Management & Operations

Innovative Operator Profile: Cutting Costs to Stay Competitive

Posted on April 15, 2013

Eric Chartrand, president/owner of Autocar Chartrand in Quebec, does all he can to help the environment, while maintaining the quality of his fleet, to keep ahead of the area’s stiff competition.

Chartrand recently purchased six 2009 Prevost H3-45 motorcoaches featuring the Volvo D 13 engine, thus replacing his entire motorcoach fleet with new, cleaner vehicles. “The big reason we made the decision to purchase new buses was quality,” explains Chartrand. “It’s easier to give good service with brand new buses. It may cost more, but in the end everybody is happy.”

Chartrand adds that the new engines have improved fuel consumption and the switch has helped the operation maintain a more streamlined stockroom.

“It helps us to only have to worry about the basics, such as oil changes and things of that nature, so we don’t have to house a lot of parts” he says of getting new coaches. By Quebec law, all heavy vehicles have to pass a “mechanical verification” test every six months, and, as a testing facility and motorcoach operator, the operation is expected to stay ahead of the curve.

“If we do a mechanical verification for a competitor, our fleet has to be better than theirs,” says Chartrand. “It keeps us on top of things.” Calling his operation the “greenest company in Quebec,” Chartrand also has a new, cleaner fleet of school buses, which earn him tax breaks, and runs a testing facility that is similar to the smog check system used in the U.S.

“Just like you do in the U.S., Canada wants to have clean air,” he says. “Everybody has to do their part to enjoy that, and these are the things we do to help.”

With business doing well at the moment despite the stiff competition, the operation does not advertise, earning most of its business from return customers or by word-of-mouth. Therefore, Chartrand believes that his operations’ biggest obstacles are staying competitive when rivals begin lowering their prices, the value of the Canadian dollar compared to the U.S. dollar and fuel costs.

“The change of the value of our dollar is sometimes difficult when we are trying to purchase or sell something in the U.S., or when we are doing things like making hotel reservations for trips,” he says. “Sometimes we win, but sometimes we lose and it costs a lot more money.”

As far as competing, Chartrand says that his experienced drivers — some around as long as 20 years — and brand new coaches help him sell a quality service instead of one that is just cheap. To help keep pricing both competitive and profitable, and to help offset escalating fuel prices, Chartrand and his staff review their prices every six months, adjusting accordingly depending on the cost of fuel.

The operation’s biggest challenge down the road, Chartrand believes, will be in turning the fleet around so that he can keep his coaches no older than 2.5 years old. “We always want to keep our buses new so that we can continue operating at a high quality,” he says. “Figuring out how we can consistently do that will be a difficult task.”

FLEET MIX: Prevost H3-45s
SERVICES OFFERED: charter, school bus, paratransit
PRESIDENT: Eric Chartrand

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