Vehicles

A.H.A - Where People Make the Difference

Posted on March 1, 1988 by LCT staff

John Schettino owns New En­gland Coach in Boston and has been selling A.H.A limou­sines since 1986. Prior to that, Schettino was a livery operator who began buying A.H.A stretch limousines in 1983. "They are totally dependable cars," he maintains.

"We have put almost 200 A.H.A stretches and formals on the road since we started," explains Schet­tino, "and the amazing thing is that you can hardly find any used A.H.A vehicles for sale. That is one of my strongest selling points. It shows how reliable they are. When someone comes to look at a new limousine, I say 'Find me five used A.H.As for sale.' They can't even come close."

Brett O'Dell, owner of the Limousine Store in LaGrange, IL, was also a livery operator before becoming A.H.A's Chicagoland distributor. "All I can say is that they're the best," says O'Dell, "and I've had every brand of limousine on the street. I started buying A.H.A cars before I be came a dealer and there is no better car on the street today."

"I can't pick on them in any way," O'Dell continues. "No other coachbuilder compares to them from an engineering standpoint. They are designed to be easily serviced and a dealer can take care of just about any problem right away, I've never had any major problems at all."

Martin Keenan is based in the Philadelphia area and handles A.H.A in nine states on the east coast. Before Keenan founded his limousine dealership, Livery Limited, he was a Mercedes-Benz/ Rolls-Royce dealer for 40 years.

"I'll tell you something," says Keenan, "During my first years with Mercedes-Benz, it was not the big company it is today. They not only built a great product, but the employees were like one happy family. It was a wonderful experience. That's the way I feel about A.H.A.

"I've been carrying A.H.A two years now," continues Keenan, "and one of the first things I did was tour their plant. They've not only done a nice job with the plant, but there is really a good feeling among the employees. They seem to be excited about what they are doing and it rubs off on you. They're great people and I enjoy doing business with them."

Roger Ward spent 16 years in the livery business before becoming A.H.A's California distributor in 1987. "When I sold my limo business and decided to sell limousines, I spent six months going to coachbuilders. I went to Springfield, I went to Florida, and I went to the Atlantic City Show.

"I had offers to represent almost every coachbuilder but I chose A.H.A because the quality of their cars is the best I have found. Their product line is superior to everyone else in terms of diversity, and they are priced very competitively."

Ward points out that A.H.A builds a Lincoln Town Car Formal Sedan, a six-inch extended corporate stretch with divider and TV, Lincoln limousines in 54 and 60 inch stretch lengths, and Mercury "people movers" in 54 and 60 inch stretch lengths, "Last of all," says Ward, "the people at A.H.A are good people. I'm flat out thrilled to be with them."

Along with these four distributors, A.H.A is also represented in New York, Detroit, and Ft. Lauderdale. There are 36 additional facilities in the United States and Canada where personnel are trained to sell and service A.H.A limousines.

"Our distributors are one of the major differences between our-selves and other coachbuilders," says A.H.A sales manager Hilyard Manuel, "For one thing, we have so many of them, and there is a good service facility in virtually every location. The main thing, though, is that they care about A.H.A and our customers.

"We feel that our people really make a difference," he continues. "We have an excellent team of people who manufacture our limousines, and our distributors are also part of the team."

A.H.A distributors visit the company's Brampton, Ontario headquarters regularly, and send personnel to watch the manufacturing process and learn service techniques. A typical three-day training program includes a stint alongside A.H.A employees on the assembly line.

Visitors to A.H.A observe a modern facility featuring highly evolved production methods. As one of the world's largest coach- builders, and having built specialty vehicles for more than forty years, A.H.A employs production efficiencies beyond the reach’ of smaller manufacturers.

Components are produced in large quantities, and the modular design of A.H.A vehicles allows them to be assembled quickly, and serviced easily. Convenient service leads to higher resale values for livery operators according to Manuel. "It's in the best interest of our dealers to provide good service because cars will be in better shape when they are traded in."

For example, A.H.A production manager David Ciolfe explains that two people can completely install a limousine interior in only five hours. "That's only about two hours longer than it takes to install a basic Town Car interior," says Ciolfe.

"It took us a long time to get to this point," he explains. "A couple years ago, we built cars one at a time and you couldn't interchange the parts. Now they interchange completely. We don't use different side panels or seat bases on our cars."

A.H.A distributors keep basic parts on hand for immediate repairs. Other components can usually be received by distributors within 24 hours.

Each year, A.H.A invests heavily in research and design. "We probably spend more money on R&D than any other coachbuilder even contemplates," says Hilyard Manuel. "Last year, we brought limousines here from Russia and China and took them apart to study their chassis.

"We do that for a number of reasons," he explains. "One is to make our production methods more efficient. The second is to make the vehicles more serviceable to the end user."

Increased safety and reliability are other R&D objectives. A.H.A exterior side panels are one example. "Our panels are different from those of most builders," says David Ciolfe. "Our side skin has a folded edge to protect it from chipping and rusting. Then we put a factory crash bar through the inside of the panel."

The R&D program has also led to the company's maximum vehicle stretch length of 60 inches.

"We want to avoid a drive-through condition," says Ciolfe. "An average car is approximately 60 inches wide, and we stay with a 60 inch stretch length so you have two side posts, plus a crash bar, to protect from side impact. With a longer stretch length, a car can actually drive between the two door posts and through the center of the car."

"The government requires that we crash test a number of components such as seatbelts, seat designs, and side panels. We have sent modular side assemblies for testing and have passed with flying colors.

"The real difference between our vehicles and those of other coachbuilders," continues Ciolfe, "is due to the attitude of our people. Attitude really shows in the final product.

"It comes down to details like the way we retain factory paint, and the techniques we use to blend colors so they are perfectly matched and a car's warranty is still intact. And how we have two quality control operations...one before final clean up and one after. We wind up with what I consider to be an excellent quality automobile."

A.H.A builds vehicles primarily for commercial use, and the product line continually evolves to meet the changing needs of operators. "Probably 90 percent of our customers are livery operators," says Manuel, "and that's why our cars have to have sufficient room, they have to seat six passengers, they have to be extremely reliable, and they have to be tasteful.

"We don't build limousines for millionaires," he continues. "We build limousines with practical amenities that work for a living."

The strategy has resulted in steady growth for one of the limousine industry's oldest suppliers. Since becoming listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange in 1984, A.H.A has increased its production volume from five units a month to a projected 100 units a month in 1988.

"We really feel that we have the best organization in the limousine business," says Manuel, "and we believe that it is our people who make the difference. Just ask one of our customers."

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