has ebbs and flows, so we prefer to take a diversified approach. Our customers run the gamut from livery to charters, colleges and universities, and government municipal business.
Which recent trends in the specialty bus industry have contributed to market growth, and why?
Davey: We keep our fingers on the pulse of new trends by listening to our customers and responding in kind. More than any one trend in our market, we’re seeing consolidation of manufacturers. There’s a lot of realignment and shifting power in this industry. We stay abreast of all of these changes so we can be responsive to our customers’ needs.
What effects have advancements in vehicle design, engineering and technology had on the specialty
Davey: So much innovation is niche focused. For example, despite its relatively narrow application parameters and price considerations, low-floor technology represented a significant recent innovation in our marketplace.
There is also a lot of focus on private motorcoach business. Synthetic wood flooring and luxurious interiors are making small buses into “mini-coaches.” There’s a lot of competitiveness in that market and vehicle designs are updating accordingly.
How are new vehicles affecting new business development for the operators purchasing them?
Phillips: The flexibility and number of different models that we can offer through our Platinum dealer network ensures that we are able to provide a vehicle that meets a customer’s specific application. From lowered floor mini-vans from ElDorado Mobility to mid-size cutaway buses and large low-floor transit buses, REV offers products that meet almost every application. Our customers and dealers are not left to compromise or shoehorn a customer into a product that marginally meets the requirements or budget. We have the flexibility in design, models, option content and experience to ensure the highest quality and safety.
How do you ensure that your customers don’t have issues with parts availability?
Phillips: REV has recently consolidated our parts service operation to provide nationwide market coverage and parts availability. Our REV Parts website (parts.revgroup.com) allows dealers and customers to search and order parts by VIN number saving time and communication errors that can occur with outdated parts systems.
Davey: To say we stock tens of thousands of parts would be an understatement. We have an incredible parts inventory. We have the ability to replace any number of components which would keep a bus off the road.
When the Ameritrans brand dissolved last year, Davey Coach purchased its excess parts inventory We’ve been proactive in reaching out to Ameritrans bus owners and letting them know that Davey Coach is their resource for parts – windows, door motors, circuit boards, taillights – the list goes on. It’s important that these operators know that they haven’t been abandoned.
When selling vehicles, do you suggest new opportunities and applications that your customers might “try out?”
Davey: We often make suggestions and recommendations. It’s no coincidence that operators who are trying to grow in particular market verticals look to us, because they’re keeping an eye on their competition.
If one operator is succeeding with a vehicle we sold them, we’re usually going to get a call from other operators in the area. There’s a necessity to stay competitive, and we pride ourselves on being personalized, consultative and service-oriented
In what areas do you see the biggest growth opportunities for specialty or small and midsize vehicles?
Phillips: Safety and accessibility are two focus areas for REV Group. Our robust engineering, design, and testing procedures allow REV to manufacture the safest buses in the market today. From rollover testing, to side impact testing, to seat belt retention testing we focus on safety first. At our manufacturing plants, we promote a “Shop floor to top floor” safety model that promotes a safety work environment for all our employees. Visitors to our plants often comment that it is clear how important safety is throughout the company. This extends beyond our plants with a “From the shop floor to the top floor… to our customers’ door” philosophy ensuring that our buses are thoroughly engineered and tested for safety.
Another area of focus for REV is broadening the availability of equal access transportation solutions. From low floor mini-vans at ElDorado Mobility, low floor school buses from Collins, to our low cost LF Shuttle from Champion and the ENC Axess we are promoting mobility solutions that benefit everyone that rides our buses. We focus on economical, well designed and tested solutions!
If you had the ability, what changes would you instantly make to today’s small and midsize vehicles to further increase market growth for your customers?
Phillips: Our focus on design and engineering is unparalleled in the industry. Validation and actual testing requirements of manufacturers producing passenger vehicles would serve to ensure a level playing field from a safety standpoint. Often, our vehicles cost more money because of our extra emphasis on engineering, safety, and testing.
Davey: It will be interesting to see where the new automated, autonomous driving technology takes our industry. Governments and municipalities will be the first to adopt that technology in their fixed-route applications. Tour and charter companies won’t be so quick to adopt, because the human element is so important in that niche.
I’m also interested to see if any manufacturers can blend the fuel efficiency of new, smaller chassis platforms with the carrying capacity of more traditional chassis platforms, like the E450 and F550.
That would be something that people would be able to get excited about, provided it’s also affordable.