New Flyer's Soubry Embraces Company's Bold Future

Posted on September 19, 2013 by Alex Roman, Managing Editor

Page 4 of 4

New Flyer continues to work on its electric bus offerings, with Soubry believing the propulsion type will only grow in popularity.
New Flyer continues to work on its electric bus offerings, with Soubry believing the propulsion type will only grow in popularity.

Looking at the electric bus, is it more of a benefit to custom build per customer or is the goal to move to a standard?

Hopefully, the electric bus world will get to a configured approach as opposed to pure customization, but flat cities with cheap hydroelectric in warm climates are very different than hilly cities, or cities like New York where there’s a combination of long runs and short, stubby routes. It would be naïve for us to think one size is going to fit all. What we would like to try and do to make the engineering efficient and the reliability high is to begin pre-thinking levels of configuration that make sense. Again, I think we will also get into a scenario where the bus operator, the bus manufacturer and the propulsion provider are going to have to re-think the economic model, whether you buy the batteries or the batteries are paid for on a per use basis, for example. The pressure from transit agencies for lower capital costs and optimized operating and maintenance costs may eventually lead to transfer of risk for the provider to ensure everything delivers as it should. I think that is all good use of taxpayer dollars. You can buy a cheap bus and pay through the nose downstream, or you can try and ensure when you buy a bus it has service, maintenance, operations, reliability, engineering, and some level of commitment and guarantees all bundled into it. When that happens, it is a different discussion, and a basic low-price RFP doesn’t allow you to really sell that.

In 2011 you celebrated your 4,000th CNG bus delivery. How important was that milestone for New Flyer?
We are up to 5,500 now. We gambled about a year-an-a-half ago on investing in a brand new fueling station here in St. Cloud and have upgraded all our facilities on CNG, which has paid off. Maybe it was part good planning and the rest good luck. CNG is the type of fuel where it is hard to dip your toe in the water. By that I mean, if you are a diesel operator and you want to try hybrids, you don’t have to change your buildings, your maintenance or train people differently. CNG is the kind of fuel where it is hard for an operator to just try it, because of all the necessary operating and maintenance issues; you need sniffers, scrubbers, special insurance, explosion proofing, training and fueling stations. For those operators that truly made a commitment to CNG, it is going to be here for a long time. Of course, the industry itself and the nation’s ability to generate its own fuels is a very compelling political argument, but there is also an economic argument. We think we are going to continue to see a lot of interest in CNG, which is why it was important to us years ago to design a system and own and control the integration.

With the numerous changes over the past year, what do you think your company’s biggest strength is?
I am very proud, from a team perspective, that the alignment of all the different parts of our company truly understands the end game. We have to satisfy our employees. We have to put products out there that customers will want to buy. We have to provide an appropriate return to our shareholders. It really is about the long-term sustainability of our business balance and so forth.

We have learned a lot about the economic engine and where we can pull levers to cut costs, improve performance and manage our supply chain. We have done some vertical integration, in some cases, to try and not only reduce the cost of the vehicle, but control the quality. As I said before, we have to find a way to get our cost down and our competitiveness up. We can be proud of our products and market share, but our customers will continue to tell us we have to be cost effective and give them a world class product with all the trimmings.

What are some forward-thinking predictions you have for New Flyer?
We continue to believe we want to be a diversified, full service-type bus manufacturer. When I say full service, I am not implying running maintenance garages, but we want to be a business that is a viable, profitable supplier and vendor of choice for our customers throughout the value chain, even as the economy or buying cycles fluctuate. We really felt the impact of 2008/2009’s recession, so we want to have a long perspective. We want to continue to lead the space. And, by lead I mean in share and position, as well as in innovation and technology, and most importantly, in delivering value.

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