Ever-better buses

New model improvements a show floor highlight

Show-goers peeked behind openings at new swing-out radiators made for the benefit of technicians and fuel efficiency. They sat in seats designed for long-trip comfort or workplace commuting, asked hard questions about new electric bus technology and tried out new features like MCI’s easy entry ramp on its D45 CRT LE—just one highlight of this year’s show floor.

Of all the reveals at EXPO 2019, though, Prevost won the nod for creating the most anticipation. The Quebec-based company cloaked its X3-45, and after an enthusiastic countdown raised the curtain to a blast of smoke and confetti. That company is celebrating its 95th anniversary by unveiling products driven by customer feedback, Prevost General Manager Francois Tremblay told the assembled crowd.

“Does 10 percent better fuel efficiency sound good?” he asked. “We’ve designed the front and rear cab to make it much more aerodynamic. How about making it safer? The upper structure of the X3-45 was reinforced to protect passengers in case of a rollover. Other elements improved visibility for passengers and drivers, both.”

Electric buses a draw

Two double-deck electric motorcoaches drew lookers to the BYD booth. The 45-foot C10MS seats up to 77 passengers and the 35-foot C8MS can carry 51 passengers (or 47 with a lavatory).  “The 45-foot double-decker is being used in the (San Francisco) Bay area with private clients for employee shuttles,” said Bobby Hill, vice president of sales for North America. “They are traveling about 180 miles, but they have done some longer-range testing on it. Potentially they could do two or three trips in the morning and run 180 miles, do a mid-day charge and run it the same at night.” Hill said some potential customers asked about the possibility of building the C8MS without a top for use in tour cruises.

Innovations in technology and parts    

ABC, distributor for the Dutch Van Hool motorcoaches, dropped press kits containing multiple innovation announcements.           

ABC Connect, a “cloud-based, telematics solution for fleet operations,” will become available in 2019, said Thom Peebles, vice president of marketing. Peebles said ABC Parts Source is also making it easier to purchase parts through its enhanced inventory and call center operations. Parts Source stocks “nearly 200,000 active part numbers for all make and model motorcoaches and transit buses.

ABC, Van Hool and battery and drive-train innovator Proterra also announced development of an electric motorcoach, CX45E. A prototype is scheduled for shipment to the U.S. by the end of the year. ABC is opening a new parts and service facility in the San Francisco Bay area of California. It will be prepared to service the coming electric vehicles.

A company launch

TEMSA made EXPO 2019 a combination launch party for its newly formed TEMSA USA and chance to reassure existing and potential future customers that it’s “stronger than ever.” The motto was printed on the side of buses and showcased at TEMSA-sponsored events. The Turkish-based company recently parted ways with (and is embroiled in lawsuits involving) a distributor that CEO Hasan Yildirim said didn’t accurately represent the brand that does business in 66 countries and has 1,000 motorcoaches traveling U.S. highways.

Cutting out that intermediary has proven a boon to clients like David Benedict, president of David Thomas Trailways, even if the lawsuits resulting from the switch made some of them nervous. He said he can get a TEMSA at a lower price than comparable models, “but reputation is number one. To know they’re going to be here is important, that you can get parts and that they have a commitment to the North American market.”

From China: a more competitive coach

The first 2019 HT45 shipped from China was on the EXPO floor and included about two dozen enhancements, said Randy Kolesar, director of sales for CHTC (USA).

“The 2019 model has taken into account a lot of operator, engineering and driver feedback. We went to the factory last year with our technical adviser and met with the plant managers and engineers and offered a list of things we felt needed to be improved to make it a very competitive North American coach,” he said.  

“Some of those items were a smaller steering wheel, changing the door from a single-hinge to a sedan door and increasing the battery power to make the starting power more applicable for colder climates. We refined some of the options and made little cosmetic, fit-and-finish adjustments. We have quality coaches that can fit into anybody’s fleet.”

New configurations in seating (and graphics) drew attention      

The Springfield, Missouri, manufacturer Executive Coach Builders brought the massive Supercoach 45. Based on a Freightliner chassis, the two-axle vehicle seats up to 54 passengers when equipped with a lavatory and can store 400 cubic feet of baggage. Executive touts the Supercoach as delivering all the amenities of a motorcoach for a lot less money, and visitors enjoyed checking out seating configurations that allowed for easier gathering and conversations.

What was on the outside, as well as in, drew buzz at the Setra booth. EXPO 2019 was the first real UMA outing for Setra under REV Group, which became the brand’s distributor just before the 2018 EXPO. The coaches on the floor showed some upgrades and refinements to the proven product, and exterior graphics showcased new color capability for bus wrapping, in this case scenes from its headquarter base of Germany.

MCI makes a big splash

EXPO 2019 marked the first time MCI displayed its latest full new model range on the show floor. Those included the J-4500, which last year underwent a large interior makeover that won best-in-class for interior leg room, according to Brent Maitland, MCI Vice President of Marketing and Product Planning. The company is in active testing of a new electric model. In addition, this year’s innovation focus has been on maintenance and serviceability, he said, with highlighted featured that include a swing-out radiator and advanced driver assistance and collision avoidance systems.

The J3500 was a response to customer demand for smaller vehicles easier to maneuver in urban traffic and that better fit the size of smaller group tours. One feature in unexpectedly high demand for a range of customer needs is the D45 CLT LE, something Maitland called a game-changer for passengers with disabilities. Wheelchair entry is made easy on an extendable ramp, and while transit companies have been looking at it, so have private operators like a Bay Area technology company that will be using the show model as an employee shuttle. In addition to the easy entry, the bus featured work stations with monitors and conversation nooks for small team meetings.

“It’s been a big growth area as a segment for the industry,” he said. “It’s used as a tool, to both hire and retain employees as well as make them efficient to and from work.”

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