He adds, “I think it’s a huge opportunity to communicate to the world, transit is really adding this sexiness component to it. You think about a person wanting a technician job or an engineering job or styling or marketing; we’ve got a lot to offer.”
“I think I never understood,” Soubry admits of public transit, “what a critical service public transit is and yes, there are people who can only use public transit because that is all they can afford, but the congested cities, the green footprint, the pollution ...” He stresses, “We can play a huge role from transit, way bigger than I imagined.
“There’s a huge opportunity to turn people’s opinion around that it isn’t just a dumpy old bus, that this is the way I move through my city.”
And the advanced technology is helping to change that perception. As he says, you look back 10 years at the buses being delivered to the vehicles of today, there’s a vast difference. “You think about clean diesel and natural gas and electric hybrids or electric-diesel and gas hybrids, you look at electric trolleys …
“We just delivered 20 hydrogen fuel cells which is a big science project, bleeding edge, not just leading edge, but a bleeding-edge investment in technology; we’re really pushing the envelope.
“Sooner or later we’re going to get into very focused strategies on all-electric technologies, reducing weight and noise and consumption …
“We saw as a consumer in a computer world, things changing very quickly. You know, a new iPod every bloody six months … We’re starting to see that speed of technology change in our industry.”
A Transformation in the Industry
The industry has evolved for bus manufacturers in that it’s no longer about just building a bus. A transfer of risk means things such as extended warranties or recycle programs, more of a partnership with the OEM and not just a delivered bus.
Soubry says today’s customers want to know they get guarantees and confidences that the operating costs over the lifecycle of the bus is going to be appropriate and fair and offer opportunities for improvement.
Responding to this shift, Soubry explains what they have been doing in Ottawa. OC Transpo has 226 New Flyer artics. With the harsh winters and geography of lots of hills, the articulated buses that were designed and delivered may have been underpowered for the tough operating environment he says.
“We’re going to stand behind our bus. It’s got our name on the front of it and regardless of what the issues are, that New Flyer bus is going to be operating and performing for them.”
The conversation proliferated, Soubry says, expanding on how to transform the fleet to share in some of the risk, how to extend the warranty so that they were mutually aligned in their incentive as opposed to ‘they made more because they sold more parts.’ “It’s more of a partnership.”
Responding to that he says, “We came up with a scenario where we would set up a local service center to provide dedicated campaign and warranty support.” He adds, “For lack of a better phrase, we put our money where our mouth is.
“New Flyer’s using that as a lead experiment to learn how to fundamentally change the relationship with transit agencies,” he states.
“We’re going to sell in the span of a year, 360 articulated buses. The customer has opened the kimono; they’re giving us access to all the operating data and the cost and so forth so at the end of the day, a pretty neat opportunity for us to prove the concept about changing the relationship.”
New Flyer opened a service center to work with Ottawa at the beginning of this year.
“I think we’ve come to the realization as a business, and we’ve got a lot of experience at New Flyer; one size isn’t going to fit all in transit,” Soubry states. “Every customer, based on their local community, their local needs, is going to have different requirements.”
With this facility, they get to try their experiment in a controlled way with a sizeable fleet to see if or how it could work for other operators.
“We’re almost looking at it as a puzzle; different pieces of the puzzle work for different operators,” he explains. “We’ve got to make sure that we get all the pieces that we can build puzzle A for this operator and puzzle B for that operator from a service and support offering.”