In December, IC Corporation announced that it had named John McKinney its new vice president and general manager.
The position entails managing all aspects of the Warrenville, Ill.-based bus business, including strategic planning, product development, pricing, purchasing, dealer operations, marketing and manufacturing.
In taking on this array of responsibilities, McKinney has 20 years of experience with IC parent Navistar International to draw from.
Here, McKinney discusses with SBF Executive Editor Thomas McMahon his background, his goals in the new position and the company’s latest developments — from school bus redesigns to new engine technology.
SBF: Tell me about the positions you served in at Navistar. How has that experience prepared you for this new role?
JOHN MCKINNEY: I was hired roughly 20 years ago, directly out of college. I began on the shop fl oor at our Springfi eld, Ohio, assembly plant as a front line supervisor in materials management and production.
Over the years, my responsibilities increased within the facility, culminating in the role of general plant manager. I was fortunate to be in that role as the company launched its new 4000 model, which at the time was labeled our next-generation vehicle. This was a fantastic opportunity to implement the latest in lean principles and Six Sigma methodology into our manufacturing philosophy.
I then moved to our world headquarters in Chicago in the early 2000s with roles of increasing accountability, which ultimately led to the title of vice president of operations for our truck and bus business. In this role, I was accountable for the tactical as well as the strategic direction of our manufacturing, product development and supply chain organizations. Our focus was to create an integrated solution across these entities that supported our various business units.
With this type of experience, I have acquired a respect and passion for creating integrated solutions that provide value for our customers and distribution channel.
What are your key goals in your new position?
I would like to continue to build on the great work that already has been accomplished by working even more collaboratively with our key constituents to provide the best solutions in student transportation. Our focus will be to continue to lead the industry in terms of the latest in safety enhancements and energy management.
What’s your impression of the pupil transportation community so far?
I’ve been struck by the quality of people with which I have come in contact. The passion of those within the industry for the safe transport of the youth of our nation and the professionalism with which they approach their job has been incredibly evident. It is a noble cause that all rally around as a common goal.
Do you expect to be become involved with the collaboration of the three national associations (NAPT, NASDPTS and NSTA) and the American School Bus Council?
Absolutely. I’ve already had the opportunity to begin working with the American School Bus Council, and the first couple of meetings have been eye opening. The dedication of the individuals representing the national associations and OEMs is incredible. The council is tackling many difficult issues, and I’m proud to be a member and to participate in their mission.
Last year, IC Corporation introduced enhancements to the RE and FE school bus model designs. What kind of feedback have you gotten about those changes?
The feedback we have received on the enhancements we’ve made to the transit products has been extremely positive. We introduced the redesigned RE last summer, and sales have been strong. Customers appreciate the enhancements to serviceability that have been made to the RE. The FE Forward Advantage will be released later this summer, but since the introduction at NAPT in Grand Rapids, the interest level from our customers has been great. They are excited over the improvements to the entry/egress of the bus and how much easier it will be to maintain it.
Are you planning to redesign the other IC school bus models in the near future?
We are constantly looking at how we can make our products better. We value customer input that we receive and take it to heart when designing our products. We have a lot on our plate right now. We are looking into our manufacturing to understand how we can build a bus that is more reliable for our customers. We are focused on 2010 engines and understanding the impact the new emission standards will have on our buses. Controlling costs is a top priority, given the increases in commodity pricing that we have seen over the past 18 to 24 months, and at the same time we are working to understand what further enhancements our customers would like to see.
Can you talk a bit about the bus engine technology that Navistar is working on to meet the EPA’s 2010 emission requirements?
In October, we announced that we will be able to meet the stringent 2010 EPA emissions without the use of SCR [selective catalytic reduction] systems. Our fully certified EPA 2010 engines will use advanced fuel system, air management, combustion and controls to meet the NOx requirements of the 2010 standards. This will be great for our customers, as they will not be burdened with the additional costs associated with SCR system installation, operation and maintenance.
Our research found that overall school bus sales in North America were down in 2007 compared to 2006, in which there was apparently substantial pre-buying ahead of the EPA’s ’07 emission requirements. Do you expect sales to pick up this year?
We actually see the industry in 2008 to be equal to or possibly lower than 2007. We see the industry continuing to reconfigure budgets due to the increased cost associated with 2007 emissions and continued increases in commodity prices, fuel costs and such. In addition, we see that consolidation amongst some of the big contractors may reduce the size of the overall industry.
What’s the top priority for school bus buyers right now?
I think it is important to note that the top priority of school bus buyers is always the safety of the children the buses will carry. Next on the list, a top priority is the cost of the bus — especially lifecycle or operational costs. With fuel costs continuing to climb, fi nding a balance between capital cost, fuel costs and expected maintenance costs has been a top priority. As a manufacturer, we look to support their efforts through cost control efforts in three areas: material costs, manufacturing costs and revised designs. We also focus on how we can help maintain operational costs, both through fuel economy with our MaxxForce engines and the quality of our buses overall.
IC Corporation has been delivering plug-in hybrid school buses to members of the Advanced Energy buyers consortium. Has there been interest in the hybrid bus outside of that group?
The interest we have seen in hybrid-powered school buses has even exceeded our own expectations. Many of the school districts that were involved with the original round of purchases through Advanced Energy have shown interest in adding more hybrids to their fleet, and school districts, parents and contractors who were not part of the consortium are now wanting to know how hybrids can improve their operations. We are excited to be able to work with these groups in helping make hybrid technology an everyday reality.