Restructuring Operations

abcIn the late 1950s, Clancy Cornell began buying and sell­ing pre-owned buses to help subsidize his small company. By the 1970s, ABC Bus was achieving much more success in this area than in operating a commuter bus line. In 1974, the company ceased operation of its service routes and went into selling and servicing pre-owned buses full time. “It took me the better part of 16 years to figure out that it was a whole lot easier and more profitable to buy and sell buses than to operate them,” Clancy Cornell told the Minneapolis Star Tribune in 1997.

In addition to servicing and selling pre-owned buses, the company also entered the leasing business, leasing buses it had previously used on its operating lines.

With this new direction, ABC Cos. began expanding rapidly. All sections of the company – the service business, pre-owned bus business and used bus leasing business – were doing well, and the company expanded its reach across the United States, opening facilities in California, Florida, New Jersey and Texas.

In the mid-1980s, Clancy Cornell felt ABC should offer new buses in addition to refurbished models. According to Ron Cornell, bus manufacturing in the United States at that time was a small industry, dominated by two domestic manufacturers. So ABC looked outside of the country for a bus manufacturer, and found one in Van Hool, based in Lier, Belgium.

Van Hool was looking to expand into the U.S. market, but needed an intermediary that was familiar with the North American bus ind­ustry. In 1987, the two companies reached an agreement that would make ABC the North American distributor of Van Hool buses.

“That first year we sold 15 [Van Hool] buses,” Ron Cornell says. “We had zero market share. Last year we were up to 42 percent market share for the private market.” Cornell says the company ranks No. 1 in U.S. pre-owned bus sales, and is the largest financing company among bus manufacturers and distributors.

ABC offers its customers luxury coaches and commuter coaches. Cornell says ABC’s customers range from “small bus owners that operate one coach, to Coach USA, the largest tour bus operator in the country.” In addition, the company offers shell coaches for the motor home and entertainer market. These are empty of all interior furniture and equipment, and allow the customers to design the interior conversion.

In 2003, ABC will bring in two new low-floor transit bus models from Van Hool: a 40-foot-long model with three doors (front, center and back), and a 60-foot-long model, with four doors – one in front, two in the middle and one in the rear. Both models feature low floors throughout, to meet Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requirements. “Every municipal transit bus bought today with government funds has to be ADA compliant,” Cornell says. “It’s a relatively new technology in the United States, but Van Hool is one of the pioneers in the development of low-floor transit buses.”

Another new line offered by ABC is the M1000, a mid-sized coach “for operators who don’t need to buy a 45-foot coach,” Cornell says. The company partnered with General Coach of America, Imlay, Mich., a division of Thor Industries, the largest mid-size bus manufacturer in North America. Together the companies will develop the private-label M1000 to fill the mid- to small-bus market. Dane Cornell, Ron’s brother and ABC Cos. executive vice president, heads the M1000 project.