May 23 • 11:09 AM

On the road again!

First new bus rolls off Champion line since fire leveled north plant on Feb. 14th

After a devastating February 14 fire, things are looking up at Champion Bus Inc. on Graham Road. Employees gather to celebrate production of the first bus as it rolled off the assembly line Monday.

March 10, 2010
IMLAY TWP. — A brand-new bus has rolled off the assembly line at Champion Bus, Inc.

The occasion was cheered Monday, March 8, by company officials and employees, all of whom were on hand to greet the new arrival.

It was the first unit produced by the company since a devastating fire destroyed the company's main production plant on Graham Road on Feb. 14.

Ten local fire departments battled the blaze for 17 hours, which resulted in the destruction of one of two 100,000-square foot facilities at the site.

Champion President John Resnik said the new 3035RE model bus, which seats 39 passengers, is 35 feet long and built on a Freightliner chassis.

He said employees had been busy reconfiguring the company's south building to accommodate the return to production.

To ensure needed backup space, the company has also negotiated a month-to-month lease arrangement for the nearly 60,000-square-foot former Carlisle Engineered Products building on S. Almont Ave. in Imlay City.

On Monday, Resnik was joined by Champion employees in celebrating the first bus coming off the line since the fire.

"We're very excited that our employees were able to get things turned around so quickly after the fire," said Resnik. "It's important to get the first one out, and there are many more to follow.

"This is a big deal to us and to our loyal customers," he said. "It's great to be back in production."

Imlay City Fire Dept. officials estimated the damage to the burned-out plant at upwards of $10 million.

Asst. Fire Chief Rick Horton said that because of the extent of the damage, Michigan State Police and insurance investigators were unable to determine the exact cause and origin of the fire.

Champion Bus is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Thor Industries. Founded in 1953, Champion began producing Cutaway buses in 1981.

The business is located at 331 Graham Rd. on 73 acres of property in Imlay Township, with more than 194,000 square feet of manufacturing space before the fire.

With its nearly 300 employees, Champion produces an average of 1,200 mid-size buses per year. Annual estimated sales are between $50 million and $100 million.

Champion manufactures a wide variety of bus models that include the Defender, American Coach Challenger, EZ Trans and HC Platinum.

The company's gas and diesel vehicles vary in length from 21-38 feet, with passenger compartments ranging from six to 39. The chassis are provided by GM, Ford, Freightliner, IHC and International.

Tom Wearing started at the Tri-City Times in 1989, covering the Village of Capac as a beat reporter. He later served stints as assistant editor and editor. Today, he covers Imlay City and Almont as a staff writer. He enjoys music and plays drums and sings with various musical groups in the Detroit Metropolitan area.
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