Management & Operations

80 Years of Creativity and Innovation at Prevost Car

Posted on January 1, 2004

A lot has changed since the day in 1924 when cabinetmaker Eugene Prevost was commissioned to build and mount his first wooden coach body onto a brand-new REO truck chassis. Eight decades later, Prevost Car Inc. is a leading manufacturer of premium luxury intercity touring coaches and among world leaders in“ ultimate “class bus shells for high-end motorhome and specialty conversion. But one thing hasn’t changed — Prevost‘s manufacturing facilities are still located in the bucolic village of Sainte Claire about 30 miles south of Quebec City. In the early years, Eugene Prevost’s team of craftsmen would build only one coach body a year, as a winter project. Travel during the long, hard winters in rural Quebec was slow, and roads were not plowed for cars or buses. Instead they were groomed with graders and rollers to pack the snow so people could travel by horse-drawn sleigh and snowmobile. Not until 1937 was a decision made to build a bus manufacturing shop in response to growing demand. One coach a year to full production Over the next decade, additions to the original plant were made just about every other year. By 1947, the Prevost bus plant had grown to 22,000 square feet. As new materials and improved equipment were made available, Prevost bus designs were changed from an all-wooden body and frame to a metal body over a wooden frame and then to an all-metal body over an all-metal skeleton. Custom coach work was Prevost’s forte: stretching passenger cars, manufacturing tanks for oil trucks, body-on-chassis school buses and city buses, highway motorcoaches with integrated bodies and frames and specialty vehicles. Customized work required that the company’s manufacturing facilities be almost self-contained, with metal and woodworking shops, die-casting and plating facilities and a foundry. The company even built its own windows and seats. The post-war boom Shortly after World War II, the plant was expanded to 40,000 square feet to meet post-war demand. By 1951, Prevost had received 100 orders for highway buses from the Canadian government (66 went to the Department of National Defense), establishing the Prevost name as a reliable, high-performance motorcoach manufacturer. In 1957, industrialist Paul Normand and a business partner, Evariste Laflamme, purchased the assets of the company and resumed operations under the name Prevost Car Inc. The silver-sided 1957 LeNormand, with a diesel engine and pneumatic suspension, was the first model introduced under the new ownership. Added to the product line in 1961, the Travelair was a small 25-foot gas or diesel-powered passenger coach used as an airport shuttle or on short intercity routes. Then came the 40-foot Panoramique intercity parlor coach with broad side windows and Prevost’s improved air ride. In 1966, businessman Paul Gourdeau purchased the shares of Evariste Laflamme, and Andre Normand joined as chief financial officer. Once he became president, Normand was determined to move ahead of the competition, making it imperative to use only the best the industry had to offer in materials, tooling, technology and industrial relations with employees. The U.S. market In 1967 Prevost brought out the Champion: an innovative three-axle, split-level air-conditioned passenger coach. Teamed with the Panoramique, the new Champion model lived up to its name. Enough operators showed interest to make it worthwhile setting up a sales and service network in Canada and the United States. Prevost’s first American dealership was opened in New Jersey, soon followed by a second outlet in Los Angeles. A third dealership was set up in Vancouver, Canada. The company invested heavily in market research and technical development, a strategy that would soon pay off in a big way. By 1968 Prevost engineers were burning the midnight oil to develop a revolutionary new coach that carried through the Champion’s proven design, combined with a striking new European look and a smooth ride. At that time Prevost was the only North American coach manufacturer to master the technology for building integrated passenger coach frames. The LeMIRAGE is introduced In 1969, two U.S. businessmen, Thomas B. Harbison and William G. Campbell, formed a partnership with Andre Normand to become sole owners of the company. The first Prestige coach with an integrated frame rolled off the assembly line in 1971. Approval ratings on the passenger coach market justified the new coach’s name, and the company enthusiastically pursued more advanced designs. Within five years, Prevost unveiled its hallmark LeMIRAGE, an eye-catching, futuristic passenger coach