NABI Chief Steering Bus Manufacturing to the U.S.

Posted on September 22, 2011 by Alex Roman, Managing Editor

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NABI plans on revamping its LFW low-floor bus product to look more like its stylized BRT product line (above). The company believes its BRT models remain way ahead of the pack.
NABI plans on revamping its LFW low-floor bus product to look more like its stylized BRT product line (above). The company believes its BRT models remain way ahead of the pack.

What will phase-three entail and what is the importance of moving manufacturing to the U.S.?

I'd like to mention a couple things about Plant-6 before I address your question. When we started out in 2009 building structures from the ground up, — purchasing all components, welding all components, doing the entire manufacturing operation for that one product line — it gave us a nice base and gave us time to refine all of our processes related to building structures. This experience has allowed us to build a very nice base of knowledge from multiple vantage points.

The importance is that we'll be more competitively positioned than we have been in the past. It will remove some freight and duty from our current cost structure and position us to be more cost and lead-time competitive.
Even though these changes are being driven by the previously noted economic issues, Buy America is another potential benefit. Although our traditional business model has allowed us to comfortably comply with Buy America, obviously, these changes will further increase our U.S. percentage. This will increase the selection of components that we can apply to our vehicles and it will also position us solidly, if eventually there is any toughening of Buy America requirements.

Have you been able to expand the number of employees in Anniston as a result of these changes?

Yes, we've already started hiring a dozen welders here just recently, with the intention to hire further as we transition.

How has this shift in production to Anniston gone? Have there been any big surprises?

We had a plan with 1,224 specific action items assigned to specific individuals to accomplish this transfer — everything from converting Hungarian engineering to U.S. standard engineering to designing and building new fixtures — with efficiencies built in from our lessons learned from our earlier product startup in Plant-6, called the standard floor startup. We took all the lessons learned and incorporated them into this new fixture and model. So, yes there was a tremendous amount of activity that went on to ensure we built efficiencies into this new manufacturing shift in process.

How has it gone? It's gone well. Have we had some issues? Yes. Not unforeseen, we've had some minor issues, all of which have been resolved, and we're continuing production. We recently have started our seventh unit.

How will the shift of the manufacturing of the bus structures impact your operations in Budapest?

Our strategic plan was to offset the work share transfer loss in Hungary by developing a new bus for the Hungarian market called the Sirius. That bus is built on a MAN chassis with our BRT-design body attached. We've sold two of those buses, a suburban and a transit version. One of them has now gone through trials with customers in Hungary and was received very well within the local Hungarian market.

Is that bus specifically for the Hungarian market? Any plans to expand throughout Europe?

The approach was to start with Hungary. Quite honestly, I am a big believer in not working on everything at once and taking steps, instead of trying to lay out extremely long term plans. We are trying to approach this from the perspective of once we get good and comfortable in the Hungarian market, then we'll assess the European market and make plans to expand. Right now, we don't have plans to expand outside of Hungary until we're comfortable.

I understand NABI is undertaking a restyle of the LFW low-floor bus product. What prompted this?

There has been renewed interest in aesthetics and styling, and we've tried to shift in that direction as well. So, we decided to restyle our low-floor product line to look more like our stylized BRT product. It in no way has the same amount of rake and styling, but it is more similar to the BRT than the old standard LFW.

Your BRT models seem to have been very popular in recent years. Do you foresee continued interest in BRT?
We have had some recent orders, and we see continued interest in that product line for various transit agencies that want to build BRT systems. I would say our bus is still ahead of the pack, in terms of its sleek styling and a more modern look.

What do you foresee as far as the evolution of the industry over the next few years?

It's hard to predict, but I think we'll see continued pressure on funding and operating budgets, especially. We continue to see customers having to optimize and refine their route structures and reduce their operating costs. We also see alternate propulsion continuing to be stronger, such as CNG, hybrid-electric, and even pure electric. We see the future probably being in that direction.

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