In a conference call Tuesday (Feb. 14) following Spartan Motor Inc.’s fourth-quarter and year-end financial report, CEO and President John Sztykiel elaborated on the company’s announcement that it would be moving operations for its Utilimaster Corp. subsidiary from Wakarusa, Ind., to nearby Bristol.
According to a transcript from the earnings call (to read the entire transcript click here), the relocation would include motorhome chassis manufacturing that was to be transferred from Charlotte, Mich., to the Utilimaster facility in 2012. He also said that production of the Reach van, a commercial vehicle currently being built in Wakarusa, would be moved to Charlotte as previously announced in 2011.
Sztykiel stated: “From an RV perspective, one of the benefits of Bristol as well is we’ve talked about moving the RV business down to Bristol, or I should say down to Northern Indiana. All the RV chassis will be built in the Bristol facility. So we’ll now be within minutes of the RV marketplace, thus improving our competitive position in a substantial way.”
RVBUSINESS.com also learned that Utilimaster will be moving into a vacant facility formerly occupied by industry supplier Odyssey Group. Odyssey began liquidating inventory in January 2009 following reports that the company was closing the Bristol plant.
Below are Sztykiel comments regarding the Utilimaster move.
“Let’s talk a few minutes about Utilimaster Bristol consolidation, of which there is a separate release on that today, an extremely exciting event. In earlier calls, Joe and I have had business with each one of you and at times you’ve all complemented us on the improvement of Utilimaster. We’ve all said that there is still much more improvement yet to be had, as there is tremendous opportunity.
Earlier today, we announced the third step in our strategic plan to meet these goals. The first step was to improve operations and profitability in the existing Wakarusa facility, a tact that we’ve accomplished and Joe is going to get into some of that detail. The second step was to bring the Reach van product to market. That was accomplished.
The third step was to look or develop the right facility operational map, and that is now in Bristol, Indiana. To give you some idea into this goal for the product and what it means, we signed a lease with Fruit Hills Investments today on the Bristol facility that will allow us to move from a sprawling 16-building campus, which is over 700,000 square feet into a more modern and efficient one-building under one roof that is about 13 years old and has about 425,000 square feet.
What’s interesting is in Wakarusa, most of the buildings are more than 40 years old with the newest being 30 years old. And to give you just a little bit of perspective, if you ever went there and you just washed your car and you drove around the facility, visiting the different buildings and again 16 buildings, so when you think about the added indirect cost, the overhead, the operating expense, the inefficiencies et cetera, when you would come out of there with a really dirty car, and then you’d walk away and say, this is absolute madness, trying to build products within 16 buildings with the average age of 30 to 40 years old.
As the release noted and please take time to look at the release, we’ll be reducing the non-value added process in material handling by over 80%. When you take a look at the length of line for a walk-in during the travel, it’ll be going from 2.5 miles to less than 0.5 mile. It’s huge simplification in the assembly process, also the ability to deliver a higher-quality product.
Third, the assembly lines in the new Bristol facility will be much more flexible. They will allow changes in the layout and equipment rather easily. It’s our expectation that the new plan will not have any permanent fixtures in place that dictate how the assembly lines must be laid out.
What’s interesting about the facility is when I first went in there, I didn’t see very many columns and whoever built the building was extremely intelligent 13 years ago, because they have very few columns, very, very high ceilings, very strong support. So from a facility’s perspective, it is ideal from a manufacturing point of view. And when I spoke about where we came from to where we’re going, we’re going from 106 acres to 26 acres.
The reality is facility’s operations is no different than your house. If you have a large house, over time you’re just going to buy a lot of stuff and you’re probably not going to use it and you’re going to accumulate it. You’re not going to manage a personal sheet and cash very, very well. The same is true in a business. You go from 106 acres to 26 acres. I have no doubt our inventory turns will go up, our inventory will come down and we will see significant cash balance sheet improvement in the new Bristol facility. Why? Because you just have less space. So as we look forward, we’re extremely excited.
Fourth, the working process from one plant to another, and as mentioned in the release, these changes should result in annual cost saving reductions of $4 million a year at a minimum. So when you look at Utilimaster and you’ve heard Joe and I talk over the last 12 months while you’ve complemented us on the rate of improvement, et cetera, this is the third step of the plan. And we have several steps yet to execute, but in 2012, we will be very focused on bringing horizon on line to ensure that we see the operational benefits late in the second half and throughout all of 2013.
From an RV perspective, one of the benefits of Bristol as well is we’ve talked about moving the RV business down to Bristol, Indiana, or I should say down to Northern Indiana. All the RV chassis will be built in the Bristol facility. So we’ll now be within minutes of the RV marketplace, thus improving our competitive position in a substantial way.
At the same time, just to reiterate, when that happens, we will be moving the Reach van production from Indiana up to the Charlotte campus. So from an Isuzu partnership perspective, everything with and around Isuzu will be located in Charlotte, Mich.”