A forward-thinking producer of specialty vehicles since 1962, Turtle Top delivers superior aesthetics, safety and service to its growing marketplace. Pat Whiteman hops on board to take a look-see.
Passenger vans, transit vehicles, mid to full size buses, mobile command centers, limo coaches, custom vehicles, even prisoner transport units – Turtle Top of New Paris, and Goshen, Ind. turns out just about any kind of specialty vehicle you can dream up. And no matter what type of vehicle you order, Turtle Top’s Greenshield Protection will go inside. Each and every Turtle Top vehicle is designed, assembled and tested to meet the most stringent safety standards in the industry. From the welded steel roll cage, component tested seating systems and the premium emergency exit packages to mention only a few, Turtle Top considers every aspect of reliability and safety.
“There’s been a big push by the consumer to build a safe product. They’re demanding it and we’re delivering,” says Turtle Top corporate executive vice president Phil Tom. “We’ve always tried to excel in the area of safety.”
And excel it does. Turtle Top’s Spirit vehicle is a case in point for the high-end manufacturer. Before this first Multi Function School Activity Bus (MFSAB) ever rolled out of the Turtle Top plant, the company conducted a grueling 12-month product development program, in conjunction with the toughest safety testing guidelines, administered by Turtle Top engineers and MGA research corporation. Turtle Top refined the MFSAB product and its manufacturing processes through a launch team that exceeded all of the government standards for passenger safety.
Although the inklings of Turtle Top’s start echo as far back as the 1920s, it wasn’t until Earnest C. Cripe, a highly successful Goshen industrialist and a very driven and inventive man was looking for a way to stand up and change his clothes in his car that the “turtle top” was born. He developed the Turtle Top and Travel Gear Conversion for the cargo van in 1962. A principle part of this conversion was the exciting liftable roof, or turtle top, which functioned so well and was completely free of maintenance or repair. These aspects won the “turtle top” universal acceptance.
In 1963 the company recognized the tremendous potential of the travel and recreational market and the role that ordinary passenger vans could play. Thus, the development of the Turtle Top Division was added to Cripe’s already existing company, the Independent Protection Company, which manufactured, installed and serviced lightening protection systems and began operations out of a barn located in the Turtle Top’s present facilities in Goshen.
A Move in the Right Direction
In 1979, Turtle Top made another smart move. It began building buses. The company initiated the production of the Terra Transit bus, which provided convenient and dependable transportation for colleges, churches, nursing homes, retirement communities, transportation companies and government agencies.
Then, in 2005 it introduced the Van Terra, a passenger transporter with the features of a mid-size bus. The Van Terra is designed with features usually found in mid-size buses, but with the size and cost of a van. The van does not require a commercial drivers license to operate. Other features include an electric single leaf entry door with enclosed steps, stand-up headroom, and an 18-inch walk-through center aisle for easy access boarding.
The Van Terra comes in various models with up to 15 passenger capacities and has what has become a Turtle Top trademark – plenty of curb appeal. Each model can also be equipped with a wheelchair lift to accommodate physically challenged passengers. Its one-piece aerodynamic roof prevents leaks and provides great stability and safety when traveling. “The Van Terra is the perfect alternative to the traditional large passenger van,” says Tom. “The Van Terra has a generously sized passenger section integrated with the a standard van chassis which provides increased comfort and safety without sacrificing maneuverability. Van Terra is truly a small bus that handles like a van.”
Additionally Turtle Top’s bus models include the Terra Transport. The Terra Transport is the perfect alternative to the traditional large passenger van. A generously sized passenger section, integrated with the G-Cut General Motors chassis, the Terra Transport provides increased comfort and safety without sacrificing maneuverability.
Turtle Top’s Terra Transit Odyssey for up to 25 passengers and the GM Odyssey Xl for up to 37 passengers round out the company’s impressive bus product line. “There were a lot of safety issues in the bus and van market nationwide and we addressed those, making our offerings with a wider wheel base, easier to get into, and more aesthetically pleasing,” says Tom.
Consequently, Turtle Top builds over 1200 annually. It also sees the gap for small and large bus users beginning to narrow. “What we do see is that our end users are hungry for service,” says Tom. To satisfy this craving, Turtle Top vehicles are marketed through 35 distributors throughout the United States, Canada and Hawaii. “I work very closely with my distributors to grow their service centers and come up with valuable service programs to provide the full round of service before, during and after the sale for our customers. They’re really asking for it and we want to deliver. We have a really strong service department and have very few failures, but should there be something wrong, we want our customers to know it will be fixed immediately and to their utmost satisfaction. Turtle Top is really about satisfying its customers beyond their expectations.”
Driving the Sale
Respected and well known in the industry as a high-end manufacture, Turtle Top may not be the biggest but it is certainly looked upon as one of the best commercial bus builders in the industry.
Turtle Top’s 260 employees operate out of 10 buildings at both its New Paris and Goshen. Ind. facilities. Its New Paris facility alone is a generous 150,000 square feet and the company is in the process of adding a new state-of-the-art 16 x 70 downdraft paint booth system. “We are also looking to make further expansions in the future,” says Tom. “We’re currently on the lookout for some new property.”
Turtle Top has always been a closely held family owned business and is now in its fourth generation. “We are a very proactive and very forward thinking company,” says Tom. “We’ve enjoyed an extreme amount of growth in the past four years. We believe the future looks bright and it’s all about taking care of the customer. It’s about treating that end user like you want to be treated.”
Turtle Top practices what it preaches by donating 10 percent of its corporate profits to religious or spiritual endeavors. It gives back to churches and organizations locally and abroad that use its products or that it feels would benefit. “We’re fortunate to enjoy excellent financial strength and a sound reputation as a progressive and dynamic member of the automotive conversion industry for the past 43 years. We honored and proud to be here.”