Words Antonio Mazzucchelli and Bartek Radzimski
Photo Antonio Mazzucchelli
In our March issue, we interviewed Mr. Akimoto, the Executive Sales Director of Vantech, one of Japan’s oldest RV Manufactures. For this article, we headed to the city of Yamagata which, located in the prefecture of the same name, is one of the largest cities of the Tohoku Region. Thanks to the warm reception, we could well understand how this manufacturer is producing it’s vehicles.
Aboutcamp BtoB: Could you give our readers a reminder about your product Line-up and best sellers? Also, about yearly production figures and future growth prospects?
Mr. Akimoto: During our company’s 30-year history, we have always focused on manufacturing camping cars focused on families. This has meant that our product has always resembled what most would consider a camping car fitting 4-5 person family use. In addition, as RVing is still a relatively new activity in Japan, our strategy has been to offer vehicles with high equipment rate as standard. At the moment, our best sellers are in the Cab Conversion category; the ZIL and the Corde models; both based on a 1.25 ton truck Toyota Camroad base vehicle and approximately 5m in size. Also, both having full size camping car shell as the living area.
Vantech is produced about 400 vehicles in 2019. We were on track to surpass these figures in this year, however, with the various challenges associated with the Corona Pandemic, it is difficult to predict how this year will turn out.
Aboutcamp BtoB: Could you give us a brief description of how you are dealing with the Corona Pandemic?
Mr. Akimoto: As a complete lockdown was never implemented in Japan, we have been able to produce, register and hand over vehicles throughout the first part of this year. As we typically have approximately 6 months of pre-orders in our books, this has kept our production busy. We have taken the government recommended steps inside our plant to assure employee safety already from the March, so we have not had any staff effected. The biggest challenge lays in the near future as many of our components are sourced from Europe and the suppliers there have been on shutdown. This will start to affect our component stock situation. Going forward, as all RV shows in Japan have been cancelled since March; our future orders are of course down. We know that the demand for RVs is strong in Japan; therefore, we hope to come out of this pandemic soon.
Aboutcamp BtoB: Moving on to the production process, could you give us and overview?
Mr. Akimoto: Yes, Vantech has two production sites; one in Thailand and one here in Yamagata in the Tohoku Region. In Thailand we carry out the labor-intensive production of the FRP shell and it’s interior. All of our furniture is also produced and assembled there. The completed FRP shells are then shipped to Yamagata in 40’ containers; two shells in each container. It takes about 3 weeks for the product to arrive here and once here, the mating to the base vehicle, electrical work, some component installation and customer specific options are assembled here.
Aboutcamp BtoB: How many square meters is your HQ and factory at the moment? How many employees?
Mr. Akimoto: Our HQ is located nearby Tokyo and including office and warehouse we have 1,400 m². In Thailand, our factory has 4,300 m² and here at the Yamagata Plant, we have 13,200m² including the production and warehouse. We employees about 180 employees total with approximately 50 white collar and the rest blue collar workers.
Aboutcamp BtoB: How do you see this capacity grow in the next 3-5 years?
Mr. Akimoto: Of course, this will depend on how the market rebounds post-Corona, however, recently our focus has been on reducing the production lead-time and eliminating bottlenecks in production. This is very important as most of our production is not to-stock; rather to-order. Currently, our lead-time is approximately 6 months and we would like to bring this down to at least 3.5 months. Decreasing this time frame will allow us to deliver vehicles to customers quicker, giving us an advantage over competition.
Aboutcamp BtoB: Talking about the products, how often do they renew your models?
Mr. Akimoto: It depends on the popularity of the vehicle, but approximately between 5 years. We often match the major model updates to coincide with the base vehicle updates and carry out minor changes in-between. As for the shell, we don’t update the shape of the shell so often, actually we are now considering the next timing of the shell update.
Aboutcamp BtoB: How’s the warranty? What is the market standard and how is your company addressing this?
Mr. Akimoto: We are quite confident in our design and production quality; therefore, we offer something that is rather unique in the Japanese RV Market, at two-year warranty on our vehicles and components. Of course, we are quite confident that our vehicles will offer many years of trouble-free service to our end-customers.