NASHVILLE—Green was the unofficial color of Motorcoach EXPO 2020, from the lush landscaping at the show floor entrance to discussions of environmental sustainability and anticipated industry growth expected to sprout… greenbacks.
The motorcoach industry’s increasing sustainability benefits were stressed in education classrooms and on the exposition floor of the Music City Center from Jan. 19 through Jan. 22.
During the United Motorcoach Association’s annual highlight event, many leaders called for the industry to accelerate efforts to market the motorcoach as an existing solution to congestion and pollution problems.
“We know that we have the environment as an issue, and we all have to agree on one thing. As motorcoach operators, we can be a solution to environmental problems. We can be a green solution,” said Michael Cassidy as he accepted the 2020 MCI Leadership and Environmental Sustainability Award. He is president of Coach Atlantic and the Cassidy Group in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, Canada.
“Why can’t we have on the back of every one of our motorcoaches a saying that could be, ‘Would you rather have me in front of you or 56 cars?’ We’re good at what we do and we can assist in the green solution for carbon emissions,” he said.
EXPO 2020 continued the event’s tradition of bringing industry members up to date on regulatory and legislative developments as well as new trends in business practices, products and services. Nearly 140 companies booked space on the floor of the Music City Center.
“As North America’s premier bus and motorcoach equipment show, our team of staff and volunteers work hard to ensure every interaction that we plan creates value, education or connections within the industry,” said Stacy Tetschner, UMA president and chief executive officer.
“I was so pleased to have so many people provide us positive feedback in each of these areas, from the maintenance forum exchange to the new approach to general session speakers and right down to the videos we created to highlight our award winners. The positive feedback allowed us to know we are on the right track to continue to make this EXPO the best tool to continue to build our industry,” he said.
Beyond the ability of a diesel motorcoach to silence dozens of auto exhaust pipes, there were numerous examples of further emissions reductions through the electric drive trains that are becoming motorcoach propulsion options.
ABC displayed the developmental edition of the battery-electric motorcoach it will put on the road this year. Temsa showed a battery-electric model that will go on sale at a time yet unspecified.
MCI said it plans to start selling battery-electrics, too, but did not exhibit its example because it was out on the road in testing. BYD, a pioneering manufacturer of electric buses, showed off three of its current models, including two double-deckers.
Lightning Systems, a Loveland, Colorado, tech company that repowers gas and diesel transit buses and cutaways with battery-electric systems, announced plans to go large. It has inked an agreement with ABC Companies to start repowering two off-lease Van Hools, a T2145 highline touring coach and a TDX double-deck coach.
“If you look at the history of motorcoach demand, there are some natural cycles that follow the general economy,” said Ian Smart, president of MCI.
After a period of flat or slipping demand, “Our view is that it is going to come back, both because of the historical natural cycles as well as some of the things we are talking about in terms of the environment and the greening of our industry,” he said.
“If you look at the number of vehicles that a coach takes off the road, the carbon footprints and all those things, our view is that in the long run the coach business is going to grow, and us with it.”
German industry giant Daimler AG is making a big investment in North America by establishing its own sales, parts and service network for Setra motorcoaches.
“They see this as one of the largest areas for growth in the world,” said Zane Gray, director of marketing for Daimler Coaches North America. “That is why they are making this investment. It is exciting to see how excited they are about the U.S.”
Spanish coach manufacturer Irizar, which entered the U.S. market in 2016, is expecting 2020 to be its strongest year here. Axier Etxezarreta, president of Irizar USA, said the company’s positive reception from attendees at this year’s UMA Motorcoach EXPO indicates that operators are starting to “consider us as an option” when they are shopping for coaches.
“This is the best UMA show we’ve had,” Etxezarreta said during EXPO. “When a new company comes the first year, then returns the second year, people say, ‘Oh, you’re still here?’ We’re here for the fifth year in a row and we are getting the perception from the market that we are now a player. We feel good about 2020 and our fifth year in the U.S.”
Carrier consolidations and the bankruptcies of a few large operators have dumped a lot of motorcoaches onto the market. Some of that oversupply has been offset by new business segments.
MCI experienced a 10-percent decline in sales over the first three quarters of 2019, said Patrick Scully, the company’s executive vice president of sales, marketing and customer service.
“We have maintained our healthy share of the private market, but we have seen some changes in the market. Coach USA was sold during the year. Greyhound is up for sale. There have been consolidations with a lot of medium-sized operators. That has posed different challenges for the market,” he said.
“On the bright side, we have seen a lot of new entrants from the limo industry and from the employee shuttle business in the San Francisco Bay area and elsewhere.”
The sounds of Music City
The Music City Center and UMA’s host hotels were located squarely in the midst of Nashville’s outstanding downtown entertainment attractions. The entertainment highlight of Motorcoach EXPO was a private performance by The Warren Brothers, Brad and Brett, at the Wildhorse Saloon, which holds Tennessee’s largest dance floor.
The Warren Brothers rank among America’s most successful songwriters. They have written hits for Tim McGraw, Toby Keith, Keith Urban, Faith Hill, Martina McBride, Dierks Bentley and Jerrod Niemann and have been recorded by many other popular country and rock artists. They also have recorded three albums and have toured as performers with other country artists.
“We knew coming in to Nashville that our biggest competition for attention was the music on Broadway,” Tetschner said. “As we planned our events, we made sure that attendees had a great music experience so that when show floor time came, they didn’t feel they needed to leave to go see Nashville. They had already experienced it and could focus on being present and engaged on the show floor.”
Prevost sponsored the landscaped, red-carpet entrance to the EXPO hall.
“We are so pleased with our partnership with Prevost, as they helped to add a showcase element to the entrance to our trade show floor. They came to us with a vision to raise the attendee experience and make them even more proud of the industry we are all a part of—and they delivered a whole new level,” Tetschner said. “As attendees of other shows in the convention center came by, it was fun to see their curiosity as to what was so special though that entry unit.”
Motorcoach EXPO also is the cornerstone of the marketing programs of many vendors—an annual opportunity to begin or renew relationships, shake hands and trade business cards.
“I come here to see my old friends, support our existing customers and get new business if we can,” said returning exhibitor Jay Hosseinian, president of the DriveWare tech solutions provider. “We are starting to feel like family here. Everyone is friendly. Motorcoach is the only industry we work with, and these are our people.”
“I loved hearing from our exhibiting partners at the end of the show—for many, this is a marketing show and sales come later,” Tetschner said. “There were contracts and purchase orders written on the floor, and in fact one manufacturer noted how they sold one of the display buses on the show floor—it was going straight to someone’s facility from there!”
— with additional reporting from Shandra Martinez and Hal Mattern