In July, Trans Tech Bus named Dan Daniels its new president following the departure of John Manzi.
Manzi, who joined the company in 2006, said that he would pursue international commercial bus sales with Encava, a Venezuela-based manufacturer.
Trans Tech officials said that Manzi’s experience in the vehicle manufacturing industry helped the company open its new production facility and strengthen its position in the Type A school bus market.
Daniels, who was previously Trans Tech’s vice president of engineering, has 31 years of operations and engineering experience in the transportation industry. He has worked for such companies as Starcraft Bus, Turtle Top and Thor Industries Inc.
SBF Executive Editor Thomas McMahon spoke with Daniels about his experience, his goals in the new role and the state of the Type A market.
SBF: How did you get your start in the transportation industry?
DAN DANIELS: I got into the transportation industry right out of high school. I secured a job in the engineering department of an RV company and worked my way up through the ranks. I worked as a design engineer and ultimately got into engineering management, which I’ve done for different companies over the years. I migrated from there into the operations side of the business, and then I went into general management. I was involved in the RV market for about 15 years, and then I got into commercial buses.
What is your impression of the school bus industry so far?
Very positive. The focus in the industry is more on safety and compliance. Not that commercial buses aren’t, but I think there’s more collaboration to ensure that no one loses sight of the safety and compliance considerations for school buses.
What are your key goals as president?
To focus on meeting or exceeding customer expectations in performance, safety and compliance. Also, to grow and develop in the industry. Our focus is on the Type A school bus market, and I don’t see that changing in the short term. We want to be a quality manufacturer that meets customer needs and provides unparalleled service and support in all that we do.
Tell me about Trans Tech’s new production facility.
We have a 58,000 square foot facility that is dedicated to the manufacture of Type A school buses. As president, this is my new challenge: We will be looking at ways to improve our efficiency in labor management, work flow and material flow. My background for a number of years was in operations. I’ve come into small and/or start-up companies and have been able to improve in those areas, which overall improves their ability to produce consistent products.
Our research found that overall school bus sales in North America were down almost 15 percent last year. How are Type A sales looking this year?
So far, from our marketplace, they’re looking positive. We have a good dealer base, a good customer base and a good order backlog. Even though I’m new to the school bus market, there are some similarities to commercial bus. A lot of segments of the marketplace are tied to government funding. When government funding gets squeezed, certain segments of the market get squeezed along with it. But school districts are committed to student safety. And I think parents in the communities we serve are committed to student safety and transportation. As vehicles age, they ultimately have to be replaced. I don’t see any tremendous swings in the market as far as our volume outlook goes. I see continued growth, simply because of the growth of population.
Are you looking at expanding your dealer base?
That’s something we’re working on as we expand the abilities of the company to produce effectively and consistently, because the company needs to grow and produce a return of profitability for the ownership. Currently, we’re primarily focused in the Northeast, because that’s where we’re located. But we are looking at other areas of distribution.
What are end users looking for in a Type A bus?
They’re looking for a quality product that is safe and serves their needs from a student capacity standpoint. A lot of Type A typically serves a market niche where size does matter. There are a lot of places where they operate in confined areas in the city where large buses would not be very feasible. Also, a lot of Type A vehicles are lift-equipped to transport special-needs students — more so than the larger vehicles. But in general, I think they want a safe, quality product that is priced effectively.
What’s the biggest challenge facing school bus OEMs right now?
One of the biggest challenges, as in the general marketplace, is the cost of raw materials. Even as a small manufacturer, we’re still impacted by the cost of raw materials — steel, petroleum-based products. Basically, we’re trying to minimize the impact of those added costs in the marketplace.