Secondly, KEA Manufacturing was established in 1995 in Auckland as part of KEA Campers. Grant Brady, one of the founding members of KEA was running the manufacturing side of the business. KEA was the first to design and build a two-berth shower/toilet campervan to put into the rental market in New Zealand. Up until then anyone looking to rent a campervan with a shower and toilet had to rent a larger four or six berth van, which was not what everyone wanted. I remember Grant telling me he was laughed at by a few of his peers in the rental industry at the time. “They all reckoned there would be no demand for a van conversion with a shower toilet.” How wrong they were – the two-berth campervan with a shower and toilet is nowadays a basic of every rental fleet in the country. That sort of outside-the-box forward thinking is what still drives Grant Brady today in his position as Managing Director of Action Manufacturing.
Action is a combination of these two iconic names within the RV industry in New Zealand. When the two businesses merged in 2012, it was partly as a result of the GFC (Global Financial Crisis), that saw a downturn in tourism and ultimately less demand for rental campers in New Zealand and Australia. This left two factories running well below capacity and put pressure on both their production facilities to remain viable and profitable. The result was that it brought these two businesses together to look at ways of maintaining a stronger manufacturing presence and ensuring continuation of large-scale manufacturing in New Zealand.
The merging of two businesses created several challenges. Not the least being a merging of cultures that needed to be addressed, not an easy undertaking at any time, in any business. Also, there were obviously the financials to sort out, but most important was trying to bring the best parts of the two businesses together while retaining a strong core base of good staff with experience and ideas.
Retaining good people is not easy when you move a factory from Hamilton to Auckland and ask staff to re-locate home and family. The move was the first thing that happened after the merger, when CI Munro moved their RV manufacturing from Te Rapa in Hamilton to Albany, Auckland where they set up shop in what is now Action’s head office. This was the original KEA factory in Albany that used to build KEA motorhomes and that now produces Maui, Britz and Mighty Motorhomes and Campervans for Tourism Holdings in both Australia and New Zealand. They also retained a smaller factory in Hamilton, and this facility has been building a wide variety of light commercial products, including all St John ambulances as well as mobile DHB dental and medical units for New Zealand and the islands.
The first three years were difficult for everyone involved, but by focusing on the people and improving processes through cycles of continuous improvement, the team at Action managed to slowly improve the overall business.
After four years the business was in great shape and was starting to go places through some innovative developments – including the production of a world-class composite panel and flooring system they called Omnipanel, and this was beginning to gain traction within an ever-growing range of products produced by the company.
Omnipanel is the result of 20+ years of development in the Australian refrigerated truck industry, and Action Manufacturing has now adapted this to its RV and light commercial vehicles. Omnipanel is a panelling system with a lightweight Styrofoam core bonded with European fibreglass that produces an exceptionally lightweight composite panel, greatly reducing overall weights. It also has incredible thermal characteristics, is very easy to repair, yet lightweight and extremely strong. “Many factories use composites, but invariably they are less commercially proven materials, often using open-cell polystyrene cores and simple hot melt gluing systems that haven’t had that rigorous use that trucking and other commercial applications require,” says Grant Brady. If you would like to know more about this great product check out www.omnipanel.co.nz
Action will celebrate its seventh birthday in February next year and is now going from strength to strength. It operates three factories, employs 250 staff, exports a range of products into Australia, and is proud to call themselves a large-scale New Zealand manufacturer and exporter.
And with the recent acquisition of 40-year-old refrigerated truck manufacturer Fairfax Industries, there will be some big changes in the refrigerated transport industry here as well as overseas with lighter and more efficient trucks that will help cut transport costs significantly.
Enter the Action EVERLAND: Albany is the base for the RV part of the Action business and the team there noticed the volume of European motorhome imports coming into New Zealand and realised that the merger of KEA and thl coinciding with the closure of several smaller New Zealand RV manufacturers had left a large vacuum in the NZ-manufactured motorhome market. It happened during a period when currency exchange rates favoured importers, as well as an incredible surge in demand for RV product across New Zealand.
In a nutshell, there are now fewer motorhomes being built locally than in previous years, and Action wants to help change that. Action’s response to the opportunity created by increased demand has been to begin investing in its own brand of motorhome for the local market. The Action EVERLAND has been designed to recapture some of the ground lost to imported RVs (mostly European) and they would like to see the EVERLAND reclaim a share of the local market and sit in a complementary way alongside some of the other New Zealand-made RV brands.
It’s not easy surviving as a manufacturer in an open-market country like New Zealand, and the team at Action are continually challenging themselves to improve efficiency and pricing. One of the real frustrations for Action is the ‘hilly playing field’ around certain regulations. Gas, engineering and electrical standards are not equally applied to imported RVs versus those that are locally built, meaning that thousands of dollars in additional costs are borne by local manufacturers whereas European builds do not need to comply to these New Zealand standards. Imported vehicles come in fully built and only go through a basic compliance procedure. Grant Brady comments, “We are not saying that imports are unsafe, that’s clearly not correct; our only beef is that they don’t have to comply equally with New Zealand made. It doesn’t sit well from a fairness perspective and it adds to our costs.”
Action do believe that they now have the scale and efficiency to compete, and that as they develop the Action EVERLAND brand – with keen pricing to compete with and match the look and feel of the imported products – they will have a combination that can develop a strong following in the local market.
In developing Action EVERLAND the design brief has been to use the new composite Omnipanel body to create a great looking unit, while retaining the excellent durability elements of a rental RV while providing a spare parts and backup service in New Zealand all at a competitive price. A key message is that with the EVERLAND, Action is not trying to compete with the bespoke builders like TrailLite or Diamond Motorhomes, who specialise in giving you a bespoke ‘all you want’ build, but is focusing instead on providing a good-looking, durable and functional vehicle at a very competitive price. It’s a mix of European good looks with a high-quality New Zealand build that’s going to last and look good.
The first floorplan has been built on a Renault chassis that has won plenty of awards in Europe. It’s fantastic to drive, with the best AMT (automated manual transmission) on the market, and plenty of power while managing great fuel efficiency. The Giltrap Spencer (GS) group of companies stand behind the Renault brand, so it will be well supported for mechanical servicing and spare parts. If you combine a full vehicle manufacturer’s warranty and support together with the availability of service and spare parts from Action, the NewZealand-made EVERLAND makes great sense. Over time the Action EVERLAND range will grow and offer a wider choice of options including both front- and rear-wheel drive, in both vans and motorhomes. The vision is to take the EVERLAND – plus more of what Action has to offer – to the rest of the world. “Anything that creates export opportunity and jobs for Kiwis has to be a good thing for everyone,” says Grant Brady.
Factory tours are welcomed by the Action team in Albany and can easily be arranged. “One of our key sales tools has been to show people how we build in detail and explain why we use certain products and the benefits that they offer. By showing people what and why we do certain things, people can really understand how the vehicles are built and why they stand out in such a crowded market,” says Grant Brady. “It’s really hard to choose between all the offerings in New Zealand these days, so digging below the surface and understanding how our production line works can be a great way of learning about RVs in general. Even if you don’t plan on buying an EVERLAND the Albany team believe it’s still worth a look behind the scenes and they would love to show you how Action can produce a new motorhome every two and a half hours.”
It’s an exciting time for Action to seriously re-enter the retail motorhome market. They are ready and believe the market is looking for well-priced NZ made. So, give them a call if you’d like to know more about the Action EVERLAND or would like to book a factory tour.