LONG BEACH, Calif. — Motorcoach manufacturers from North America and Europe returned to this year’s UMA Motorcoach EXPO in near full force, displaying their buses on the show floor and, in a few cases, unveiling new coaches or revealing new initiatives.
The presence of seven motorcoach companies in Long Beach, California, Feb. 23-26 was a clear sign that the two-year pandemic-caused freeze in new coach sales to private operators is finally beginning to thaw.
And while sales of new motorcoaches aren’t expected to reach pre-pandemic levels for a while, operators that have been unable to buy coaches, or even use the ones they already own, have started looking ahead to when they can afford to grow their fleets.
“People are spending less time kicking tires this year and are more serious about buying,” Michael Power, Director of Marketing for Prevost, said during EXPO.
Brent Maitland, Vice President of Private Sector Sales and Marketing at Motor Coach Industries (MCI), said customers who used to trade in older coaches for new models every year or two are looking forward to when they can afford to add new buses after having to shrink their fleets during the pandemic slowdown.
“Our customers are once again talking about fleet planning,” Maitland said. “They are looking to get back on a fleet schedule after downsizing.”
Electric buses gaining ground
No one expects that to happen overnight, but increased travel demand this year indicates that better times are coming for manufacturers. For now, however, operators looking to buy buses are more likely to purchase used models, which currently are plentiful and cost less than new coaches.
“Operators are back to 50% to 70% of their pre-pandemic business, and by the end of the year they could be at 80%,” Maitland said. “But sales of new coaches will lag” the recovery.
The bright spot for motorcoach manufacturers has been public transit sales, which are relatively strong, even though ridership remains below pre-pandemic levels, because transit agencies have money to buy buses. Electric buses also appear to be gaining ground, with most of the sales going to public transit agencies or companies shuttling their employees to work every day.
“There is more incentive now to move from diesel to zero emissions,” said Frank Girardot, Senior Director of Communications at BYD Motors, a Chinese manufacturer of electric vehicles that has a factory in Los Angeles. “We’ve been doing it for a while, so we have a large customer base and we are looking forward to seeing it continue to grow.”
Temsa North America highlighted its move into the electric bus market by unveiling the first electric version of its TS 45 model motorcoach, which has been on U.S. and Canadian roads since 2014. The Turkish manufacturer also premiered an updated version of its diesel TS 45 during EXPO.
“We have been a great success in this market for nearly 10 years and have become one of the strongest players, especially with our market share reaching 10% in the motorcoach segment,” Temsa CEO Tolga Kaan Doğancıoğlu said after unveiling both new buses. “Now, together with our electric TS 45E model and our revamped TS 45 vehicle, we are bringing a whole new vibe to the market.”
UMA Members get first look
Those weren’t the only brand-new buses on display at EXPO. Daimler North America introduced its two Mercedes-Benz Tourrider luxury motorcoaches. Even though the company announced last year that it would be selling the new coaches, this was the first opportunity for many United Motorcoach Association Members to see them.
Daimler also announced that Boston-based A Yankee Line was its first customer for the Tourrider, committing to a multi-year order. The operator is expected to trade in its Setra coaches, also a Daimler product, for the new buses. Daimler has stopped selling Setras in North America but still services existing buses and also is selling off new and used models it still owns.
“It’s going phenomenally well and interest is extremely high in the Tourrider,” said Zane Gray, Director of Marketing for Daimler North America. He said production will begin soon on the new coaches, with the first deliveries planned for the fourth quarter of 2022.
ABC Companies, the longtime North American distributor of Belgian-made Van Hool motorcoaches, also unveiled a bus that the company now sells, the Turtle Top Terra Transit medium-duty shuttle bus. ABC also offers two other Turtle Top models.
Thom Peebles, ABC’s Vice President of Marketing, said the products are part of the company’s push to diversify to meet the needs of an evolving market. “We’re surviving because we are diversifying,” Peebles said. “We’re expanding into different sizes, including micro-transit and Turtle Top cutaways. Electric has kept us very busy,” he said, referring to the new battery-electric Van Hool CX45E motorcoach.
‘Coming alive again’
ABC also is planning to enter the transit market with low-floor buses made in Washington state by a Canadian company, Peebles said. During the COVID-19-caused downturn, the company also offered parts and service to transit companies. “We have parts for all models,” Peebles said.
Also displaying buses at EXPO was Ultra Coachliner, which sells full-sized front-engine models. General Manager Mike Curtis said the buses are built on base model executive coaches with upscale features and safety upgrades. “We are big in schools, colleges, churches and nonprofits,” Curtis said. “We’re also marketing them to the motorcoach industry. I’d like to see more motorcoaches with engines in the front on the road.”
Rounding out the manufacturers at EXPO was Irizar, a Spanish bus maker that has been operating around the world for nearly 130 years. Irizar USA, based in Las Vegas, has been selling two versions of its 45-foot i6 buses in North America since 2016 but has struggled to get traction in the market and was hit hard by the pandemic sales slump, said Axier Etxezarreta, former president of Irizar USA and now Area Export Manager for Europe.
“Now we are reinforcing our team, reinforcing our service network,” Etxezarreta said. “The market is coming alive again, and we are ready to fight for our share of the market.”