A life with coaches

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It was a Derek Randall Jonckheere-bodied Scania K112 like this that introduced Bob Nevitt to the Scania marque. FRANS ANGEVAARE

Bob Nevitt retires from Scania on April 5 after four decades in coaching. As he explains to Andy Izatt, working in the industry has not only brought him enormous pleasure and satisfaction, he’s got to know some wonderful people

“I’ve really enjoyed working for Scania for the past 24 years,” said Bob Nevitt, Scania (GB)’s General Manager Customer Support. “It’s a great company that’s very conscientious about looking after its employees, but it’s important to know when the time has come to move on. The technology, the systems, the way the industry is – it just doesn’t feel like it used to and for me, that moment has come.”

Ambition nurtured

“I clearly remember the moment I decided I wanted to be a coach driver,” Bob continued. “I must have been about five years old at the time and I was on my knees in church supposedly praying but actually dreaming of driving a coach.

“We lived in Birmingham. Our Dad didn’t have a car, but every month he would purchase tickets at the newsagents so we as a family could go on a day out with Stockland Green Coaches of Erdington. In those days it would be a reason to dress up and I would be in my best short trousers, long socks and shiny shoes. We were one of the first pick ups and I used to love boarding through the centre door in the hope of being able to sit at the front next to the driver who would be dressed in a white coat and have his thrupenny bit hat on. It was just another world.”

Bob continued to nurture an ambition to be a coach driver and after a few years ‘on the spanners’ in the motor industry, achieved his ambition to obtain his PSV licence in the late 1970s. He worked for two coach operators in the southeast, but having enjoyed driving a couple of tours abroad, was bitten by that ‘bug’.

“Derek Randall was the place for European work,” he said. “When I was sent an application form, I was also sent a brochure with a picture on the front cover of the Tottenham Hotspur football team standing in front of a DAF Jonckheere Bermuda. I thought I’ll have some of that. The coach I was to be allocated was a Jonckheere P50-bodied Scania K112, which was brilliant and it marked the beginning of my long association with Scania.

“When I first started at Randall’s I was second driver to a guy called Alec Mutter who had the first of that batch of Scanias. In those days the nearest Scania agent was in Milton Keynes so that’s where it had to be taken for servicing. My first time driving it was on the journey back to London and I’d never driven a coach with so much power and torque before.”

Tri-axle Irizar PB-bodied Scanias were impressive vehicles. Ashton Coaches of St Helens bought this 46-seat K124EB in 2004 seen two years later at Royal Ascot. ANDY IZATT

People to remember

Bob’s driving career continued to be London-based until he moved back to the West Midlands to work for tour company, Hoverland Travel. He was there for four years and thoroughly enjoyed the experience of being on the ‘other side of the fence.’

“It was 1993 and I and a couple of friends went to the annual industry trade show at the NEC (National Exhibition Centre). It was the year that Scania Bus & Coach launched the Irizar Century and I knew a guy who worked there, Paul Chapman (now Scania (GB) Product Manager – Bus & Coach) who introduced me to Sales Manager, Ian Hall who was looking for a salesman. I’d never sold anything in my life, but we had a chat. I was then interviewed by Ian and Managing Director Don MacIntosh at Worksop and I started on January 4, 1994. I had to pinch myself. I couldn’t believe my luck. [wlm_nonmember][…]

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[/wlm_nonmember] [wlm_ismember]

“When I started at Scania, Steve Lambert (now Scania (GB) General Manager Used Bus & Coach) had recently joined and it wasn’t long after that Martin West (Scania (GB) Sales Director New Bus & Coach since July 2017) was recruited for ‘front of house’ dealing with customers who came to Worksop to see what was available.

“The three of us have stayed with Scania through all the changes that have happened over the past quarter of a century. Steve continues to work hard to successfully develop the used side while Martin, who is particularly good at understanding the company’s systems and procedures, will do a wonderful job in his new role leading new bus and coach sales.

“Ian Hall and Don MacIntosh were great mentors in my early years as was Geoff Bell who became Scania Bus & Coach Managing Director at the beginning of 2001. There was also a raft of customers who I got to know really well and had the upmost respect for – people like Peter O’Neill, Steve Telling, David Luckett, Leon Douglas and his sons Robert and Andrew at Leons of Stafford, Dave Morris of DRM and Fred Marshall at Leighton Buzzard-based Marshall’s, but there were many others, some of whom have become personal friends.

