With the wild and stunning nature of Nordfjord, a fjord in the west of Norway, a popular tourist attraction, the transport of passengers has been important to the local community for over 100 years. From its early beginnings in the use of a horse and cart to the building of cars in local workshops in the 1930s and 40s, this demand formed the basis for the foundation of Vest, a specialist in industrialised production of bus bodies, in 1965.
In 2008, Vest became a dealer for bus manufacturer Irisbus, and subsequently moved in a new strategic direction to focus more on the sale of complete buses. However after a long and successful history, in 2010 Vest chose to close its production factory in Stryn. This decision was based upon the fact that it was difficult to maintain a stable production volume, given that as tender contracts grew larger so did the consequences of winning and losing these.
As Vest decided that these conditions were unfavourable to running a profitable production line in November 2010, key employees together with external investors purchased the rights and assets related to the business and founded the independent company – Vidre AS. The main concept behind Vidre is to restructure
and scale down the Vest production line, and build profitable operations based upon the competencies and facilities available.
“Vidre is an independent company focused on co-operation with all producers of bus chassis, such as Volvo, Scania, MAN, Mercedes, and Irisbus. We are working towards niche areas in the market where we can exploit our flexibility as a key differentiating advantage from the other players in the market,” explains Jon-Rune Heimlid, managing director of Vidre.
“As well as continuing to build new buses and coaches, we also offer after-market services in order to ensure a Vidrelong period of trouble free service for our clients. These services range from rebuilding buses to adapt them for new activities, repairing body damage and interior details like seats, a painting workshop, and maintaining base treatment.”
Whilst the heritage of Vidre stretches back for more than 50 years, the name itself is a relatively recent entity in the market, having been confirmed in early February this year. Bringing together the long tradition of bus production in Stryn, and a restructured commercial approach, Jon-Rune highlights some of the key strengths of the new enterprise: “Our single biggest asset is the competence of each employee all the way from the workforce in the construction department, to the skilled workers on our shop-floor. As a smaller organisation we have shorter decision lines, which enables us to react quickly to market demands, whilst maintaining flexibility in our product concepts. In terms of our strategy we do not only offer our existing products into established markets. We are also interested in entering into, and taking part in, open innovative processes together with our strategic customers and partners, to create new niches and concepts involving mobile solutions.”
Despite having only officially been established months before, on April 14th 2011, Vidre delivered its first bus to local operator Fjord1. There was a sense of history about the occasion, as the first bus produced at the site under Vest was delivered to the Stranda and Sykkylven Billag bus company, which is now part of Fjord1. The new bus has been fitted with two new safety features, designed with the end customer in mind. The first is contrasting colour seatbelts, which enable the driver to easily gain an overview of passengers using the belts on board. This is particularly important given that the bus will be used for the transportation of schoolchildren.
Extreme winter conditions in recent years have made it difficult for bus drivers to have full visibility of passengers at bus stops, through the traditional mirror arrangement. In response, Vidre developed an innovative solution together with Fjord1 using surveillance cameras, which monitor not only inside the bus, but also outside offering a full view of the rear and right-hand side of the bus where the entry and exit doors are located. This offers greatly increased visibility for the driver, and subsequently improved safety for passengers even before they board the bus.
Commenting on the other contracts Vidre has been awarded, Jon-Rune says: “Our current contracts under production include buses for Fjord1 located in the
north-western part of Norway, and five kindergarten buses for two municipalities in Sweden Lund and Malmø. The contracts with Fjord1 are a mix of Volvo and Scania buses, whereas the kindergarten buses are built solely on Scania chassis.”
Whilst the demands of the market may have changed, the tradition of building high-quality transport vehicles in Stryn remains at the core of Vidre. Having successfully found its niche in an increasingly competitive market, the company is now working to implement this strategy to great effect: “In recent years, engine development and vehicle emissions have had a much greater environmental focus. As such we are looking to produce a vehicle that has a minimal environmental impact, whilst maintaining our focus on producing high quality vehicles that have a long operational lifespan of 15 to 20 years. Together with our after-market services, we are prepared to do our utmost to ensure profitable and efficient operations for our customers,” concludes Jon-Rune.
Products Bus and coach bodies