Driven by in­no­va­tion

Crowthers Coaches is an all-Aus­tralian com­pany that last year cel­e­brated an im­pres­sive 90 years in the bus in­dus­try, and is cur­rently en­joy­ing a col­lab­o­ra­tion with Mercedes-Benz and lo­cal man­u­fac­tur­ers

ABC (Australia) - - DRIVEN - WORDS & IM­AGES PAUL ALDRIDGE

Crowthers Coaches orig­i­nally com­menced its coach char­ter op­er­a­tions in the Wol­lon­gong and Dapto area be­fore re­lo­cat­ing to the south­ern sub­urbs of Syd­ney in the 1930s. The com­pany’s web­site shows a time­line his­tory of the decades and the chang­ing ve­hi­cles and op­er­a­tions, so you can see just how much times have changed over the years and the ad­vance­ments the com­pany has made.

To­day, Crowthers op­er­ates an ex­clu­sive coach char­ter ser­vice, prid­ing it­self on us­ing only the high­est stan­dard of coaches do­ing day and ex­tended tours to var­i­ous des­ti­na­tions through­out Syd­ney, NSW and Aus­tralia-wide.

To sur­vive and thrive for more than 90 years in a con­stantly chang­ing in­dus­try, and to also have re­mained fam­ily owned in of­ten chal­leng­ing  nan­cial times, the Crowthers ob­vi­ously have some se­crets to their fam­ily’s suc­cess.

Meet­ing Paul Crowther, you can see how he is part of the fam­ily suc­cess story: a pas­sion­ate bus man that has val­ues and com­mit­ment to the in­dus­try and his cus­tomers, which ob­vi­ously play a huge part of why Crowthers Coaches en­joy the longevity and the suc­cess it has achieved.

A GREAT JOUR­NEY

The com­pany slo­gan is ‘Life’s a great jour­ney’. I asked Crowther what this means to him.

“I guess the slo­gan is talk­ing about the broad depth of not only our com­pany, but life in gen­eral,” he says. “It en­com­passes life’s ups and downs, good times and bad.

“It’s kind of re­mind­ing people that part of the ex­er­cise of tak­ing people out in a coach

for the day is about a great jour­ney – not just about ar­riv­ing at the des­ti­na­tion, but also about all the fun stuff that hap­pens in the mid­dle.”

The Crowther web­site men­tions a lot more than just what it does and what it can pro­vide its cus­tomers. It gives a good in­sight into how Crowthers op­er­ates and the val­ues it holds. The or­gan­i­sa­tion’s mis­sion state­ment, vi­sion and core val­ues could all be per­ceived as old fash­ioned or ob­jec­tives that usu­ally are used in­ter­nally for staff and morale, but it gives you the pic­ture of what the com­pany val­ues above num­bers and dol­lars. When you speak with Paul Crowther, you understand that he lives and be­lieves these val­ues.

“Specically at Crowthers we also talk about in­no­va­tion, and I think you will see this in this coach we have gone to a lot of trou­ble and a lot of at­ten­tion to de­tail with the small things.

“We love to be dif­fer­ent but not for the sake of be­ing dif­fer­ent. Rather, we love to in­no­vate and we have done this since the early days with all of our coaches. Our other val­ues are in­tegrity, re­li­a­bil­ity and ex­ceed­ing people’s ex­pec­ta­tions, and it re­ally is what drives us.”

A UNIQUE BUILD

The build process for the com­pany’s new Mercedes-Benz was ac­tu­ally very quick. It was in build from late Novem­ber last year and was ready al­most ve months later.

The long­est part of this process was in the plan­ning and work­ing with the body builder to en­sure that Paul’s re­quests were in­cor­po­rated into the new build.

“Paul has a num­ber of Mercedes-Benz coaches in his eet and about 18 months ago we started to talk about build­ing this par­tic­u­lar ve­hi­cle on the Euro 6 chas­sis. From that point on­wards we have worked to­gether to build to­gether the com­pleted ve­hi­cle we are here with to­day,” Paul We­ber from Mercedes-Benz says.

