Van Hool has been considered a major player in the motorcoach business since 1987 in the US Market. With prominent clients such as Mears Transportation and others they have been overall successful in the motorcoach market. Van Hool was one of the first coaches available in the US with independent front suspension that some operators claimed led to an overall smoother ride compared to some of its competitiors.
Sales Process –
Van Hool’s California sales department was contacted and was requested to provide an online configuration ordering/quote tool. They didn’t have one nor did the other two manufacturers but when pressed to provide something with a list of options with which to decide on an order the request was met with silence. In the absence of any type of online or offline form to use for specifying options for a coach Prevost’s order form was used and was forwarded to Van Hool to match a coach as closely as possible to the specs provided. This whole process just to get an initial price was 3 months. 3 months to get a price on a fairly simple $1.6M transaction could be considered excessive. As the sales process is generally the smoothest of the ownership of a large piece of capital equipment the lack of enthusiasm for contact or something that could be considered a sales effort was worrisome.
All three motorcoach companies lay claim to the “lowest operating cost per mile”, however none of them were able to provide me any of their calculations or assumptions by which they made this claim. As such the claim by all three manufacturers needs to be examined independently.
After being stonewalled for months just to get a price further inquiries were made as to the parts pricing and availability of a standardized list of commonly replaced parts such as windshields, belts, filters, hoses and brakes. Warranty and the administration of the warranty with an explanation of service hours was also requested and met with a request to visit their “Costa Mesa” facility.
This exchange is only included to highlight the difficulty of even attempting to buy a coach from Van Hool. It took months before a price quote was given. Another month before parts information was divulged. Warranty was never addressed by the company and they continued to insist on a visit to their facilities. A similar scenario played out with a fair amount of pressure to visit company offices to “come see” the coaches even when just used coach pricing was sought after.
Parts and Service – Van Hool at the time of the analyses did not offer an online parts ordering system. Though behind its two competitors in that regard it made up for it somewhat with a fairly responsive parts department that can e-mail or fax a price quote. It is difficult to make any suggestions for an online service such as Prevost’s and MCI’s online parts websites where one doesn’t exist. Van Hool was 2nd in the cost of parts just ahead of Prevost. Less than $40 separated the two companies with the parts assumptions made in the analysis. Until recently Prevost had the best support with after hours and weekend support but since they discontinued that practice all three companies including Van Hool seem to be on par with each other. Roadside assistance to the next town and support between normal business hours is now the new norm among all of the companies.
Disposition/Sale of the Asset – A very large factor in the ROItit rating system is the spread between the new price and the used price of a coach. The original new price minus the average sale price with mileage and age adjustments leaves a per mile price. Parts pricing is also factored in giving a blended per mile ownership number. Van Hool had the highest cost per mile of all three manufacturers. Resale value was the most significant factor in the difference and though 2nd in parts the parts race was very close between 2nd and 3rd (Prevost).
Intangibles – Whether it is the styling of a coach, the availability and attitude of the company as a whole or the coach a company’s drivers prefer to operate all factor into an overall ownership experience. There are many examples of products that may have the lowest cost of ownership but fail to provide a satisfactory ownership experience. Response times whether in the initial ordering stages or in the post-sale servicing stages can factor heavily into this equation. Response times to downtime on the road also can significantly affect profitability of coach ownership as well as the general ownership as a whole. Van Hool had the worst response times in a number of categories which calls into question the overall potential for a good customer experience. Perhaps the Van Hool’s ABC distributor’s willingness to liberally finance their motor coaches outweighs the other negatives but for the purposes of this evaluation Van Hool seemed behind the others on overall client centered focus.
Here are some of the driver comments regarding Van Hool motor coaches. They were not officially included in the overall ratings because there were not enough samples to be considered statistically significant.
Pros – Comfort of driver seats. Easy to steer. Simple starting process. Good turn ratio.
Cons – Mirror placement
Seemingly aggressive on financing one you convince them you really need a price to buy one.
Complicated and slow sales process
Cumbersome parts ordering
Highest Parts prices
2nd Worst Depreciation/2nd highest per mile cost