featuring roof-wrapping side windows, a rust-protected, integrated frame and fluted all-stainless steel skirting with much less riveting than other coaches had at the time. Prevost’s technology for configuring an integrated frame was key to the development of its high-end conversion shell version of the LeMIRAGE. The LeMIRAGE shell was more than a coach without seats. It had a completely flat floor (no wheel humps) and a choice of 80, 83 or 86 inches of floor-to-ceiling height. It was also possible to position the roof-wrapping windows virtually anywhere along the sides of the coach. The first Le MIRAGE conversion shell was introduced at the 1978 Family Motor Coach Association (FMCA) Rally in Columbus, Ohio. After the 1978 FMCA introduction of the LeMIRAGE, Prevost became a leading manufacturer of bus shells for high-end motorhome and specialty conversion. LeMIRAGE XLII shells come in three configurations: 40- and 45-foot for motorhome and specialty conversion, and a long-wheelbase 45-footer engineered for traveling entertainers. Once again, Prevost had read the market right: within three years of its introduction, the XLII ENTERTAINER model outsold all other competitors combined and has gone on to hold the dominant share of its specialty market. Expanding to meet demand In 1980, to keep up with orders for coaches and conversion shells, an all-new 100,000-square-foot plant was built on a 10-acre site less than half a mile from the original Prevost plant. The new plant had the latest in equipment and manufacturing technology. Its trans-border assembly system allowed for coaches under construction to be moved along the production line to specialized workstations. This system’s unique design provided the flexibility to produce virtually any kind of custom coach. Prevost also increased its investment in new technology, research and development — assembling an in-house team of automotive engineers, stylists and technicians. The investment paid off handsomely. When the laws were changed in 1984 to allow larger buses on the road, Prevost was ready with the MARATHON XL and the LeMIRAGE XL — the first 102-inch-wide-body intercity coaches and conversion shells. The company’s new facilities were expanded two more times through 1985, the year Prevost brought a new dimension to the bus world when it introduced its PREVOST H5-60 articulated coach at the American Bus Association annual meeting in Las Vegas. The H5-60 represented an impressive advance in passenger coach design: 60 feet long and 12.1 feet high, with five single-wheel axles, two front steering axles, opposite-steer rear wheels, anti-lock braking system, a mid-coach engine on a slide-out cradle, integrated stainless steel frame, fiber composite outer shell and seating for 72 passengers. Aside from its impressive dimensions, the first PREVOST H-Series design represented a quantum leap in motorcoach technology, an achievement that was only possible for a research and development team equipped with the latest CAD systems, using finite element analysis to determine each component’s ultimate configuration. The H-Series and beyond With the Prevost H-Series, a new generation of premium intercity coaches was born. Three H-Series models were introduced in less than a decade: the H3-40, H3-41 and H3-45. Each model used pre-tested innovations and refinements that would have taken considerably longer to develop using conventional trial-and-error methods. In the 1990s, Prevost became the first North American bus maker to be granted ISO 9001 certification for quality-controlled manufacturing and ISO 14001 certification for environmental protection. In March 1995, Prevost Car was jointly acquired by Volvo Bus Corp. and its longtime U.K. partner Henlys Group plc. As a member of the world’s second-largest bus manufacturing group, Prevost has taken advantage of an immense pool of financial and technological resources. These include a new independent suspension system, a new cockpit design with self-checking onboard computer, frameless privacy glass side windows (a Prevost patent) and a new LeMIRAGE XLII model with rivetless stainless steel outer shell and a removable wheelchair lift. Service has also developed new features, including 24/7 roadside assistance, a parts catalog on CD-ROM, 24/7 online parts ordering and technical assistance. Given the financial depth and resources of its new parent companies, Prevost is now firmly established as a major player in the industry, with the ongoing commitment and demonstrated capacity to provide charter, tour and line-haul operators with world-class motorcoaches supported by a world-class after-sales and service network.

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