The popular nature of the area surrounding Stryn in Norway has meant that the transport of tourists has been important to this community for over 100 years. With public transport methods having evolved over the years, in 1965, Vest – a specialist in industrialised production of bus bodies, was founded. However when at the end of 2010 Vest took the decision to close its production factory in Stryn, the rights and assets of the business were purchased in order to create a new independent company – Vidre AS .
Having officially began operating in February 2011, when the company started building the roof section of Vidre bus body number one, the first few months were focused upon educating staff to ensure that this smaller organisation could handle all necessary operations in bus body production. In total, 30 complete buses were produced in 2011, and with Vidre in the process of delivering body work numbers 38 to 40 the intention is to reach a target of 35 buses this year.
A major milestone for the business has been the delivery of two buses to an operator in Sweden built upon a Volvo chassis, as in the last ten years the factory in Stryn has only delivered buses on a Scania chassis to this market. This demonstrates Vidre’s key strength in offering flexibility in its product concepts, coupled with its small structure and short decision lines. The business is targeting itself towards niches in the marketplace where this flexibility can be exploited as a major differentiating advantage.
Managing director of Vidre, Jon-Rune Heimlid explains how the company has seen its marketplace develop over this last 12 months: “The market has changed in such a way that there is a stronger focus on up-front investment costs in the public transportation sector, rather than on life-cycle costs. The impact of this means that it is difficult to convince the market to pay for the kind of product quality we deliver aimed at a lifetime expectancy of 15 to 20 years.
“Society is fast developing, and therefore in need of flexible solutions. Buildings are expensive and it is difficult to make accurate forecasts of where need will evolve over time. With mobile solutions, we can meet the need for quality services by creating tools for this through the use of customised buses. Already today, we manufacture mobile preschools, and in the future we believe there will be demand for such solutions in other branches of public care,” he adds.
The mobile preschool concept is now well established in Sweden, a key element of which are specialised preschool buses. Vidre develops and manufactures concepts of this nature in close co-operation with its partner, Helianthus Mobila Förskolor, located in the Stockholm area. “Our partnership with Helianthus began five years ago when the company contacted us with an inquiry about the possibility of building a preschool bus. For the bus factory in Stryn, nothing is impossible,” explains Jon-Rune.
“From this starting point our co-operation has developed so that today Helianthus is marketing and selling preschool buses, as well as undertaking responsibility for the training and education of staff and bus drivers in the management and operation of preschool buses. Our role within this is to assist in product development, and to take responsible for manufacturing the products. The advantages of this approach are in the synergies that our combined skills are creating, so that together we are a complete team.”
The buses utilised in this concept are specifically designed for preschool use, both in terms of décor and functionality, as required to create a working environment for both children and staff. The buses include facilities for the serving of a warm meal, a refrigerator, toilets, space for clothing and shoes, as well as storage space suited to the demands of small children and teaching staff. “We are proud to present a complete product concept developed and tested together with the staff of Helianthus, and drawing on our own technical expertise. Our preschool bus includes everything that is needed to offer the next generation rich possibilities for educational playing with new adventures every day,” enthuses Jon-Rune.
In recent years, environmental awareness has been a key driver in the direction of engine development and emissions. Vidre’s approach towards these concerns has been from the viewpoint that the production process of a vehicle has its own environmental impact, and therefore is focused on producing high quality products suited for long life operations. A study performed by Vestlandsforsking on behalf of the county of Sogn og Fjordane pinpoints the environmental effect of producing new buses, compared to utilising existing fleets for their full lifespan. The trend for public tenders in Norway over the last couple of years has been to create specific tenders so that new buses have to be built to comply with these restrictions.
After a successful first year, and with several on-going major contracts behind it, Vidre is working towards a strategy of securing its position in the public transportation sector, and placing itself as a leading player in the speciality bus segment in the Nordic region. Nevertheless, the company is always monitoring the market outside of this region in order to identify new opportunities to exploit its competencies.
Aside from this main strategy, Vidre is also acutely aware that the bus market may change even further in the years ahead. In this respect, John-Rune shares his thoughts on how the industry may progress, and the steps that could be taken to facilitate this: “We believe that the market will look different in the future. As such, there will be a demand for new products that we are perhaps not yet aware of. We see the need to begin collaborating with industries that we might not have seen as natural partners before, but might be so in the future to evolve new markets. With external co-operation outside of the traditional marketplace, it is possible in the next three to five years to not only change the bus industry, but also others as well.”
Products Bus and coach bodies