Established for almost sixty years and now a third-generation family business, Imperial Engineering is one of the leading distributors of OEM parts to the bus and coach sector. As the UK approaches two years of living with Covid-19, Imperial’s Sales Director, John Dwight, gives his assessment of the pandemic’s impact and the sector’s recovery:
“There’s no question that the pandemic has been the most challenging period for the bus and coach industry in a generation but looking back, we also faced a double whammy with the UK’s exiting of the EU at the end of 2020, so it was a tumultuous time for operators and suppliers.
“In November 2020, Imperial made the decision to increase stock levels by over 30% to ensure a ‘state of readiness’ in the event of a Brexit ‘no deal’ scenario, so that we were able to continue to support customers with their parts requirements in the event of supply issues.
“That decision turned out to be a good one, as even though a trade agreement was finally reached with the EU, subsequent border delays on shipments of imported parts since 1 January 2021 has, unsurprisingly, meant price rises. However, by increasing our stockholding on a number of higher volume product lines, we’ve been able to mitigate against risks to our supply chain. Ultimately, for our customers, this has meant that Imperial has always remained open for business and we were quick to instigate a ‘Covid secure’ operation, as was the whole industry.
“As the sector adapted to communicating via online video platforms during periods of lockdown and social restrictions, keeping an open channel with our operator customers and suppliers became increasingly important, so that we could ensure that fleets were kept fully operational. Imperial’s expert team really stepped up to the plate in providing advice and support to customers, many of which were facing significant financial and operational challenges.
“I think the resilience of the industry is something we can all be proud of. Despite the pandemic, there has been steady progress in the move towards more sustainable fleets with the introduction of both full electric and hydrogen-fuelled buses and coaches, which is highly commendable. Similarly, research suggests that passengers are returning and rating bus and coach travel as preferable to rail, so there are good reasons for optimism during 2022.
“Imperial Engineering has been a firm advocate of OEM parts for many years now and moving forwards, our flag is firmly nailed to the OEM mast. In our extensive experience, the quality of the products stand up much better than some of the remanufactured parts we’ve come across but I must make it clear that OE remanufacturing bears no resemblance to other remanufactured products in the market. The key distinction is that OEMs only have one quality standard, whether it’s brand new or remanufactured. I think that remanufacturing has had a bit of a bad name within the bus and coach industry and in part, that’s because there are varying standards of remanufacturing out there, so the quality can vary. What we see on OEM remanufactured products is one consistent quality standard, and more often than not, that part is manufactured on the same production line as the new OEM product.
“Considering the financial impact that Covid-19 has had on operators, it’s understandable that OEM remanufactured products have since become very attractive, particularly in the bus market, as operators look at ways in which costs can be reduced, without compromising on quality.
“Offered with the same warranty, quality assurance and backing of the OEMs, we sell these products with confidence and it’s our role as a distributor to understand and respond to the pressures that operators are facing. If we can reduce their costs without compromising on quality, then it’s our duty to provide cost-efficient advice, which is how we’ve built up our reputation for service over half a century. In fact, we are currently offering three ranges of OEM remanufactured brake calipers and these have proven more popular than the brand-new versions, which is clearly testament to the quality of those parts. Cost savings vary from product to product but can amount to between 20-40% depending on the unit, so there’s potentially a significant saving over a year, particularly on fleets with high usage.
“As we move to a wider take-up of zero-emission buses and coaches, which will accelerate in 2022, we don’t yet know what the full implications are for aftersales in terms of their maintenance and repair but early indications are that for battery-electric buses, the maintenance requirement is less than the diesel equivalent. There is clear momentum towards achieving sustainable transport, so we continue to adapt our offering to ensure that we can help operators deliver greener services to communities.
“Speaking of momentum, I am optimistic that we are now on the road to recovery and expect that intercity travel will bounce back and there will strong demand this summer for domestic coach holidays. It’s such an important contributor to the UK economy that I firmly believe it will come back stronger and Imperial will be here to support operators however we can.”
Imperial Engineering is a primary distributor for Knorr-Bremse, Wabco, Haldex, Meritor, Bosch, TMD Friction, ZF, Dana and PSS products and holds both the ISO 9001:2015 certification for Quality Management Systems and Silver FORS Accreditation.