Chris Green MP visited Woodall Nicholson Limited (WNL) at the invitation of Geoff Hudson Group CEO.
WNL headquarters sits within Mr. Greens Bolton West constituency. The purpose of the meeting was to update Mr Green on the progress WNL has made over the last three years.
WNL is a large SME with a staff levels approaching 250, it is a significant North West manufacturer that was acquired by private investors in 2013 under the leadership of Chairman Brian Davidson. The business has thrived over the last three years and continues to invest heavily in new products and infrastructure.
Key topics covered included a lively debate with regards to the impact public spending cuts are having on local authority vehicle replacement programs. Geoff Hudson explained that WNL is determined to maintain a presence as a key supply chain partner for the emergency services. However, this can only be secured through the development of alternative revenue streams from the incremental business designed to smooth out lumpy public service funded turnover and support business growth.
Geoff explained that Mellor, the Groups bus company based in North Manchester, continues to perform well because of the Group’s strategy to build low-floor accessible minibuses and expand from its traditional welfare and not for profit customer base into the bus sector. Geoff said, “there is a realisation in the bus market that size appropriate buses are now important and that one size no longer fits all”.
Geoff went on to say; “size appropriate buses feed the developing Mobility as a Service (MaaS) market which will be further enabled by electrification and autonomy” WNL are conscious of Government targets for both clean air and vehicle autonomy in public transport”
John Randerson who runs Mellor, showed Mr. Green around two recently launched and exciting new products designed to support bus companies
who are looking to find new ways of commercialising urban and rural routes. Whilst showing Mr. Green the new Strata and Tucana II buses John stressed that apart from the environmental and MaaS agenda opportunities, Mellor bus products can support social inclusion for our elderly and rural communities by making it simpler and more cost effective to run local bus services.
John went on to explain that some bus companies who predominantly operate larger vehicles are handing back rural routes to local authorities claiming them to be uneconomic. This, in turn has a wide ranging social and economic impact on those passenger groups who rely on a local bus service.
Mellor has worked hard to develop the Stata an extremely economical low floor 22 passenger capacity bus. Strata is built on the traditional Mercedes Sprinter based platform, it is fully DDA compliant and can carry two wheelchairs or buggies. It has all the features of a big-bus in a small bus format.
Since its launch, late last year Strata has attracted a lot of interest from both the smaller independent bus operator and the major players. The second vehicle displayed was the new Tucana II. This bus is narrow so that it can work in our antique towns, but still meets DDA compliance with its low-floor.
Many people will recognise the Tucana as the Direct Responsive Bus used by Dial-a-Ride organisations, over 600 are in service across the UK with 250 in service in London alone. The new Tucana II is fully low floor and provides inclusive for all. Lightweight and nimble the Tucana II can be configured to suit the needs of local authorities and dial-a-ride operations.
Steve Reeves from the WNL business development team explained to Mr. Green that the Tucana will be produced in a ‘compact’ form to help creative strategies that use Private Hire operators to support lower value and disconnected routes.
The Tucana II bus can be configured as a Big-Taxi under 3.5 Tonnes GVW with eight seats; it too will be DDA compliant.
Businesses such as RATP Dev and Arriva are now offering experimental on demand services such as Bristol’s Slide Project these services plan to deliver on demand services in an economical way. They are a premonition of future service provision. We are well on the way to meeting Big-Taxi DDA compliant products in both diesel and electric.
Mr. Green fully understands the challenges facing business in the public sector, and was supportive of WNL strategy to pick up the challenge to provide leading and relevant products to the emerging MaaS market.
Mr. Green and the WNL team also discussed Mr. Green’s role on the Science and Technology committee. Initiatives are being run by Innovate and the Centre for Connected and Autonomous vehicles to help enabling technologies and the businesses that deliver them such as WNL. This is important because the local and national economy are dependent upon significantly improving the ability to transport goods and people by utilising the emerging electric drive and communication technologies. There is a real opportunity to provide sustainable improvements in this area for business and transport users. Mr. Green was pleased to see an energetic company based in the North West and in touch with its markets,
“It was fantastic to hear about Woodall Nicholson’s exciting plans for the future and see first-hand their manufacturing base in Westhoughton, as well as two of their brand new buses.
“This is a thriving world-class business with a long and successful history. I was particularly impressed with their plans to adapt and innovate for new and emerging markets.”
Mr. Green also looks forward to meeting the team again in April and to be one of the first to see a new electric 16 seat bus designed by Mellor.
Group Marketing Manager