Last week, Rosenbauer previewed its new Commander chassis in a ride-and-drive event for more than 300 invited guests. As I wandered among the crowd, I had the opportunity to chat with emergency vehicle technicians, fleet managers, fire chiefs and dealers about the fire-apparatus industry.
An EVT from Canada explained how his department members had participated in discussions a couple years ago with Rosenbauer personnel in which they offered their input on how to create a better chassis for the fire and emergency services. I asked the EVT what he expected from a chassis. He replied that he expected it to be “complete, thorough and effective.”
“When you make a chassis, you’re designing a battleship — it’s got to be ready for war,” he said.
It was just about 10 years ago that Rosenbauer — then a global leader in fire and emergency equipment and based in Austria — first began producing heavy-duty ARFF vehicles in Minnesota. Through acquisitions, the company expanded to also produce a range of fire trucks in the U.S. Today, Rosenbauer currently has 11 manufacturing locations worldwide, four of which are located in the United States.
According to one of the Rosenbauer dealers I spoke with, a couple years ago Rosenbauer brought in some of the leading fire apparatus experts in the U.S. to begin designing a new, high-end chassis. Rosenbauer staff went out across North America and held meetings with mechanics, technicians, officers and chiefs to find out what they would like to see in the new chassis. And more than one attendee said Rosenbauer really listened.
As word leaked out about the new venture, Spartan Motors — the leading chassis supplier in the U.S. fire industry — made the decision to stop selling its chassis to any fire-truck manufacturer that produced its own chassis. According to Bill Foster, vice president of , a number of apparatus manufacturers, including FMC and Grummond, would sell a fire truck based on the , but then switch to their own brand of chassis at a lower cost. Spartan issued the restriction to minimize “bait-and-switch” sales.
“[OEMs] that build their own chassis can’t buy a Spartan,” Foster said. I asked Foster if he thought the decision would hurt Spartan’s chassis business. “The people who follow us, stay with us,” he said. “They may go, but they come back because it’s all about the design, the satisfaction and the parts.”
Ultimately, one more chassis in the market will offer more options for fire departments, and more options can only mean more improvements and, hopefully, safer vehicles across the industry.
It’s been a fairly quiet, steady growth for Rosenbauer in America, but I suspect that’s changing. Rosenbauer recently received a $318 million order for over 1,125 fire vehicles for the Saudi Arabian Ministry of the Interior — 300 of which will be built in Lyons, S.D., on the new Commander chassis.
I asked the Canadian EVT what he thought of the new Rosenbauer chassis. “Ask me in 10 years,” he said.