It’s only in recent years that Pelican Engineering has come to the attention of coach and bus operators. But its history goes back a lot further: It celebrates its centenary in 2019
Service and support from vehicle manufacturers and suppliers is key to buyers, regardless of whether those operators are small and run coaches or large and run buses. That’s one of the areas where Pelican Engineering has excelled in its burgeoning partnership with Yutong.
Their collaboration is five years old. Yutong is the world’s largest coach and bus manufacturer and its first vehicle for the UK arrived in 2014. Since then it has taken orders from two operators here for electric buses and achieved the milestone of delivering the country’s first zero-emission coach.
In the core diesel coach market, the marque quickly developed a solid following. It counts many well-known operators as repeat customers. Pelican has unquestionably been the catalyst for that success, but the West Yorkshire firm’s history predates its relationship with Yutong by many decades.
Pelican was founded in 1919 by Ernest Crump. His grandson, current MD Richard Crump, is the third generation to head the business. Richard took the reins in 1996 from his father Bob, who remains a well-known face at the Castleford premises.
Ernest founded Pelican after he was discharged from the armed forces. He served in the 62nd Signals Regiment during the First World War. The regimental mascot was a pelican, hence the name adopted for the business.
A varied history
Pelican had acted as an agent for engine manufacturer Gardner and on behalf of a number of vehicle OEMs at various periods until Yutong joined the fray.
It is still a service provider for DAF and MAN, and it has been named the country’s best by both manufacturers for each of the past two years. It carries out a reasonable amount of service work on MAN-powered coaches and can do the same for those with DAF engines.
A focus on customer service comes from the days when Pelican was a Foden dealer. Parallels exist between that era and the current arrangement with Yutong, says Richard.
“We sold Fodens mainly to small, family operators. The product was what it was in a competitive market, so our strategy was to de-risk the purchase by offering customers excellent backup.
“It is easy for us to say that service is part of our DNA, but the best method of bringing a vehicle to market is by offering excellent support. That’s what we have done our utmost to replicate with Yutong.”
For DAF and MAN, both of which have extensive dealer networks, Pelican provides coverage in a compact geographic area. It’s different with Yutong; Pelican is the UK’s exclusive supplier of the Chinese marque, which calls for a different approach.
“It is more difficult to deliver the same level of service on a nationwide level than it is locally. What was very much in our favour with Yutong from the start was that we have never had a product from it that is unreliable,” says Richard.
That Yutong’s coach range was comparatively narrow to begin with also helped Pelican as it built the brand in the UK. It started with just the TC9 and the TC12. That line-up has expanded to include the high-specification GT12 and the zero-emission TCe12, and it will grow further in due course.
Thus far, the 9.4m TC9 has accounted for the majority of retail sales. That, says Richard, is down to an element of ‘right place, right time’ luck, but it’s also down to Yutong delivering a product that is popular with drivers and passengers – plus, of course, the dealer’s support.
Pelican is well placed to draw a contrast between the service expectations of coach operators and companies in the freight sector.
They are quite different, says Richard. Hauliers routinely operate at 100% capacity with no spare vehicles. In coaching that is different, and even smaller companies often have unused provision.
“The average expectation of a coach operator is less than that of a haulier,” he explains. “To a certain extent that is logical. The size of the overall lorry fleet allows more dealers. A coach manufacturer with 100 locations in the UK would be going nowhere.”
Even so, Pelican’s aftersales arm supports Yutong operators 24/7. Parts are dispatched on a same- or next-day basis, a level of coverage that has been propagated by the immediate popularity of the TC9.
“That caught us by surprise,” says Sales Manager Bob Elliott. “When we first went to Zhengzhou, we looked at the volumes that other European Yutong importers had achieved. We wanted to equal them, so we settled on 10 coaches in the first year. We didn’t dare go any higher.
“Five years down the line, we’re about to deliver coach number 500. What worked for us was the explosion in sales in the 9m segment. The Mercedes-Benz Vario was about to be discontinued and the TC9 captured a lot of that demand.”
Another model that has excelled since its introduction is the GT12. It has been designed from the start as a high-end tourer for European buyers, and it has opened doors to new customers for Pelican. Most importantly, and like the TC9, it is already encouraging repeat business.
“When I came here for a summer job before going to university my father instructed me to get in the car and visit various other dealers around the country,” says Richard.
“The first one I went to was at Charnwood in Leicestershire. The Dealer Principal there told me something that has stayed with me ever since: The best advert for any vehicle is a second one.
“We have always believed in getting vehicles into the market and allowing people to view them and drive them. It breeds confidence. Other operators then see that they have gone through a credible decision-making process before buying.”
Further benefiting the overall purchasing process is the Yutong showroom at Pelican’s Castleford site. Land for it was purchased in 2015, although construction did not begin until 2017 owing to uncertainty following the Brexit vote.
Yutong remains committed to diesel-powered coaches. The TC9 uses the well-proven Cummins ISB6.7 engine that has greatly benefited from an increase in power to 320bhp, while the TC12 and GT12 come with the DAF MX-11.
But it is also at the forefront of a move towards alternative energy sources. For the short- to medium-term that means battery power. It is the central plank of Yutong’s bus range and has also debuted in two TCe12s for Westway Coaches. The electric driveline used is the same, but axle ratios are different to give easier high-speed cruising in the TCe12.
“I spent a long time looking at Yutong’s electric technology and I am convinced that it will become a major player in the UK EV market. We haven’t seen a single breakdown among our demonstrator electric buses since the first arrived in 2016,” says Richard.
“That gave me the confidence to recruit Ian Downie to head our bus activity. As a family, we have always believed that the best people deliver the best results.”
Ian concentrates entirely on electric bus sales. 24 are on the board so far, to Go North East and Newport Transport. Richard is confident that more will follow.
Key to the floodgates opening will be a zero-emission double-decker. Development has slowed slightly from what Pelican initially predicted, but it expects that a demonstrator will arrive by the end of 2020.
Pelican has enjoyed its first 100 years. It has grown from a small business into one that employs 175 people, it has won awards for the service quality that it delivers and most recently it has taken Yutong from an unknown brand in the UK to a major market player.
There is every reason to believe that things will continue in that vein. Pelican’s whole sales operation is now geared around the Chinese brand, and it is creating a market for electric coaches to sit alongside its zero-emission buses.
“We have worked with a lot of manufacturers since my grandfather founded the business, but our future is now absolutely linked with Yutong,” says Richard.
“It is a manufacturer that has a lower cost base than most others and it has every conceivable technology in its armoury. It’s not to be take lightly.” And neither is Pelican.