Bus Industry News, Seats, Technology

McConnell continues building on local manufacturing expertise

Throughout a history that spans more than 70 years in Australia, McConnell Seats has forged a reputation as a leading bus and coach seat manufacturer. Its unique qualities as a local business is set to propel it forward once more in the coming years.

For a transport seating company that was founded all the way back in 1952 to still be operational means they must be doing something right. If they have managed to do so while remaining at the top of the Australian bus and coach market, they’re a unique powerhouse.

For 71 years, McConnell Seats has been a powerhouse in the local transport seating game, providing a wide range of high-quality seats for buses and coaches. It may have come from traditional roots, but its ability to evolve and master new seating technologies has been a key reason to its dominant status over the best part of the past century.

“McConnell is a longstanding manufacturer of seating for the Australian bus and coach industry,” McConnell Seats Australia general manager James Lowe told ABC.

“When Jim McConnell started the business in 1952, it was basically a motor trimming business in Coburg, Victoria. We’ve been around for a long time and continue to support the industry 70 years in.”

McConnell’s longevity as a seating provider for buses makes it a mainstay of the local bus and coach industry. Its continued quality of seats has impressed the likes of Moreland Bus Lines, its very first customer, who still purchases McConnell seats to this day.

Lowe says a unique part of McConnell’s operations has to do with its local manufacturing process that includes building machines to design and complete McConnell’s latest seating models in-house.

This forethought means McConnell can fabricate, weld and produce its own foam while also making its own seat covers. In a market filled with overseas imports, this ability to manufacture in its own premises makes McConnell unique.

This has developed through the decades, with McConnell also having its own in-house powder coating system that means the manufacturer makes the seating frame, the legs, wall mounts, foam and just about anything else associated with the seat.

“We’ve always been an in-house manufacturer that engineers and designs our own parts and make them for all of our seats,” Lowe says.

 

“Being a manufacturer allows us to maintain a four-week lead time from order placement to the completion of the seat to keep customers satisfied. We now also have a robotic welding cell and pattern cutters for our fabric to make us heavily automated.

“We think there’s more automation to come to give us improved quality and productivity in our manufacturing processes.”

These capabilities mean expansion has been natural to McConnell. After solidifying itself as a member of the transport seating market, the second generation, led by Denis McConnell, took over leadership of the business in the 1970s. Over this period of great growth, the family business found its niche in the bus and coach industry before selling the business to the APM Automotive Group in 2014.

Lowe says the sale allowed McConnell to build heavily upon its foundation of honesty and integrity while also enhancing its strategy to maintain its Australian design and manufacturing processes.


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Following this change of ownership, McConnell Seats purchased the Locomotive Seats Australia business in Queensland in 2016 to further expand into the national rail market before also moving to its current location of Broadmeadows, Victoria, in 2017.

With sales offices also set up in New South Wales through commercial manager Les Holden, McConnell continued its expansion in 2021 when it opened a facility in Bayswater, Western Australia, to supply and service the upcoming generation of C-series trains for Perth’s Metronet project.

This conscious decision to expand is already paying off for the seating giant.

“We’re now proud to have three sites up and running where we manufacture our own seats,” Lowe says.

“We’ve now got most states and territories in Australia covered from a manufacturing or a sales and support point of view.”

Since selling to APM Group, McConnell has placed emphasis on growing its aftersales and support network around the country. Lowe says the motive behind this expansion was to reward the many loyal customers of the McConnell brand throughout the decades.

“We know that our quality of seats has always been high, so we wanted to continue to support our products in the local market,” he says.

“There’s operators who have been very loyal to the brand, so we like to think by growing our network that we are being loyal back to them.”

This network now means McConnell has another feature that its competition doesn’t in a national sales team. Darcy Grant covers Queensland and New South Wales while the Victorian team, led by Matt Arthur, tend to sales queries from Tasmania, South Australia and Western Australia.

All of this will come in handy when McConnell prepares to launch its next generation range of seat models into the Australian market. The manufacturer’s intent to design and release a completely new range of seatbelted bus seats was put on hold when COVID-19 first hit Australia.

 

Now, McConnell is ready to resume the process and push the seat into production as early as next year.

“When COVID hit, we had the Capex approval to develop this new range, but it was pulled,” Lowe says.

“We’re now back on our feet as a business so we can reignite this new range.

“The benchmarking and styling is done, so we’re just moving onto the detailed design phase now before we begin testing and moving into production for the Australasian market.”

Alongside this new range is an investment of $1.5 million into new production lines that continue to manufacture its own foam in-house, with a new carousel also being manufactured currently.

As a long-standing supporter of the Bus Industry Confederation (BIC) and state associations and an employer of more than 90 people around Australia, McConnell has shown it is a local business that is dedicated to improving the country’s bus and coach industry.

When its new carousel is commissioned at the end of this year, expect McConnell to be yet again at the forefront of Australian bus and coach seat technology as a local manufacturer of the newest range of seatbelted seats.

“We’re trying to vertically integrate as much as we can within the business,” Lowe says.

“This will allow us to design our comfort profile for the seats in-house as we can design the tools and do the comfort analysis based on seat designs.

“It’s a really exciting time for the seating market and we’re keen to release this new generation of seats for Australian operators.”

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