My recent trip to Istanbul, Turkey, was so amazing, it required two videos.
The first is about the experience of visiting this country and meeting the people who make the Mercedes Tourrider. The second is about test-driving the bus on a special track.
When I visited in November, Mercedes Benz Turk had just finished building an addition to its bus production factory In Hosdere, near Istanbul, that solely is responsible for the production of the Mercedes Tourrider, a new coach bus just for the North American Market. During my tour, it became clear that Mercedes was serious about delivering a motorcoach that would survive in the North American market.
We were greeted with a warm welcome by some of the staff members of the bus plant, and I shared a meal with some of them. The food we had was the same food that the plant employees eat and, I gotta admit, it was pretty damn good.
First look at production
Of course, we were picked up by a Mercedes Tourrider to take us to the production areas. The first day, we toured their main bus production buildings where they built their bread-and-butter models for all of Europe, buses like the Citaro, the Turismo, the Connecto and more.
Most of the processes in this building are automated with smart machines, starting from the raw material to the process of welding, bonding and powder coating the panels. We then moved to the building where they dip the entire completed frame into a protective coating bath. I wasn’t able to get a lot of footage here as most of the areas were strictly off-limits to the public, but the staff was gracious enough to let me bend a few of the rules and capture some of the impressive process.
However, I was able to show how everything gets pieced together to become the final product, from assembling the windows to attaching the engine and drivetrain, from the axles and suspension pieces down to the wheels and tires.
I was clueless as to what went into producing a bus, at least one for Mercedes. I had never seen a coach look so shiny.
Workers, managers dedicated to quality
After the end of our first day, my mind was racing. Turkey has an abundance of labor and production power. Many trucks, cars, ships and pieces of heavy industrial equipment are built here. But I learned that it’s not because there’s cheap labor in Turkey. It’s because those who live and work here are passionate about their jobs. And they work hard. Not out of force or desperation, but out of discipline and respect for each other. The facilities were immaculately clean, safely run and very modern, and the management cares about the employees.
The next day, I saw the production of a bus dedicated to the U.S market that could compete and survive in the harsh North American climate. I saw the production of the Mercedes Benz Tourrider, from the first stainless steel rod, to a fully finished stainless steel frame, to a fully drivable coach bus.
Rides like a sports car
After a quick morning briefing, we started the day with what I had been waiting for – driving the Mercedes Tourrider through all the obstacles on a test track. It is an extremely responsive coach bus. It almost seemed as if it could predict what you were going to do next. It drove like a sports car, not a giant motorcoach, yet retained the comfort, quietness, and smoothness of a coach bus. The visibility from the cockpit was exceptional and the dash panel was extremely intuitive and easy to use. There were also a lot of extra storage compartments for the driver.
After the test track, we broke for a quick lunch and headed to the factory to see just what went into the construction of a Tourrider.
The Mercedes Tourrider production building was recently built. One unique feature of the Tourrider is that the entire frame is constructed of stainless steel. This is one reason Mercedes built a building just to produce the Tourrider. Mercedes Benz Turk did not want the stainless steel materials in the same environment as their other metal components used for their other buses to avoid contaminants.
I was also given a tour of a test lab attached to this new building that researched the bonding qualities of stainless steel as well as lab rooms where they put the stainless steel frame through harsh conditions for long durations to see if the steel would fail or corrode. (These areas were off limits to video or photography.)
Once the Tourrider leaves its assembly building, the chassis is taken to the coating building. From there, the Tourrider goes on to the rest of the Mercedes plant’s facilities to become the finished product.
Tourrider earned my respect
A good recipe, whether it’s grandmother’s cooking or the design of a coach bus, requires time, experience and passion, as well as a mix of different cultures. The Mercedes Tourrider is just that. A century of German experience and tradition, forged by the long stretches of rugged and harsh conditions of North America, and built with the robust resilience of Turkish engineering.
Will the Tourrider coach be able to hold up in the unforgiving environment that the North American bus industry faces? Will it be able to survive the long stretches of interstates that cover the vast openness of the United States and Canada? Will it be able to compete with its tried and true competitors, MCI, Prevost, and Van Hool?
That I cannot answer. Only time will tell.
But I can say that before my visit to Turkey, all I knew of the Tourrider was from a brief glance at the UMA Motorcoach EXPO. At the time, I thought it was just another foreign brand of coach bus trying to break into the U.S. market. But after seeing how much planning, care, passion and dedication the people at Mercedes Benz Turk have put into building the Tourrider, my confidence and respect for this coach bus has reached a whole new level.
Here’s what some of you had to say about my take on the four essential items to get before driving a coach bus.