Motor Coach Industries (MCI) recently began delivering its compressed natural gas-propelled (CNG) Commuter Coaches to the Los Angeles Department of Transportation (LADOT) and celebrated the 6,000th vehicle to roll off of the J/E line. The company is also in the midst of its "Business Excellence" program to enhance efficiencies within the company, as well as the reliability of its products.
In December, LADOT unveiled its new MCI Commuter Coaches, which are propelled by CNG. The last of the 95 units were set to be delivered by the end of January.
METRO Magazine recently got the chance to catch up with MCI's CEO Rick Heller to discuss all of the company's recent milestones and initiatives, as well as the company's future plans.
How does it feel to have the 'interim' tag removed from your title?
I'm thrilled, honored and humbled to be the permanent CEO of this great company. I feel it was an opportunity at the beginning for me to get to know the company and the industry, as well as for KPS to get to know me. From the beginning, the intention was to make my role permanent, so I don't view it as a big deal. The longer I stay at MCI, the more I realize it has great people and products, and really great opportunities lie ahead. I am excited to be here to lead the company to the next level.
How do you feel the industry has changed in the year or so since you have been on board?
In the last seven or eight months, the industry really seems to be on a nice path to recovery. Looking back at the data, 2009 and 2010 were very difficult years, but there seems to be real vitality now. The industry is reviving, from a units delivered standpoint, and I assume that's a function of operators seeing positive trends in their businesses.
So, MCI is seeing an uptick in business right now?
Absolutely. Our business is up nicely versus a year ago. The other major trend we are seeing is the interest in alternate-propulsion vehicles. We have done a good job, in terms of developing the CNG market in the motorcoach industry as well as hybrid-powered coaches.
I went to the recent unveiling of LADOT's new buses; tell me about that contract.
It is for 95 units, and we expect to deliver the last of the buses by January. It is really a watershed event in the industry. We are seeing a lot of interest in CNG vehicles. What attracted LADOT to our vehicles were really two primary things: the first was, obviously, it is a much cleaner running engine; that is huge out in California. Just as importantly, though, the vehicles offer a lower cost to operate, right now, compared to diesel coaches. The price of natural gas is down and will stay down because the supply of natural gas in the U.S. has increased exponentially over the last five years. There is a real advantage, from an operating standpoint, to running CNG right now.