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SALINA, Kansas — Adjacent to wheat fields on the edge of this central Kansas town, a manufacturer has reorganized and retooled its factory production line to propel a national limousine bus brand.
The sprawling Eldorado-National Kansas Inc. plant, at 252,000 square feet, and bus yard houses Krystal, which in the market of limo buses evokes the same type of storied cachet as names like De Beers, Rolex and Mont Blanc do in their respective product niches. Krystal, along with its equally notable companion luxury bus brand Federal Coach, based in Imlay City, Mich., are getting primed with leaner manufacturing, new enhancements, and wider marketing from its new owners, Allied Specialty Vehicles.
ASV bought the companies from Thor Industries in October 2013. It ranks as the largest producer of small to mid-size commercial and school buses in North America, with 11 brands in its Bus Division alone and with 150 distributors across the continent.
In the limousine industry, the Krystal and Federal Coach brands retain a legacy of luxury and a reputation for quality built up over decades by their previous owners. One ASV executive now describes Krystal and Federal as the “Cadillac and Buick” of the limousine bus market. ASV has rebranded the bus line Krystal as “Luxury For The Driven,” and Federal Coach as “Excellence Comes Standard.”
Leading the re-launch of Krystal and Federal Coach are a team of executives with extensive bus manufacturing experience: ASV Bus Division President & CEO Kent Tyler, formerly with Collins Bus, Krystal Bus President Jeff Montgomery, and Federal Coach President John Resnik. The trio spoke recently at the plant with LCT Magazine for this article and in a video about future plans for the two most high-end luxury commercial mini-bus lines in the chauffeured transportation industry.
LCT Video Feature: Allied Specailty Vehicles Execs Detail Brand Improvements
LCT Photo Gallery: Visit To Allied Specialty Vehicle Plant, Salina, Kansas
FACT BOX: About Allied Specialty Vehicles Buses
Tyler, who was formally introduced to the limousine industry at the International LCT Show in Las Vegas on Feb. 16-18, and officially rolled out the rebranded Krystal and Federal Coach, emphasized the support and structure of a massive bus manufacturing company and distribution network.
“We plan to put a tremendous amount of resources into Krystal and Federal Coach and look for ways to increase market share during the next two years,” Tyler says. “One thing I recognized at the [ILCT] Show when I spoke to dealers and end-users about their past experiences with Krystal and Federal is they are looking for a manufacturer that can demonstrate strong financial stability and commitment to the product lines.”
Specific to Krystal and Federal, ASV wants to focus on improved quality, throughput, and innovative designs as required by the limousine and charter markets, Tyler says. “We believe we have the resources and the wherewithal. That’s something that has been missing from those product lines for a number of years.”
Building Better Buses
To that end, ASV has changed how it builds Krystal and Federal Coach buses through its lean manufacturing processes, Tyler says. Buses are built on a single dedicated production line instead of in stalls. Altogether, ASV’s 11 bus division brands span 1.1 million square feet of manufacturing space at five plants in Kansas, Michigan, Indiana and Southern California.
“Lean manufacturing gets employees involved in activities that improve the efficiencies of their various departments,” Tyler says. “It takes a [major] investment of time, training and financial resources to improve these facilities. We have seen over time in the payback and quality of products and the through-put at the plants, which gets the buses to end users faster.”
Tyler says the plants are all ISO 9001 certified, which means they meet a series of standards developed and published by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) that define, establish, and maintain a quality assurance system for manufacturing. With workers able to improve products based on customer input, “we react faster to information on the floor and get buses produced more efficiently. You see employees really begin to take ownership in what they do on a daily basis. What that ownership means is identifying and taking waste out of the process.”
FACT BOX: El Dorado National-Kansas
A growing trend among end-user customers is a preference for high-end shuttles over limo-type products, Tyler says. That demand includes the latest electronics and Wi-Fi that enable passengers to stay connected. At the International LCT Show, Tyler noticed interest in hybrid floor plans for shuttle buses that combine perimeter seating in the rear with forward-facing seats in the front mixed with collapsible tables.
