Treka Bus…one year on

Following the surprise sale of Treka Bus last year to Mellor parent group Woodall Nicholson, Rob Orchard visits the Brighouse factory to find out what’s changed.

There was considerable surprise in the industry late last year when it was announced that the Woodall Nicolson Group, owners of Mellor Coachcraft, were to buy long-time competitor Treka Bus and that the Brighouse-based company would come under the overall control of Woodall Nicolson’s MD, John Randerson.

Both companies specialise in producing coachbuilt minibuses, with Treka Bus focussing on Mercedes-Benz Sprinter based, M2 coachbuilt and van conversion wheelchair accessible vehicles, and Mellor Coachcraft providing coachbuilt high- and low-floor minibuses and small buses built on a range of base vehicles.

While Mellor still keeps a big foot in door of the high-floor wheelchair accessible sector, with models like the Strata HF and the Maxima, it has tended to concentrate more, and very successfully, on the lowfloor, wheelchair accessible and increasingly the small service bus markets with models like the Strata LF and now Plus and Ultra, together with the Fiat Ducato based Orion range including the all-electric e-Orion and the VW T6 based Tucana II. Just after the merger I asked Woodall Nicholson Bus MD, John Randerson what the plans were for Treka Bus and I was not surprised to hear that the plan was basically to leave Treka Bus alone, operating as a separate company with its existing management team, manufacturing facility and product range. No question of merging operations or facilities: “Treka Bus is a successful company doing what it does best – from our point of view we see no reason to upset that equilibrium.” And that is just what has happened.

Morgan Clissett

There has been one significant change and that is within the management of Treka Bus. Mark Clissett the founder, owner and driving force behind Treka Bus in recent years was looking to step back, for personal reasons, from the day to day running of the company. His understudy is son, Morgan, who was Production Director, who stepped up to take Mark’s place. Mark remains involved in the company in a consultative capacity.

Treka Bus as it is today is robust, but it has had a chequered history and very nearly disappeared altogether a few years ago. The factory was originally part of the UV Modular Group, and the basic Treka design stems from those days. It occupied a massive site just across the road from the current Treka Bus facility in Brighouse, West Yorkshire. Many will remember its charismatic Bus Sales Director, the late Ken Goodson. Relationships forged with customers in those days by Ken continue with today’s company.

Mark Clissett realised that the bus side was in fact the jewel in the crown

The bus business was always the poor relation within UVM; their main emphasis was on building front-line ambulances. In 2008, AssetCo – a major player at that time in blue light vehicles, especially fire and rescue appliances – decided to expand its horizons and bought UVM. Its main objective was to get its hands on the ambulance business but it allowed the bus business to jog along. They transferred Mark Clissett to run the business and he retained the services of Ken Goodson to look after the bus side.

It wasn’t long before AssetCo decided that UVM ambulance wasn’t the Golden Goose they thought it was and it decided, almost overnight, to close the business down, putting a large number of very skilled people onto the dole queue and signalling the demise of the Treka minibus. But that didn’t happen.

While battling to keep UVM afloat, Mark Clissett had realised that far from being the poor relation, the bus side was in fact the jewel in the crown.

He managed to secure the intellectual property rights to the product plus the various jigs and tools including the valuable GRP moulds, and bought the business from AssetCo. He negotiated the lease of a separate former UVM factory unit where GRP bodies for both ambulances and buses were produced. This was hastily re-configured into a production space where vehicles could be built and converted and the GRP panelling produced.

Mark stood in the factory on opening day with orders for just eleven vehicles thinking: ‘What have I done?’

In October 2009, the facility, now named Treka Bus Ltd, opened its doors and began building minibuses. Mark was fortunate in retaining the skills of former UVM staff as well as retaining Ken Goodson as Sales Consultant. It wasn’t as easy as it sounds of course and much time had been spent by Mark and Ken talking to customers and suppliers to get their support for the project. That they were successful can be judged by the number of customers they have retained and by the fact that they still, largely, use the same suppliers.

Mark will tell you it was a very scary time and he stood in the factory on opening day with orders for just eleven vehicles thinking: ‘What have I done?’

Since that day the company has gone from strength to strength. It produces over 320 vehicles a year, is running flat out and has an order book stretching well into 2019. Morgan is quick to acknowledge that the company could not have done it without the fantastic support they have received from staff. The vast majority of them, including sales, admin and production, are former UVM/AssetCo employees; for example, key staff like Commercial Director, Tracy Sharp and Sales Director, Helen Ross.

Little has changed at the factory since the doors opened except successive tweaks to try and get ever more vehicles through the plant. The one really noticeable thing is the absence of the heady perfume of GRP production. That was moved out to a separate, purpose-designed facility elsewhere in the area a few years ago. The freed-up space allowing more vehicle production space to be created.

There is more change coming here because there are plans to expand and re-configure the production area. The one thing the site has in its favour is space… lots of it. Plans are currently under consideration to possibly move out subsidiary operations like stores and wiring loom production to new facilities in what is currently the yard and to make extensions to the building itself to create more production space.

This may be the first visual indication of the influence of the parent group coming to bear. It’s odds on that Woodall Nicholson’s team of production engineers – who have transformed the existing Woodall Nicholson/Mellor facilities at West Houghton and Rochdale and of course have just commissioned Mellor’s new Rochdale facility – will play their part in the transformation of Brighouse.

