Private Equity Firm Increases Its Stake In Emergency Vehicles

American Industrial Partners, a private equity firm that owns E-ONE and Wheeled Coach, became an even more substantial force in the emergency vehicle market last month by acquiring Halcore Group, Inc.
Halcore, founded in 1998 and based in Ohio, is a leading provider of ambulances and emergency and rescue vehicles under the brand names Horton, AEV and Leader. The company has manufacturing facilities in Ohio, North Carolina and California.

“Horton, AEV and Leader are some of the longest standing and most respected brand names in the emergency vehicle market,” said John Becker, a partner at American Industrial Partners. “In addition, [Halcore] has an extremely talented group of entrepreneurial managers who we look forward to working with to grow their respective brands and to build on their history of success.”

AEV President Mark Van Arnam said he was very pleased to be joining the AIP family of companies. “American Industrial Partners has demonstrated an understanding of our business, an appreciation for what makes it special, and have the capital and engineering expertise to allow us to continue to grow and serve our customers,” he said.

Horton Vice President Dave Lamon called AIP an ideal partner. “Their specialty vehicle expertise and unique operations-focused approach will allow the company to prosper over time,” he said.
Leader President Gary Hunter said AIP has a long-term perspective on Halcore and is very supportive of its future plans.

AIP already owned a substantial segment of the American ambulance market before the Halcore acquisition, which was announced Feb. 22. In 2007 AIP purchased Collins Industries, Inc. of Hutchinson, Kan., which describes itself as the largest manufacturer of ambulances in the U.S., producing them under the Wheeled Coach name. Collins is also the second largest manufacturer of terminal trucks and a leading manufacturer of small school buses, and sweepers used in the road construction industry.

In 2008 AIP followed up the Collins purchase by buying E-ONE, Inc. of Ocala, Fla., a leading manufacturer of fire and rescue apparatus and a subsidiary of Federal Signal Corporation.

AIP, which is based in New York, describes itself as a firm that makes control equity investments in mid-sized industrial companies that can benefit from a systematic approach to implementing strategic and operational improvements.

E-ONE was the second prominent fire truck manufacturer to be purchased by a private equity firm. In 2005 American LaFrance was bought by Patriarch Partners, which is based in New York, but that acquisition did not turn out as planned.

Under Patriarch’s guidance, American LaFrance built a new manufacturing plant near Charleston, S.C., but shortly after it opened, the company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection from its creditors. American LaFrance emerged from bankruptcy after a reorganization plan was approved in 2008, but the company has continued to struggle.

Last year, a third private equity firm, Merit Capital Partners, which has offices in Chicago and Phoenix, invested in another leading fire truck manufacturing company, Ferrara Fire Apparatus, Inc. of Holden, La. That partnership appears to be turning out well with Ferrara picking up a number of substantial contracts in recent months, including two with the New York City Fire Department.

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