Words Antonio Mazzucchelli and Bartek Radzimski
Photo Antonio Mazzucchelli
Having featured in our last issue an extensive introduction into Japanís largest RV Manufacturer, Nuts RV Co., Ltd., this time we visited their main production facility located in Kita-Kyushu, the most northern city of Japanís third largest island. Mr. Araki, CEO of Nuts RV, gave us an insightful tour of their vehicle and panel production facilities and explained the next targets in their rapid growth plan.
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. Araki: Our companyís product range includes models in the Bus Conversion to Kei-Camper segments, therefore, we cover all segments relevant in the Japanese Market. We pride ourselves with making the first fully color coordinated and functional aluminum body camping car in Japan. Our best seller is the Cab-Conversion model called CREA (meaning CREATE in Italian). Our production in 2020 will be 1,000 units and we aim to grow to 3,600 in the next 5 years.
Aboutcamp BtoB: About the vehicle line-up, how often does your company renew the model offering? Could you explain minor and full model change?
Mr. Araki: For the vehicles in our model range, we announce new models every 1-3 years. Minor changes in specification and appearance are happening every year. A full model change will involve changing the base molds with a completely new skeleton and major design changes adopted for the body and frame. This kind of full model change usually occurs every 6-8 years.
Aboutcamp BtoB: How much flexibility does the end-user have when ordering the vehicle and how is that managed in the production?
Mr. Araki: Usually, the customer will be asked to select from the lineup, however, we accommodate some customization, especially in our high-end models. We also have experience in special vehicles where we can handle small lots. To give you an example, at the moment we are involved in designing and manufacturing TV Broadcast, Mobile Surveillance and Fire Department Mobile Command vehicles. Although this is not our main focus, our philosophy is aimed at meeting the demands of our customers as best as we can.
Aboutcamp BtoB: Could you explain how your team balances challenging design vs. production feasibility?
Mr. Araki: As is true today, we are implementing the PDCA cycle. I donít know what the difficult design is, but if it suits the needs of our customers, if there are a lot of demands, we will work without problems. I think that the problem here is the cost, but we do not cost much because we are in-house from design to development to construction. The time from designing to manufacturing one vehicle can be completed in about 6 months at the earliest, and the development cost is about labor cost and material cost.
It takes a while to mass produce.
Aboutcamp BtoB: Could you give us and overview of your companyís production concept, facilities and process?
Mr. Araki: Our aim is making cars that fit the Japanese market needs. We have to take into consideration the fact that Japan, a developed country, has no roots in car-based tourism, roads are narrow, there are four relevant seasons for travel and demand for customer service is very high. More precisely, vehicle width has to be under 2,100 mm to fit the narrow Japanese roads and due to parking lot size, 5 m vehicle length is ideal. The highly popular habit of taking daily baths is unparalleled with other countries but solved with endless number of hot springs; eliminating the need for such amenities in the RV. Diversity in culinary menus create region-specific foods and dishes, consequently eating out is part of the charm of domestic travel. With this and LPG difficult to refill, elaborate kitchens are not practical. One challenge that continues is the increasing demand for electricity caused by lack of LPG and rising demand for AC. In summer, temperature can exceed 40∞C, so we typically install three lead-acid batteries to operate the AC roughly 5 to 6 hours. We have also patented ìEvoliteî System which is addresses several solutions in battery usage and management. Our vehicle design reflects such market realities and requirements. Looking from abroad, our vehicles may appear compact in size, but they actually meet the requirements of our market.
Aboutcamp BtoB: Could you explain the product and vehicle production flow in your production process?
Mr. Araki: Our manufacturing is made up of two key processes divided between three factories. In addition to our Kita-Kyushu factory, we also have a factory in Dalian, China and Cebu, Philippines. At those factories, we produce the living space of the camper. After the shells and furniture are completed, we ship them to Japan. Here we combine the shells with the base vehicle and complete the equipment installation. About 5 years ago, we decided to switch our shell from a monocoque shell to panel based one. We are the only manufacturer doing this in Japan, and we continue to improve our process. A recent investment into further automation of our panel manufacturing allows us to produce panels with higher speed and quality. At the moment, we are still stabilizing the technology, so the equipment is located in Japan; however, we plan to transfer the panel manufacturing to our foreign factories in the near future.
Aboutcamp BtoB: What is the background of locating the main factory in Kita-Kyushu?
Mr. Araki: Our company was founded here, so it is natural that the main factory is also here. Kita-Kyushu, although not so well known internationally, is often referred to as the ìGateway to Asia.î This area actually offers a great work/life balance. Being a manufacturing hub, there are many opportunities for companies like ours to receive government subsidies. Talent pool is also there thanks to nearby manufactures like Toto, Yasukawa Electric, Zenrin and First Traffic. Being moderately rural, quality of life is quite high while rent, labor cost, etc. are reasonable. Lastly, with easy bullet train access and Tokyo 2 hours by plane and many direct flights to Asia, I really think that our factory has a great strategic location.
Aboutcamp BtoB: How many square meters are your HQ and factories at the moment? How many people does your company employ?
Mr. Araki: Our headquarter sand factory is 14,000 m2 including office, production and warehouse areas. We employ about 160 employees and 60 are white collar while 100 are factory related blue collar workers.
Aboutcamp BtoB: How do you see these numbers grow in the next 3-5 years? Do you see the main growth in your foreign or domestic factories?
Mr. Araki: My prediction is that the market will grow steadily without any negative effects of Corona Virus. As for Nuts RV, we aim to increase production capacities 3.5 times over the next 5 years. The main challenge in reaching this goal will be the further development of the domestic RV market and its infrastructure. As for Nuts RVís growth overseas, we have had offers from about 20 companies that participated in exhibitions in China, however, I am still looking for a partner there. Our factory in the Philippines will expand in Southeast Asia, but I expect that it will play a bigger role in special vehicle manufacturing rather than campers. We are actually currently planning a relocation and large investments there.
Aboutcamp BtoB: What are your biggest challenges with regards to the production at the moment?
Mr. Araki: Nuts RV is currently building up our experience in mass production and this is a big challenge. We continue to learn as we grow and have hired several advisor and employees who formerly worked for Toyota. Additionally, finding and retaining talent is a common challenge for most companies in Japan these days and our resources have recently been challenged further by the Corona Virus. Lastly, we continue to strive to improve on material management, supply chain management and overall financial management in these challenging times.
Aboutcamp BtoB: What do you see as your companyís next important production related milestone?
Mr. Araki: We have several milestones not only related to production. In terms of HR, the next milestone will be further human resource development and taking steps to make Nuts RV an attractive employer. This will help us attract new and motivated talent. We are also putting a significant effort into creating standardized processes, as well as, creating manuals for various aspects of our operation. These two steps will help us in our main challenge which is aimed at significantly increasing our production capacity. Our 5-year plan is 1,000 units in 2020, 2,000 units in 2023, and finally 3,600 units in 2025. Lastly, we are also taking steps to further develop the end-user market also. Further developing the RVing culture will be a benefit for the entire industry.