“Initially I was given the eastern counties to look after, but Steve Broom who covered the West Midlands and North Wales left and as I was a Brummie, I was given that area instead. It didn’t matter where it was. I loved what I was doing because I like socialising and it was very satisfying when someone bought a vehicle. I enjoyed the competitive camaraderie between the salesmen.

“All these years later, I can still remember it as if it was yesterday and it’s because of times like that that I loved this industry so much.

“You develop some outstanding friendships. One former operator who now sells coaches still reminds me of the time when I sold him a Van Hool without a toilet. I’d called him and told him that I had a great motor with his name all over it. We did the deal over the phone and he got someone to collect it.

York Pullman is one of the first UK customers for the latest Irizar i6s Scania combination. With a fleet of more than 100 vehicles based at York, Strensall, Boroughbridge and Market Weighton, the CoachMarque accredited company is also a member of the Guide of British Coach Operators. ANDY IZATT

“Later that day, the phone rang. ‘This Van Hool you’ve sold me,’ he said. ‘Since when have I bought a vehicle without a toilet?’ I said: ‘I can’t think. He said: ‘That’s funny because I’ve bought one now.’ I said: ‘I told you it was a 53-seater. You never asked if it was a 53-seater with a toilet. You’ll make use of it.’ He said: ‘I don’t have much choice now. I’ve paid for it.’ I promised I’d do him a good deal on the next one and we had a laugh about it only the other day.

“I must be the only salesman who has refused to sell a vehicle to a customer. It was someone who had bought a lot of vehicles off me over the years. I said to him: ‘I want you to be here for more years to come. I’m not going to jeopardise that for the sake of one extra deal that I don’t think you should be doing. If you want to go somewhere else I’ll take that risk, but at least my conscience will be clear.’ He didn’t buy one and when I saw him 12 months later he hold me it was the best thing I’d ever done for him.

Different times

“Irizar has had to change with the times like everybody else,” pointed out Bob. “It has a duty to be successful for its co-operative – to maintain its place in the market. That’s a challenge because there are always competitors trying to take its place.

“What I’ve always admired about Irizar is that it’s a very forward thinking company and I’ve never yet come across a builder that can go from a blank piece of paper to a finished product so quickly. The Century was a leap into the future when it first came out. We had been so used to box-shaped coaches up to that time.

“When the PB was introduced, it was way ahead of its time even by its manufacturer’s own standards. Arup in Warwickshire was responsible for the design and getting an independent design house involved in that way was a big leap just in itself.

“Jose Aizpuru was Export Director when I first started at Scania – a wonderful man and so passionate. Irizar is a wonderful builder and I think a lot of the people there. Like any family, we’ve had our ups and downs, but we’re still together and the Irizar product continues to be our biggest seller. I can’t see any reason why that would change.

New to Happy Days, Stafford in 2012, a 51-seat OmniExpress-bodied Scania K400EB photographed in Park Lane, London. ANDY IZATT

“There have been some great times, but the industry has changed and it had to. Working for a manufacturer, I know how much of the price of a new vehicle goes into research and development. It has to because legislation is changing that quickly. Like previous emissions limits, Euro 6 came at a cost. It doesn’t just happen. It has to be developed and there’s a vast amount of work that goes into that.

“With automatic gearboxes, vehicles are much easier to drive than they used to be, but drivers have a lot more to cope with on the road now. I think everyone is under more pressure and that’s made the world a much more demanding place.

“In my current job as General Manager Customer Support there has been more pressure in some ways because I’m usually dealing with issues and problems, but when I created the post with Tony Tomsett, (now Scania (GB) Sales Director – Used Vehicles, but Sales Director – Bus, Coach & Engines for seven years until last June) it was because we felt that we needed to provide more support to customers after the vehicle was delivered. It was about investing in our product offering to make sure that they felt happy with the experience.

“I’ve had a great time in the industry. I’ve met some lovely people and had the opportunity to make some wonderful friends. Once I’ve retired I’m going to tour Europe for a few months in my Volkswagen camper. Who knows what I’ll do after that. As I said at the beginning it’s a new chapter. It’s exciting.”[/wlm_ismember]