“In my opin­ion it is the col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween the builder and op­er­a­tor that makes this ve­hi­cle unique. Tra­di­tion­ally an op­er­a­tor al­lows the body builder to build the ve­hi­cle, but this was a very in­ter­ac­tive process be­tween Paul, Wayne and the team at Coach De­sign.

“Paul Crowther was hands-on in the ac­tual build process; he knew ex­actly what he re­quired and how he needed it to be. He worked closely

It is the col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween the builder and op­er­a­tor that makes this ve­hi­cle unique

with the builder to en­sure the ve­hi­cle was de­signed speci cally to his re­quire­ments so it would ul­ti­mately de­liver everything he wanted for his cus­tomers.”

Crowther is ex­cep­tion­ally pleased with the chas­sis Mercedes-Benz has pro­vided, also laud­ing the brand’s col­lab­o­ra­tion with Coach De­sign and McCon­nell Seats.

“When I was in Ger­many in 2010 I saw the  rst of the these mo­tors in the Mannheim fac­tory be­ing rolled off the fac­tory oor, so to ac­tu­ally have one my­self is very ex­cit­ing, but it was Coach De­sign that en­abled us to ex­per­i­ment and re­design a few fea­tures to make this coach what it is,” he says.

“Chris and Wayne from Coach De­sign where were so ac­com­mo­dat­ing – they re­ally got what I was try­ing to achieve.

“I was try­ing to pick up on the lat­est re ne­ments from Europe be­cause I think the trend with coaches in the Aus­tralian mar­ket is that they tend to look like glori ed buses, and when you are spend­ing that much money you want the end prod­uct to be out­stand­ing.

“Coach De­sign were fan­tas­tic, they were re­ally so sup­port­ive.

“McCon­nell Seats were also awe­some, al­low­ing us to re­design the whole seats to suit our com­pany’s needs.”

LO­CAL IN­FLU­ENCE

Apart from the Mercedes Benz chas­sis that is im­ported di­rectly from Ger­many, and the English-made seat fabrics from Camira and Holdsworth, most of the other com­po­nents are all Aus­tralian.

The McCon­nell seats are Aus­tralian, the coach is made of Aus­tralian steel and glass, the car­pets used are all Aus­tralian, and the  nish­ings – in­clud­ing the ber­glass mould­ing – are all made by Coach De­sign in Aus­tralia.

“It is prob­a­bly one of the most Aus­tralian coaches on the mar­ket to­day,” Crowther says. “This coach is ex­tra­or­di­nary and it’s not of­ten that I would say that.

“Its pre­de­ces­sor, the 0500, is a great coach, but this one has the Mercedes-Benz gear­box. It is so smooth – the re­tarder func­tion is al­most better than the brakes.

“It has fea­tures like lane de­par­ture and anti- col­li­sion; it sits  rmly on the road and is in­cred­i­bly com­fort­able; and it has all the in­no­va­tion with the Mercedes Benz re­li­a­bil­ity which, as a small op­er­a­tor, is very im­por­tant to me.

“This coach pri­mar­ily will do char­ter work but we do ex­tended work pre­dom­i­nantly with oldies and they love it.

“It is just so com­fort­able and at­trac­tive; we do sport­ing groups, school groups, Coun­try Link.”

All of the Crowther coaches are either Euro 5 or Euro 6. The lat­ter is the most ad­vanced emis­sions con­trol avail­able, and both the Euro 5 and 6 are out­stand­ing ve­hi­cles.

The com­pany says its ob­jec­tive is to set the stan­dard for trans­port through­out Aus­tralia, min­imis­ing emis­sions and max­imis­ing the ef ciency of travel.

BE­HIND THE WHEEL

The Coach De­sign/ Mercedes-Benz Euro 6 lux­ury coach, as ex­pected, is a plea­sur­able and ef­fort­less drive and it de nitely does not dis­ap­point.

To put the coach through its paces and check out some of the safety fea­tures, we took it down the steep in­clines of Bulli Pass.

Our test drives are usu­ally lo­cal runs but, as Crowthers started up more than 90 years ago in the Wol­lon­gong dis­trict, we thought it was tting to test some of the area’s trick­ier roads.