The Treka design has been around a long time and while there is an obvious similarity in appearance between a Treka built today and one built 20 years ago that is where the similarity ends. That is because the whole structure has been consistently upgraded over that time, and it is an on-going process.

Coachbuilt Treka 16s under construction

This is also one of Treka’s big sales features. Operators, especially big fleet operators, don’t like change, and particularly visual change. While they want their products to have all the latest technical features, they like styling to be evolutionary rather than revolutionary. The fact that a brand new Treka product doesn’t look dramatically different to a ten-year-old one means that operators can slot in new vehicles without instantly making the older ones stand out. To a certain extent Treka Bus has been helped by Mercedes-Benz, which has also adopted a policy of tweaking the styling of the Sprinter and not gone for a dramatic new look.

They may not be the most flamboyant but they are soundly engineered and very well built

There is a remarkable similarity in the philosophical approach to bus building adopted by both Mellor and Treka Bus. Everything has to be backed by sound engineering principles.

One of the first things that Mark Clissett undertook when he bought Treka was the complete overhaul using the latest computer-aided design techniques which ensure component conformity, structural integrity, ease of production and reliability.

The Treka Bus range may not be the most flamboyant vehicles on the market but what they are is soundly engineered, very well built vehicles which do exactly what they are designed for, do it well and do it consistently.

Part of the area devoted to van conversion production

The Treka models

The Treka standard vehicle is basically a 16-seat coachbuilt, accessible minibus built on the Sprinter chassis, usually the 514 model, and more often than not fitted with the seven-speed automatic transmission. The body is aluminium alloy framed and meets all the necessary statutory strength regulations.

Sprinter vans being converted at Treka Bus

The body is clad in high quality GRP panelling which Treka produces itself. Glazing is bonded and the floor is fully tracked. Convection heating and/or air conditioning is fitted, usually of Eberspächer or Webasto manufacture; seating is generally single-seat units fitted with quick release fittings. The most popular seating comes from the Phoenix range but other options are available; the vehicle has a side entrance with powered door from the Transport Door Solutions range, and the entrance either has a fold-out extra step or a full fold-out set of entrance steps with handrails.

At the rear there are full-depth twin doors which open fully back to the bodywork to allow wheelchair loading. Loading is generally via a PLS underfloor compact tail lift, but other types can be specified. The vehicle can operate as a 16 seater or alternatively carry up to six wheelchairs with some seats removed. The rear loading area apart from having all the necessary fittings for securing wheelchairs and providing seat belts for wheelchair passengers also has special dedicated illumination and ready-installed fittings to allow the ‘pluggable’ addition of features like the PLS Door Safe preventing staff from falling out of the rear of the vehicle.

Treka Bus under Mark Clissett has been very safety conscious and include as standard or make available as options a number of safety features including reversing camera, reverse sensors, audible and verbal warning of the vehicle reversing or turning left, side view cameras giving the driver extra vision down the sides of the vehicle.

Sprinter chassis and vans awaiting conversion

The vehicles also come with an unmatched seven-year warranty.

Two sizes of coachbuilt Treka are produced. One uses the 3665mm wheelbase model producing a vehicle with an overall length of 6.84 metres, the other uses the longer 4325mm wheelbase model producing a 7.6m long vehicle. For both, the width is 2.58m and the height is 2.95m.

Completed Treka van conversion minibuses

The Treka van conversion range is essentially the same, and indeed component commonality across the two types is very high. One main difference on the van conversion range is that the entrance can be either at the side or moved to the front. Where a side entrance is fitted an extra step is also installed.

The Treka van conversions generally use the Sprinter 514 model. Where the front entrance is specified the long model (6.95m overall length) can accommodate up to 18 passengers while the extra-long (7.361m) version can seat up to 22 passengers. Both have a 4325mm wheelbase. Width is 1.94m and height 2.77m high. Wheelchair capacity in both is up to six.

Where the side entrance is fitted, maximum seating is 15 on the long model and 16 on the extra long model. Again both can carry up to six wheelchairs. The side entrance can be either manual or powered.

Interior of a Treka van conversion. This one is for Dawson Rentals

Morgan Clissett says the introduction of the new 907 Sprinter should be undetectable. He said Treka already has the use of a structure to determine the changes it would need to make to build on and convert the new models: “We are planning a seamless changeover,” said Morgan. “The last of the old models will go down the line followed by the first of the new ones and we do not anticipate any hiccup in the production flow.”

When he set up Treka Bus, Mark Clissett started as he meant to go on with obsessive focus on customer service. Mark believed passionately in offering a first-class, reliable product and then making sure that when customers needed help they got it – quickly. An example of this dedication is that if a vehicle suffers a major structural accident, Treka would prefer to reconstruct the vehicle rather than let someone else do it. As Morgan says: “It is not a money earner for us and it can give us problems doing it without affecting our main-stream production but at the end of the day the product has our name on it and I don’t want badly repaired Trekas out there damaging our hard-fought for reputation.”

So, a year on from joining the Woodall Nicholson Group, Treka Bus finds itself in a good place with a full factory and a bulging order book. Morgan also hinted at some interesting developments to come in 2019.

Morgan is certain that joining Woodall Nicholson has already benefitted Treka: “Undoubtedly it has. We have had fantastic support and encouragement from John and his team. We are left to do what we do best which is build quality wheelchair accessible minibuses for our loyal and new customers, but we have an amazing resource to call upon as and when we need it.”

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