Since idling its two manufacturing plants and laying off 300 employees in March because of the coronavirus pandemic, Motor Coach Industries has been focusing on keeping its parts and service centers open while helping customers make their motorcoaches as safe as possible.
The company also continues development of its two battery electric coaches, the J4500e and the D45 CRTe LE, which have been traveling around the country on demonstration tours.
“We haven’t been building buses for more than a month but we’re not doing too bad,” said MCI President Ian Smart. He said he anticipates restarting the factories in Canada and the U.S. by as early as May, albeit at only about 40% of their pre-shutdown production levels.
“We’re looking at what’s going on and adapting,” Smart said. “We are currently trying to determine when to restart production, and I believe that by the end of the second quarter we will be open for sure.”
Canceled, postponed orders
He said the first quarter was going well until the pandemic caused tourism to stall and motorcoaches to park. While some public transit customers have continued ordering buses, several private operators have either canceled their coach orders or postponed them until at least the second quarter.
“A handful of private and public operators have taken orders,” Smart said. “Line operators are still running routes, but their volume is down. Companies are providing transportation for medical professionals and moving kids coming home from colleges. Lots of our customers are parked, but business has not gone to zero.”
Meanwhile, it is business as usual at MCI’s parts and service centers, “but volume is down significantly,” Smart said.
“A number of customers are still operating, and they come to us for support,” including tech support, warranty work and to catch up on scheduled maintenance and small repairs they were too busy to deal with before the slowdown.
MCI has developed UV-C light filter systems for coach HVACs to kill bacteria and disinfect cabin air, and also offers coach interior fogging/disinfecting services, hand sanitizer and dispenser kits for placement around coach interiors, as well as full and partial driver-barrier systems for all of its coach models.
The company regularly sends out electronic newsletters to customers with such information as the best way to clean coach interiors, a maintenance and readiness checklist for idled vehicles, recommended roadside rescue tools and supplies, and social distancing seating recommendations.
“We’re doing everything we can to help customers make their vehicles safer,” Smart said. “We have a whole list of safety features that can be added to vehicles.”
‘A great partner’
Scott Martz Henry, chairman of the Martz Group in Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania, a longtime MCI customer, said his company has been working with MCI on a variety of safety measures for its coaches, including seating charts for social distancing and driver partitions. But Martz said he especially appreciates MCI’s UV light system for HVACs.
“I’m really excited about the UV light kits,” he said. “MCI was very quick to develop it.”
Martz said his company is still running transit and commuter coaches with reduced service, and purchased some new MCI commuter coaches in late 2019. He said MCI coaches and buses make up about 95% of his company’s fleet, and that MCI has been proactive in helping determine what Martz has needed during the health crisis.
“MCI has been a really great partner for a long time,” he said.
Appreciates UV light system
Terry Fischer, president of Transportation Charter Services Inc. in Orange, California, and Polynesian Adventure Tours in Hawaii, said he also appreciates MCI’s quick development of the UV light system. “They’re on it,” he said.
Fischer said he had six MCI coaches on order and was expecting delivery in April, “but by the 23rd of March, our business was pretty much at a standstill. We postponed the order through June. Everything is delayed right now.”
He said he has been taking vehicles to a nearby MCI service center for warranty and recall work that was put off during busier times. He also brought back a few mechanics with the help of the federal Paycheck Protection Program to conduct minor repairs.
Fischer said he hopes the motorcoach industry recovers sooner rather than later because it is crucial to tourism.
“Motorcoaches take people from airports to attractions and to hotels and to national parks. They are conduits, the glue that pulls all of it together,” he said.
Smart, MCI’s president, said the recovery of the motorcoach industry will depend on how long it takes to get the virus under control and when people are once again comfortable “sitting 16 inches apart on a bus with 55 people.”
“How long will it take for people to be comfortable traveling in groups again, and for them to have the discretionary income to afford it? The longer it takes, the longer the recovery will be.”
But Smart is confident of one thing: “The industry will absolutely recover. It may be smaller, and some operators may choose not to reopen,” he said. “It’s just a question of how long it will take. That will be in direct relation to the economy in general.”