The 3-axle coach has two doors and 53 seats along with guide ca­pac­ity, and is equipped with toi­let and wheel­chair ac­cess. The pas­sen­ger and seat­ing con gu­ra­tion were Paul Crowther’s own de­sign.

Both vis­ually and from a com­fort view­point, this coach is im­pres­sive. The Mercedes en­gine pro­vides plenty of power while steer­ing is ef­fort­less with the steer­able axle tag – even round­abouts were sur­pris­ingly easy to ma­noeu­vre.

I had never driven a coach with a lane de­par­ture warn­ing sys­tem, so when I had plenty of room I pur­posely drifted as you would if done un­in­ten­tion­ally.

The bell warn­ing sounds and alerts the driver – this safety fea­ture would be in­valu­able for driv­ers on long jour­neys where fa­tigue could pos­si­bly be a safety fac­tor.

The steep drive down Bulli Pass was made ef­fort­less by the brake re­tarder sys­tem. It was easy to op­er­ate – you just set the sys­tem con­troller to 3 and the re­tarder did the rest.

The speed limit down the pass is only 20km/h for heavy ve­hi­cles and I didn’t have to touch the brakes once un­til I reached the bot­tom of the pass.

IN THE WORK­SHOP

All of Crowthers’ ser­vic­ing is taken care of by Mercedes-Benz.

“From 2008 we have done all of our ser­vic­ing di­rectly through Mercedes-Benz. We don’t need me­chan­ics on staff, which saves us money,” Crowther says.

“Mercedes have a ded­i­cated bus team when we are out on the road. They are like a Bathurst pit crew. I can call them at any time of the day or night and they are so re­spon­sive. They are just so metic­u­lously re­li­able.”

Op­er­at­ing a run from Syd­ney to Cairns for four years, Crowther says the com­pany has not had any is­sues in this time, claim­ing to have never de­layed a sin­gle pas­sen­ger.

“One time we had a group of 36 people held up at Day­dream Is­land un­til a six- day long cy­clone with ex­treme 260km/h winds sub­sided. We had to evac­u­ate and leave the coach in those con­di­tions and we didn’t know what we would be go­ing back to, but amaz­ingly it was so strong it was per­fect and ready to go. It’s all about re­li­a­bil­ity.

“I per­son­ally understand why people buy cheaper ve­hi­cles but our cus­tomers ex­pect a cer­tain level of ve­hi­cle and re­li­a­bil­ity, and I just don’t think it is worth the risk.”

FU­TURE MILE­STONES

We­ber says the suc­cess­ful re­la­tion­ship with Crowthers and Mercedes-Benz will thrive in the fu­ture as Crowther con­tin­ues to de­velop his busi­ness.

“As some of Crowther’s eet gets ready for re­tire­ment, we will look at de­vel­op­ing new prod­ucts for him,” We­ber says.

Crowther be­lieves the coach in­dus­try has gone through its most signicant pe­riod of change in the last 10 years, with “an ex­plo­sion of op­er­a­tors fo­cus­ing on price, so ve­hi­cle qual­ity is not what it used to be as the mar­ket has been driven price-wise”.

“For us, I am pitch­ing Crowther Coaches at the high end of the mar­ket as there are too many play­ers in the mid­dle and lower end of the mar­ket,” he says. “I see this po­si­tion­ing as a way to en­able our con­tin­u­ing suc­cess into the com­ing mar­kets and achieve 100 years as a suc­cess­ful, in­no­va­tive fam­ily busi­ness.

“My dream is to see the com­pany make it to 100 years – I’ll be 67 then so it would be a very proud mo­ment to be part of that im­por­tant mile­stone.

“I have no am­bi­tion to be large at all. The most we have ever had has been 20 ve­hi­cles.

“I like to be close to the prod­uct and love qual­ity ser­vice de­liv­ery. Sit­ting in an of ce and man­ag­ing staff and ac­counts doesn’t ap­peal to me. I en­joy the de­sign process and de­liv­er­ing a great prod­uct.”

Clock­wise from

top left: The cabin is sleek; This coach can han­dle tricky roads; The seats came up look­ing sharp

Top: The wheel­chair lift al­lows this coach to cater to all; Spe­cial ‘90 years’ liv­ery

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