A beloved but beat-up Chevy Suburban was part of the inspiration for Vehicle Reman - a new business in Tyler that rebuilds fleet vehicles - and could bring as many as 100 jobs to the area while boosting the region's manufacturing sector.

That 1994 Suburban had hauled Greig Latham's family to soccer games and to Scout events, to school and to work. He loved it, but it was falling apart.

"It was just a constant headache," said Latham, one of the founders of Vehicle Reman in Tyler. "It was just one repair after another. But every time I was faced with the prospect of replacing it, I just didn't want to do it."

So he approached the project as a unified whole. He would rebuild his Suburban from the ground up.

"It took a couple of months," he said. "I took the motor to the shop and had it rebuilt. I had the transmission rebuilt. I replaced all the rubber, from the belts to the bushings. And the end result was fabulous."

At the start of the process, his Suburban had more than 300,000 miles on it. Another 50,000 have been added since then.

"We gave it a new life," Latham said. "And really, that's where the idea for Vehicle Reman came from. We realized there's a market - a huge market - for light- and medium-duty cars and trucks that feel like new, but cost half the price."

ANOTHER LIFE

Vehicle Reman will have an open house Thursday to show off the 60,000-square-foot facility that soon could employ dozens of skilled workers.

The business model is simple. Vehicle Reman takes old fleet vehicles - or even vehicles owned by customers - and makes them like new again.

"We say that a car or truck has three lifetimes," explained Steve Belden, Latham's business partner and the firm's director of marketing. "The first lifetime is when it's new. And most of us, particularly companies, will use it up to the point where they want to get rid of it. That's usually about the time problems start."

Often, vehicles enter the resale market, and spend time as a used car or truck. The end of this "second life" is usually the end of the line for a vehicle, which is then junked.

But Vehicle Reman says it doesn't have to be that way.

"We're here to give another life to that vehicle," Belden said. "We'll remove and replace everything we need to, we'll remanufacture the engines, we'll do everything that vehicle needs to drive like new again."

The rebuild is so comprehensive that Vehicle Reman offers warranties of 36 months and 75,000 miles.

For those customers - individuals or companies - who want to hang onto their older cars and trucks, Vehicle Reman can do a refurbishment to whatever level the customer wants.

It's a comprehensive business model, said Tyler Economic Development Council President Tom Mullins.

"We began working with Vehicle Reman in April of 2015," Mullins said. "We met with Greig Latham, managing director, to review his proposed business idea in July of 2015, and we were very impressed with his background and how thorough his business plan was."

He noted that Latham and his team had previously owned a company that refurbished government vehicles, including Humvees.

"They sold the first company and the team members went on to other projects," Mullins said. "About 10 years later, Greg decided to bring the team back together, but this time with a focus on the nongovernment fleet markets."

The TEDC was able to help lure Vehicle Reman to the Tyler area with some financial incentives.

"TEDC provided a loan for leasehold improvements and equipment in partnership with Altra Federal Credit Union and the Greater Texas Capital Corp.," Mullins said. "So far, they are doing everything they promised. If they continue to grow as projected, they could have over 100 high-paying, high- skilled jobs and make a considerable contribution to our local economy."

The average salary for those jobs could be as high as $45,000, plus benefits.

"Vehicle Reman, along with firms like Boyd Metals, VME Processing, Lonestar Handicap Vans, Delek and Trane, will help regrow our manufacturing base after the major setbacks we experienced over the past 10 years by losing Carrier and Goodyear," Mullins said.

Vehicle Reman's facility, an old FedEx warehouse, has room for the entire operation under one roof. There's a mechanical line - vehicles enter at one end, where the mechanical rebuild begins. And there's a paint line, where the body work and aesthetic restoration begins. It's a streamlined process, with each step carefully planned.

"We can do a Ford F-150, for example, in 42 hours," Belden said.

There's room for a second mechanical line on the other side of the paint line, when volume warrants it.

"Ultimately we're going to be able to do four cars per day, per shift," Belden said. "And our volume can increase."

BIG BUSINESS

Volume is the real key to the business plan. Right now, there are a handful of vehicles available - consumers can buy Vehicle Reman products online, through Cars.com, and even through a Vehicle Reman app in the Apple app store.

But as production gets ramped up, there will be many more available. Vehicle Reman is working with one of the nation's largest landscaping firms to refurbish its fleet of cars and trucks.

"That company asked if we could do 30," Belden said. "We said sure. But it could be 200 by the end of February."

Those vehicles include trucks, Toyota Prius hybrid cars, and vans.

"They get here in all kinds of shape," Belden explained. "They're worn out, the interiors are chewed up, they're a mess. And we make them like new."

Vehicle Reman isn't the first business venture friends Belden and Latham have had together. They met at church in the Dallas-Fort Worth area more than a decade ago, and found their skills and interests meshed well.

Belden had a background in business, starting with IBM and then owning a couple of automotive tech companies.

Latham, who grew up in Sulphur Springs, has a background in industrial automation.

Tyler was attractive to them both because of its central location and its quality of life, they said. And the area's educational institutions have pledged to help Vehicle Reman find and train skilled workers.

"We want to partner with the schools, the colleges and the university," said Belden. "We need them, and we hope we can be good for them, too. I would foresee internships and apprenticeships for their students, and hopefully we'll be hiring their graduates."

And it's not just mechanics, Latham added.

"This is first and foremost a financial model," he said of Vehicle Reman. "So we'll need sales people, finance people."

The timing couldn't be better, the two added. There's a renewed federal push for agencies to use remanufactured vehicles, rather than buying new.

The Federal Vehicle Repair Cost Savings Act of 2015 "requires federal agencies to encourage the use of remanufactured parts in federal vehicle repairs when doing so lowers costs, maintains quality and performance and does not compromise safety," according to the federal government.

"The market is looking for something different," Latham said. "What we're producing is disruptive - it's disruptive to Detroit, to the big automakers, because we're rebuilding something that people can buy remanufactured instead of new. But it's an exciting business model because we're bringing something new to the table."

Twitter: @tmt_roy

 

IF YOU GO:

What: Vehicle Reman ribbon cutting

When: 4 p.m. Thursday

Where: 4706 State Highway 31 West

 

 

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