“This gives services a variety of different options they can provide to customers,” he says. “This is a very custom business. It’s not like the traditional commercial shuttle bus business where you have different configurations but it’s really about seating capacity. When you look at Federal and Krystal, seating is important but so is the experience of the customer and their clients as they ride in our products. There has to be a balance met when you build these buses.”
Each bus line has its historical niche: Krystal specialized in the limo and charter markets, while Federal served the high-end shuttle bus market, Tyler explains. “We continue to see that trend with both companies.”
The Krystal brand stands for the highest level of fit and finish and an elevated level of comfort, whether in a limo- or shuttle-style bus, Tyler says. “With Krystal and Federal customers, you are expecting a better product. When you arrive, the customers will recognize they are riding in a high-end bus. It should certainly be seen as a step above your average commercial bus.”
ASV is taking a long-term approach to Krystal and Federal Coach, which have changed hands twice in the last few years. “Our goal is to build these brands and product lines,” Tyler says. “Our commitment is not just to sell buses, but the service after the sale by having the right distribution in place. We want to make sure customers have the best experience possible with our products.”
ASV sees all of its dealers across its Bus Division commercial brands as vital partners in the success and reach of its distribution network. “As a manufacturer, we can build the greatest products in the world, but if you don’t have distribution, then it’s hard to take them to market with any kind of volume. In the past, certainly Krystal had suffered some of that. So we are committed to have the right distribution in the U.S. and Canada.”
Tyler, who has been involved in the bus industry since 1997, says he’s seeing more opportunities across all of ASV’s companies than at any point in his transportation career. “The economy continues to improve and we are certainly poised to take advantage of that going forward. We’ve seen an uptick in the retail market for commercial bus products. We’re seeing a lot of activity with both Federal and Krystal from tour operators and a number of end-user private companies looking to grow their businesses and partner with the industry. Our goal is to be very aggressive in these markets.”
Through the lean manufacturing processes, ASV enables Krystal to bring customers more choice in body design, aesthetics, construction and exterior and interior finishes, says Jeff Montgomery, President of Krystal. “Krystal was the pioneer and the leader in the luxury cut-away bus segment. We’ll continue to expand on that, and grow the name and the brand around that fact.”
Krystal and Federal Coach are available on different chassis such as Freightliner, International and Ford F-Series and E-Series. “We offer a wide variety of chassis options as well as body lengths and different body styles,” Montgomery says.
ASV has made significant engineering changes that already have been implemented, Montgomery says, along with incorporating extensive testing to boost compliance sand safety. Montgomery outlines some key improvements:
FACT BOX: Krystal Bus
Focus: Federal Coach
For Federal Coach, ASV brings experts who can provide structure, substance and engineering support that fit what the luxury transportation industry has needed for some time, Federal Coach President John Resnik says. “The luxury transportation industry has had a lot of sizzle but not a lot of structure. So we think that this can be a real game changer where a company like ASV comes in, provides engineering, technical and analysis to support these products.”
Krystal and Federal Coach complement each other more than they differ, Resnik says. “It’s a little bit like a Cadillac-Buick type of situation. The Federal brand is a little more of the Buick. It’s a great product at an affordable price point. So that’s why we refer to it as ‘affordable luxury.’”
Like Krystal, Federal Coach buses offer dual purpose floor plans in most models, which allow operators the ability to use the same equipment for social gatherings on the nights and the weekends, and also for corporate clients during the day, Resnik says. “We want operators to understand that our beauty isn’t only skin deep. We have a terrific curb appeal, a superior fit and finish, but behind that is what really matters — a superior structure, a self-diagnostic electrical panel and as-built parts manuals with every bus. These are things we believe this industry has never seen before.”
Ultimately, the quality of a bus boils down to the attention to detail, Resnik says. “The customer experience is all about noticing the little things, and if you miss them, their eye goes straight toward it. They notice a quiet, comfortable ride, superior heating and cooling. Those are the types of things that make a warm, welcoming customer experience.”
FACT BOX: Federal Coach Bus
Related Topics: Allied Specialty Vehicles, bus market, buses, coach-builder profiles, coachbuilders, El Dorado National, Federal Coach, Jeff Montgomery, John Resnik, Kent Tyler, limo buses, manufacturing, mini-buses, shuttle buses
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