Oakie and I had been invited to October’s Busworld in Brussels, and as we sauntered through the entrance with about 50,000 of our closest friends, we were stunned by the size.
OK, it’s a six-day show, so maybe only 10,000 were there that day… but imagine UMA EXPO, Buscon and the APTA shows on steroids, and it’s still bigger.
Busworld began in 1971 in Kortrijk, Belgium, and is held every other year. After 24 shows with consistent growth, it was moved to Brussels this year, to a venue with 60,000 square meters… 50 percent more than Kortrijk. I don’t speak metric, but that’s big.
They have “satellite exhibitions” in Russia, India, China, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Colombia and Turkey.
The vehicles on display ranged from single- and double-deck motorcoaches, city buses, commuters and minibuses all the way to triple-section transits that looked like futuristic light rail vehicles. They were powered by diesel, hydrogen, CNG and batteries.
Europeans also operate some sophisticated body/chassis coaches, and a couple of builders brought bare chassis. These sleds are short and bolted together in the middle. One sported a rooftop AC unit fastened to the side. It’s a bit spooky seeing all three axles huddled together.
The body builder (BUS body, NOT Arnold Schwarzenegger) unbolts the middle, stretches the chassis to the right length, and plops a body on it. They then take the AC off the side and mount it on the roof, perhaps in an effort to help the coach fit down narrow European streets, or because providence made cold air drop.
We saw only one coach built for the North American market. Van Hool displayed a battery-powered 45-foot CX coach destined for the U.S. that touts a 300-mile range with substantial grade-ability. Van Hool ended up winning three major awards at the show, including the “Grand Award Bus.”
The technology on display seemed to be marching to the same drummer as North America with innovations in safety, eco-friendly and economy aspects, a lot of it digitally based. We’re advancing in the same areas and using much of the same “stuff.” Apparently, Europe’s metric electrons play well with our cherished Imperial ones.
Several small autonomous buses were displayed. Consensus was that they will not be ready for prime time nearly as fast as the public thinks. The interim period when they mix with human-piloted vehicles should be fun in a demolition derby sort of way.
One interesting display replaced rear view mirrors with cameras, giving drivers unprecedented awareness of their surroundings. I believe that “a good driver can hit anything” and this will provide a target-rich environment.
For those of you considering attending the next Busworld, it seems worthwhile to point out some of the differences between European and U.S. shows.
First, Europeans are TOUGH. Apparently they’re inverse camels, able to go days at a time without using a bathroom. One young lady pointed out that they give away lots of free beer and deviously disguise their few restrooms. Who knew that “WC” was European for “lavatory”? I thought it was a “Wayside Chapel.”*
Many Europeans speak several languages, and most of the signage has an English component. Since Americans are renowned for their language skills (in a negative way), this helps a lot, particularly when you are searching desperately for a WC.
The beer is good, but STRONG… ’nuff said.
Call me a bigot, but all bus people look alike. Apparently, despite some operational differences, European operators resemble their American doppelgangers. Best guess is that they, too, work in an environment that is extremely demanding and rewards them more in human terms than monetary. Easy to spot and befriend.
For many Americans, a primary goal at Motorcoach EXPO is swag… the clever goodies that suppliers give away at their booths. The Europeans do a lot less of that. In addition, there were very few brochures. They offered digital displays and presumably want you to go to their website for additional specs.
On the other hand, the food is excellent, and Oakie and I found our way back to the booth several times by following the smells. The lesson here is to forget the swag bag and bring a doggie bag.
Did I mention that the beer is strong? A spare liver might be a good idea.
We walked about 2.5 miles a day (Oakie’s wife makes him wear a digital step-counting thingy), so good shoes make sense. The floor is concrete, and your feet know it.
Did you guys realize that in Europe the ground floor is “0”? Nothing is more embarrassing than being lost… on an elevator.
Following the show, we did a brief “Bus Factories of Europe” tour. For the unsophisticated among you, a coach factory is a cross between a cathedral and a maternity ward, the hallowed spot where our beloved buses first enter the world.
*For more information on Wayside Chapels, visit www.sewerhistory.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/wayside-chapel.pdf.
Millhouser attended Busworld as a guest of Van Hool.