Minicoach and minibus builder EVM was established eight years ago, and in that time it has taken up a market-leading position. The story is built on quality, efficiency and a focus on innovative products.
Competition in the minicoach sector is stronger than ever, and any manufacturer wishing to be at the forefront of it requires an efficient and refined production process.
The latter is unquestionably one of Irish convertor EVM’s strengths, and since its 40,000ft2 plant opened in 2009, it has consistently invested in it to guarantee quality.
Doing so has paid off in spades. This year, the Kilbeggan factory will turn out 300 Mercedes-Benz Sprinter-based conversions. Year-on-year growth has been significant since the plant opened and it has many more bespoke capabilities than may be expected.
“We have invested a great deal in the factory and in our products,” says Sales Director Danny McGee, who adds that further work on the plant is planned.
On-going development at Kilbeggan has most recently seen a new office suite, but money has also gone into the production area in terms of both processes and equipment.
Additionally, EVM has purchased land adjacent to the main plot. It expects to expand the existing building in the future, although not immediately for the purpose of upping capacity.
Instead, it will benefit what Danny calls “the factory environment,” allowing further streamlining of production.
Just one example of quality…
The body electrical fittings of EVM’s minicoaches serve as just one example of its philosophy surrounding a lean and efficient assembly process.
Base vehicles are supplied with what Mercedes-Benz calls a PSM unit. It acts as an interface between the chassis CAN bus system and a similar EVM-designed unit and software for the body. It massively reduces the amount of wiring needed, and thus assembly time.
“If a vehicle was supplied without a PSM, we would either return it to the dealer or retrofit it,” says Danny. “We cannot work without it. To our knowledge, we are the only converter that uses the PSM. It saves a huge amount of time during the build process, and to use it, we have invested £100,000 in software development alone.”
It’s because of things like that – simplifying the build, keeping a tight grip on quality and streamlining things as much as possible – that EVM has achieved its market-leading position. But there is much else involved, too.
A huge Lego set
The Production Director at Kilbeggan is Ivor Jones. He oversees all work at the factory while Danny is based in the UK – by far EVM’s largest market – where he heads the sales operation.
“The assembly process at Kilbeggan is like a Lego set. Every step has a set amount of time allocated to it, and we have various areas that assemble components such as floors, luggage racks and the panoramic roof when specified,” says Ivor.
The work allocation method has benefits. It incentivises factory operatives to get things right first time, and the financial rewards for those that are good at their work are attractive. As a result, despite its rural location, the Kilbeggan plant does not struggle to attract highly-competent staff.
Neither is EVM is short of base vehicles awaiting admission to the plant. That allows it to offer a very short lead time from order to delivery of six weeks, even for a bespoke build.
When routeone visited last week, around 70 Sprinter vans were in stock or under conversion. They are in a variety of colours and are stored either at Kilbeggan or at dealer Mercedes-Benz Truck and Van in Belfast.
The latter is key; all conversions sold to UK operators by EVM are on vehicles built by Mercedes-Benz for the UK market, and thus they come with three years’ chassis warranty. All are certified via the EC Whole Vehicle Type Approval (ECWVTA) scheme.
“ECWVTA simplifies things and it assures quality,” says Danny. “We work with recognised brands; Brusa, Eberspächer, Masats and others, and we stick with them to streamline the type approval process.”
The Sprinter is destined to remain EVM’s focus, and it is already preparing for the arrival of the long-touted replacement. While it has dabbled with other marques on a trial basis, no focus is on them for minicoach use at the current time.
Base Sprinters are stripped internally when taken in to the factory. Removed items are stored in a large cage that follows them throughout the conversion process, with almost all of those parts being re-fitted later.
Although assembly is highly regimented, continual improvement is not forgotten, and at Coach & Bus UK in two weeks’ time, EVM will debut wireless charging.
It will offer a free-standing unit behind the driver to charge passengers’ mobile devices, and on minicoaches fitted with tables, wireless charging will also be available for individual passengers.
Although EVM has a reputation for turning out some very high-end conversions, they are produced in the same way as any other thanks to an almost modular construction method that Ivor calls “plug and play.”
“Most of what we build are 16-seaters,” says Danny. “The increase in the Sprinter’s GVW to 5,500kg means little to EVM as it gives only an extra 100kg tolerance on the rear axle, and our conversions are lightweight in any case.” Because of the popularity of 16-seaters, extended Sprinters form a small part of what EVM does.
When a coach-style rear is added, the weight penalty for an extension is a mere 40kg and an extra row of seats can be had, but despite that, only around 20 are produced per year.
“We have simplified the extension process and it is not a hugely complicated task, but it is allocated 120 production hours, meaning that the cost is around £6,000,” says Danny. “It is there for operators that require it, but we see it on only a small proportion of orders.”
The finishing touches
One of the most impressive aspects of EVM’s capabilities at Kilbeggan is the final part of the process: Painting.
“We take Sprinters from Mercedes-Benz in three colours, but even then painting is required for bumpers, skirts and lower body panels, and coach-style rears when specified,” says Danny. “Additionally, we also paint complete minicoaches for operators who require it.”
“We have put a lot of investment into painting. Bumpers are painted separately to ensure that the finish quality is the same as the rest of the vehicle, and to do both we have a 16m, two-section paint booth,” adds Ivor.
The booth is split into 10m and 6m rooms, with complete vehicles handled in the former and components in the latter. They are then ‘baked’ following completion to ensure the best finish.
“Painting is an expensive process, but doing it properly is worthwhile,” says Ivor.
As an example, an X-Clusive conversion for Runcorn-based Anthony’s Travel will very soon be treated prior to exhibition at Coach & Bus Live. EVM will mix and apply Anthony’s distinctive shade of metallic pink in-house, as it has done on earlier minicoaches supplied to Anthony’s.
The sales team
Danny heads EVM’s team in the UK, and the converter now has a staff of 12 in here including those in administration, aftersales, field support and vehicle preparation.
Operators’ first point of contact will usually be salespeople, and backing up Danny are three who give country-wide coverage.
Peter Flynn specialises in the accessible market – the Sprinter-based low-entry Community and the full low-floor, Fiat Ducato-based Metro LF – while Matthew Thompson and David O’Leary cover the north and south of Britain respectively for minicoach sales, with a particular focus on generating new customers.
All sales are handled by EVM’s UK subsidiary EVM Direct. “We don’t use third parties,” says Danny. “We don’t need to. We have sufficient volume in the UK to be able to handle everything ourselves, and by doing so, we cut a margin out of the operator’s transaction. We build the product ourselves and we sell it ourselves, so it’s a highly integrated process.”
And there is the key to EVM’s success: An efficiently-made, integrated and well-finished product that is generating considerable success in export markets, turned out by a well-equipped factory.
“We are a lean company. We look at every opportunity to do things as economically as possible while maintaining quality, and as our customers will attest, that has served us well,” Danny sums up.
Written by Tim Deakin (Route One Magazine) on 20th September 2017