In this image-conscious business, one of the most significant choices a funeral home makes involves the purchase of coaches and limousines. Not only is it a significant investment, but many companies believe it to be an extremely important decision because it is often the only impression the public will have of a funeral home.
For more than a century, Accubuilt, Inc., has been delivering world-class specialty vehicles that meet the precise demands of this industry. “These vehicles are built to very specific requirements,” explains Steve Griffith, Accubuilt’s president and chief executive officer. “It’s our job to create distinctive vehicles that blend innovative technologies and state-of-the-art engineering.”
Located in the west central Ohio town of Lima, Accubuilt has a heritage of manufacturing specialty vehicles that dates to 1876. Formerly S&S/Superior of Ohio, Inc., Accubuilt has brought together the finest professional vehicle lines under one umbrella. Its family of vehicles includes Sayers & Scovill, Superior, Eureka, Miller-Meteor and the DeVille Executive Sedan. Accubuilt is Cadillac’s largest and most experienced Master Coachbuilder, adhering to Cadillac’s strictest quality standards. The company has also achieved Lincoln’s Quality Vehicle Modifier award. As a result, Cadillac and Lincoln extend their original warranties on all vehicles modified by Accubuilt.
Combined, Accubuilt offers the finest coaches, limousines and executive stretches available in almost every range and class. “We offer the level of experience and resourcefulness that you can only get from a world-class manufacturer,” Griffith says.
Nuts and Bolts
“Accubuilt doesn’t just build vehicles; we re-invent them,” says Griffith. “Turning a traditional vehicle into a specialty vehicle is no simple task. The vehicle’s structure must be completely modified.” At its 168,000 square-foot manufacturing facility, Accubuilt has a highly skilled work force, extensive manufacturing capabilities and the state-of-the-art technologies necessary to extend and reassemble vehicle structures to exacting and consistent standards.
This includes equipment such as an 850-ton Lake Erie press, which produces Accubuilt’s major structural steel parts. The facility also features an advanced helium laser cutter that precisely cuts up to 3/8-inch steel within a 0.005-inch tolerance. The company also has extensive Garmat climate-controlled paint booths with down-draft ventilation systems to enhance the final paint finish. In addition, Accubuilt produces the majority of its own parts. “We control the quality and inventory to ensure customer satisfaction,” Griffith points out. Plus, every Accubuilt vehicle is subjected to a final quality audit before shipment to make sure product specifications and requirements are met.
“We’re continually making new capital investments due to design and feature changes demanded by our customer,” says Griffith. “We stamp all of our doors to meet OEM standards of quality and uniformity, which has had us investing in a fair amount of dies and tooling. No other manufacturer in our industry offers the manufacturing capabilities that we do. Although these are custom-built vehicles, our volume allows us to provide our customers with unsurpassed, consistent quality.” This has translated into true customer loyalty for Accubuilt. “Demand for our vehicles remains strong, and we rely heavily on our retail dealer network to maintain our position in the marketplace,” Griffith adds.
Accubuilt specialty vehicles are unique, with capabilities that extend beyond those of traditional vehicles. Because they are custom-body creations, Accubuilt vehicles must be designed and engineered to incorporate special requirements with precision, stability and safety.
The superstructure of an Accubuilt vehicle is extensively reinforced at critical stress points throughout the frame and body. This requires innovative techniques that provide safety and longevity without sacrificing performance and style. That’s where Accubuilt engineers come in. Because perspectives offered by traditional drawings are not enough, Accubuilt engineers develop and review their designs using the most sophisticated technologies.
The funeral-coach transformation starts with Cadillac and Lincoln heavy-duty commercial chassis designed for conversion. “The structure and components on these base chassis have been upgraded and tested to ensure reliability throughout and after our manufacturing process,” explains Griffith. “The funeral coach chassis comes to us with no rear doors, rear seat or trunk lid.
The vehicle gets stripped and everything inside of the car comes out. The instrument panel is then wrapped and protected, and the car is cut and stretched not once, but twice. The first lengthens the wheelbase, and the other increases the rear overhang to create a more cosmetically proportioned vehicle. We then insert extension pieces made of galvanized steel virtually identical to those used by the OEM. Then we build a structure in the back that forms the load bed, as well as the framework that goes under the outer fiberglass shell. Electrical components are enhanced and then reconnected, and a vinyl top is added. The reassembly process also replaces and/or adds door glass and hardware along with complete exterior trim and molding packages. And finally, an original portion of the OEM interior along with a custom-designed coach-builder interior is fit into the vehicle.”
Total manufacturing time from start to finish for a new funeral coach or limousine ranges from 10 to 25 work days, depending on the model.
Distinction by Name
One of the things Accubuilt does best is maintaining its brand differentiation. “We do a lot to keep our brands distinct and sought-after,” Griffith says. “There are key features on some brands that are not available on the other. For instance, the S&S and Superior lines include a wider load floor by modifying the shock towers during the conversion process. The Eureka and Miller-Meteor lines offer some interior and exterior packages not available on the other two lines. These things are done deliberately to maintain brand distinctions.”
The majority of Accubuilt’s production maintains the OEM windshield, window frames and pillar posts. All four brands (S&S, Superior, Eureka and Miller-Meteor) offer their own specific models within this “standard glass” arena. “It is imperative that we remain competitive in the marketplace with standard glass vehicles,” says Griffith. “And with our manufacturing efficiencies, I believe we do this and offer our customers substantially more for their investment.”
However, Accubuilt’s most noticeable market distinction comes from the S&S and Superior brands, which offer coaches and limousines known as “commercial glass.” More upright in shape and stately in appearance, these vehicles are typically used by the most prestigious funeral homes, which believe this type of hearse contributes to the success of their business. “A lot of extra work goes into the conversion process of these cars,” says Griffith. “We have to rebuild these vehicles from the bottom up to give them their more dignified formal appearance. They have unique features available from no other manufacturer in our industry.
“We also have the volume to go forward and the capital required to get things done,” Griffith states. “I think we’re really unique in our ability to apply current manufacturing process thinking in a custom-built industry. The challenge is coming out with cars that are custom-crafted and, at the same time, use modern, continuously improving and streamlined manufacturing to keep quality up and cost down. We look to offer product enhancements that our customers value.”
“We are able to meet these challenging, difficult-to-copy customer demands because of our willingness to invest significant capital,” he adds. “Our ability to do these things has created a market position that allows us to do what our competitors cannot. It gives us an edge in the marketplace. That’s why we make three times as many cars as our closest competitor.”