South American Demand for Mexican Bus Bodies RisesMon, 09/01/2014 - 12:53
As a Mexican bodywork company, Novacapre has found success designing and manufacturing the bodies for urban buses. After 60 years in the field, its client list stands testament to its expertise. The company works mainly with Volkswagen Bus but also collaborates with Navistar, Mercedes-Benz, Isuzu, Hyundai, and Hino, as well as on some microbuses for GM and Ford. Paulo Dellanoce, Novacapre’s Director General, explains that the company has become highly flexible in order to produce bodies for various types of buses. This has led to the company becoming almost wholly vertically integrated, with Dellanoce explaining: “We can produce fibers, plastics, seats, and windows in-house. We source 92% of our materials locally, and we could reach close to 100%. This allows for a fast lead time, and reliable materials for our production.”
Novacapre has set a target of selling 3,000 buses by 2016 on a global level, which would see the company’s ratio of exports to domestic sales reach around 50-50. Novacapre already has contracts in place to sell its products in Colombia, Venezuela, Costa Rica, Salvador, and Peru, which are all seeing bullish growth in the industry. “Mexico remains a strong production hub for chassis manufacturers for both North and South America,” says Dellanoce. “It currently costs US$5,000 to transport a new bus to Colombia, which makes Mexico a cost effective hub, given the cost advantages in Mexico and easy logistics for that travel route. Although regulations for passenger transport are specific to each country, the basic rules all handle similar issues. We also carefully study the rules that apply in each of the countries to which we export.” Novacapre’s current production facility in Mexico is enough to fuel the company’s growth ambitions. The site currently produces 800 to 900 buses a year but has the capacity to push production up to 2,500 units. Dellanoce states that the decision to significantly scale up production for the domestic market will depend largely on whether moves are taken to upgrade a lot of the current units in operation. “The renovation of the vehicular fleet in large cities will play an important role. There is still much to be done and there are many types of buses that can be renewed to allow for higher passenger capacity. Changes have already begun; almost all large cities have programs in progress or at least modern transportation projects to improve ecological sustainability. The common purpose is to reduce travel times and fuel consumption with buses that respond to demanding conditions in every way,” explains Dellanoce. Beyond its technological capacity, Novacapre also places a strong focus on R&D. It has kitted out its development processes with the latest systems, incorporating high-tech components, and redesigned its models to meet market expectations and new government regulations concerning the bodies of heavy vehicles. “Our facilities are complemented by top-of-the-line equipment for most manufacturing processes to produce windows, plastic injection molding machines for the making of various seats, accessories for buses and equipment, vacuum form for plastic sheets, and fiberglass parts. That gives us strong product integration, new technologies, and global competitiveness,” says Dellanoce.
A strong focus for Novacapre’s engineering and design teams is the green trend running through the automotive industry. Whilst bus body manufacturers do not need to consider what fuel a bus will use, they can help to significantly reduce energy consumption by reducing a vehicle’s weight. Novacapre has been working on this for some years and Dellanoce now confidently states the company’s bodies are one tonne lighter than the competition’s. “Thanks to exteriors made of aluminum lamination and some high strength materials, we are helping to achieve lower fuel consumption and operating costs for our customers and reduced maintenance requirements for parts such as brakes, tires, and suspensions,” explains Dellanoce. Novacapre also makes floors of a lighter, more resistant material. While the cost of such changes is higher for the OEMs at first, Dellanoce says that in the long run, lighter vehicles are more cost-efficient and the customer ends up paying less. “The mentality of making every product lighter has been integrated from the design stage,” explains Dellanoce. “All of our engineers look to make our pieces lighter when considering what materials to use. We do not have a specific R&D center, but our product engineers come together to brainstorm ways to lighten our bodies and products.”
Novacapre plans to open more regional sales offices and is working with its national distributors to increase market share and coverage. Whilst aiming to be the Mexican leader in bus body manufacturers by 2019, the company believes it will have to remain on top of any shifts in the balance of trade in the region. “If you look at US-Mexico logistics today,” Dellanoce explains, “it has reached a point where it does not matter anymore which side of the border you are producing on. A similar trend will soon happen between Mexico and South America.”