People - March 2006
Call Bruce Thomas a driving force behind buses, tractor- trailers and other heavy-equipment vehicles. He has marketed them or technology for them more than 25 years. His latest product — a bypass-filtration system that he says will allow tractor-trailers to go 360,000 miles between oil changes — could put him in the fast lane.
The system, which costs roughly $1,000 to buy and install, filters much smaller particles of grit and other contaminants from motor oil than conventional filters, extending an engine’s life and improving its fuel efficiency about 3%. It also means the oil can be used longer. Tractor-trailers typically need oil changes every 15,000 miles — 10 a year at nearly $130 each.
Thomas, CEO of High Point-based CleanTechnics International Inc., says the system will save about $1,400 in operating costs per truck the first year and $2,400 annually after that. The four-employee company had sales of $220,000 in 2005. He anticipates $4 million this year.
Matthews-based Harris Teeter has been trying out the system on five trucks since last summer. “These test results have shown me that the CleanTechnics International’s filter extends service intervals well beyond what was thought possible,” says Mike Ellis, the grocery chain’s maintenance supervisor. Clinton-based Sampson-Bladen Oil Co., which distributes petroleum products, also is testing it.
CleanTechnics, started in April 2004, is the latest venture for Thomas, 51. After getting a bachelor’s in religion from Washington & Lee University in 1977, the High Point native took a job in charter-flight sales with Greensboro-based Atlantic Aero so he could focus on his love of flying. He was training to be a commercial pilot until going into sales at Thomas Built Buses, the High Point company his great-grandfather founded in 1916. He was commercial-sales manager when he left in 1986.
Four years as a stockbroker followed, then Digital Recorders, at the time based in Durham, hired him as vice president of sales and marketing for equipment that announces stops on bus routes. He left in 1998 for a similar job with NextBus, a California startup that used global-positioning satellites to let passengers know when buses would arrive. In 2002 he bought Artisans’ Guild, a small High Point furniture company.
He heard about a Austrian company that had developed a new filter system and bought the nonAustrian sales, manufacturing and distribution rights, plus an option to buy the rest of the company by 2008. Thomas plans to move manufacturing to North Carolina.
He’s pushing the system at a time when cost increases have pushed fleet managers to seek ways to cut expenses. “The stars and moons are in proper alignment.”
“Then Jim Black pulled all these shenanigans,” Sinsheimer says. “A lot of my Democrat friends don’t understand why I’m doing this. Good government is more important than party loyalty.”