Issue Issue 2 2008
VDL is on the move
VDL Jonckheere Bus & Coach is a Belgium-based bus construction company with a product range that includes luxury touring coaches, city and inter-city buses, articulated buses and heavy-duty buses for worldwide export.
It is active throughout development, production, sales and after-sales services of buses for public transport, luxury coaches, VIP coaches, school buses and mini buses. Backed by over 125 years of extensive experience in coach and bus manufacturing, the successful Jonckheere became a part of the Berkhof Group in 1994 and joined the VDL Group in 1998, which saw its name change to VDL Jonckheere. The VDL Group is an international company focused on the development, production and sales of semi-manufactured and finished products. It has 7500 employees working in 75 subsidiaries throughout 14 countries.
Within VDL is its VDL Bus & Coach division, to which VDL Jonckheere belongs alongside VDL Berkhof Heerenveen, VDL Berkhof Valkenswaard, VDL BOVA, VDL Bus International, VDL Kusters, APTS, VDL Coach & Bus Centre and Busland. Together the companies form one powerful business unit, offering customers an extensive product range comprising coaches, chassis modules, public transport buses, mini and midi buses, police vehicles and second-hand buses.
Managing director of VDL Jonckheere, Peter Wouters explains further: “Jonckheere was established in 1881, making it one of the oldest coachwork builders in Europe. We were a family acquired by the VDL Group ten years ago, which is why we added VDL to our name. VDL Bus & Coach is established as a holding group for all the busbuilding companies within the VDL-group and the main aim of VDL Bus & Coach is to centralise the common activities of the different companies such as sales, after sales and product development. By doing so we want to create a synergy effect between the companies and reduce global costs. Over the last year a lot of effort has been put on creating this central organisation based on people coming from the different companies.”
VDL Bus & Coach is well known as a supplier of reliable, comfortable and economical buses with a product range distinguished by versatility and characteristic designs, and by the use of lightweight materials.
One of the other activities of the company besides developing, selling and producing vehicles, is the provision of after-sales services. The Central Service department is responsible for co-ordinating the support activities for the entire VDL Bus & Coach sales organisation, with its subdivisions Field Service and Training & Documentation. Field Service focuses mainly on setting up and managing a network of service workshops in all the markets where VDL Bus & Coach is active. It also has the responsibility for emergency roadside assistance and warranty decisions. The Training & Documentation department is responsible for all service training courses and the training of local instructors in countries where the company is represented. It also takes care of the workshop documentation and user documentation.
The organisation operates within a culture of ongoing development with regards to both products and trade, as Peter outlines: “We’re in the process of launching a central product development group that will facilitate the creation of a common platform for all the companies. In the area of product development, recent progress has included starting to construct a new city bus (Citea), which was first presented in 2007 and which is to be produced by Jonckheere and Berkhof. Other common projects are being defined for the moment, based upon the market needs.
With respect to our commercial activities, VDL Bus & Coach is expanding the central commercial organisation so that we can sell all the different products of the group into numerous countries. That’s a big advantage for Jonckheere – it will enable us to sell buses in more countries than we could before because, we’re gaining larger sales potential geographically.”
Jonckheere views this expansion in its current markets as a positive step forward and Peter believes that since its integration into the VDL Group the company has strengthened its reach: “Benelux is a major market for us and we’re strong in the UK, as well as Scandinavia. We also have some strong export projects for distant countries such as Jamaica and Ghana. Now that we’re part of VDL, we’re able to restart business in countries where we currently are less active such as France, Germany, Italy and other European countries. As a group, VDL is the sixth largest bus manufacturer in Europe.”
In terms of challenges, Peter sites an aggressive market and the ongoing endeavour to reduce outgoings as important concerns: “Wages in Belgium are high so our products are more expensive than those from competitors who have moved their production locations to Eastern Europe, where wages are much lower. The marketplace is also becoming increasingly competitive and there are several new competitors arriving. We’re compensating with our technical knowledge, which results in a higher quality product, and we try to train staff as often as possible to maintain this high level of technical expertise. Jonckheere has always had an excellent reputation with respect to the high quality of products and another strength we boast over lower cost manufacturers is the flexibility of our workforce. This enables us to tailor products more to the needs of our customers by offering them something that generally they cannot get from other bus constructors.
“Our main challenge is to reduce costs where possible whilst maintaining the same quality level and flexibility towards our customers that has helped us to build such a strong business. We won’t be conceding to pressure to move as VDL has a philosophy of maintaining production locations in the Netherlands and Belgium long into the future, although we’re trying to outsource subassemblies to cheaper locations. In this respect, we’re moving more towards an assembly production plant than a manufacturing location where everything is done in-house.”
With regards to the progression of Jonckheere, operating as part of VDL will strengthen the company further and Peter firmly believes that the business should support its wider division as much as possible: “Jonckheere has a long history, many qualities and an enviable market position but it is important that for the future we’re no longer simply operating as Jonckheere, as we are Jonckheere as a part of VDL. If we can develop common products and sell them throughout Europe then we should be able to lower costs, as we’ll have larger volumes of the same product. This should make our position stronger, provided we also keep our ability to tailor products to customers’ needs. In conclusion, I think it is important that we continue our evolution as part of VDL Bus & Coach rather than simply as Jonckheere.”
Products: Buses and coaches
Sites: The Netherlands and Belgium
Employees: 500 (7500 worldwide)