Bus mecca

Bus mecca

The recent arrival of BMC buses on the South African market should have provided a clue to the extent of Turkey’s determination to become a serious contender in the global bus business. An Internet search by FRANK BEETON revealed just how important they already are.

According to a report published in May 2007, Turkey was, at the time, producing more buses than any country in Europe; and getting close to building more than 50% of the buses sold on that continent. Turkey’s bus-building heritage dates back four decades, having begun in the 1960s with government backing. MAN was the first global manufacturing giant to establish a production presence in the country, opening the MANAS factory in Istanbul in concert with a local partner in  1966. This factory was eventually replaced by a larger facility located in Ankara. Mercedes-Benz soon followed suit through a manufacturing licensing agreement with local company Otomarsin in 1967. In 1990, Daimler Benz purchased a majority interest in the company, and changed its name to Mercedes-Benz Türk. Several local companies – including Temsa, Otokar, Otobüs, Karoseri, Sanayi AS, and BMC Sanayi ve Ticaret AS – have since also established a strong export presence, using Turkey as a production base.

Because of Turkey’s mountainous terrain, in the absence of significant rail competition the domestic Turkish bus market now services a comprehensive network of national routes. Both local authorities and private operators provide city transport, making use of buses of all sizes. These range from 16-seater minibuses, through midi-buses (17-25 seaters) to full-size units, operating on fixed routes and running at high frequencies. Turkey still operates under the Dolmus system, dating back to the Balkan War of 1909 when all public transport vehicles were commandeered by Government for troop movements. To fill the gap, private operators were authorised to service designated routes, and the legacy of this system has allowed more than 5 000 individual operators to run minibuses in Istanbul. Efforts are currently being made to group Dolmus operators together into cartels so that, collectively, they can purchase larger vehicles. This would reduce the absolute number of passenger service vehicles plying the streets of the city, thereby cutting congestion. The initiative will have a familiar ring to South African readers, and it is noteworthy that vehicle manufacturers supplying Dolmus operators are not supportive of the proposals!

Annual Turkish production volumes for the domestic and export bus markets run at around 40 000 units, of which some 5 000 are full-size. The growing importance of Turkey as a global source for buses is best reflected in the biennial Busworld Turkey exhibition, beginning in 2007. The most recent edition of this show was held in Istanbul in March 2010, with exhibits of the latest products from Turkish manufacturers and foreign companies competing in the local bus market. Major trends evident at this year’s show included moves towards more low-entry and low-floor units, and an increasing level of interest in compressed natural gas (CNG) as a fuel source.

Turkey – not yet a member of the European Union – elected to adopt Euro 4 emission standards in January 2009, but these are subject to a two-year derogation period which allows the continuing sale of Euro 1- and Euro 2-compliant vehicles until the end of 2010. With the expiry of this concession in sight, much emphasis was placed on Euro 4 and even Euro 5/Environmentally Efficient Vehicle (EEV)-compliant vehicles at this year’s show. The Turkish government’s current agreement with Russia and the Ukraine for the flat-fee supply of natural gas has also increased local interest in compressed natural gas (CNG)-fuelled buses, particularly from municipalities. The transport authority in Istanbul is reported to be putting the finishing touches to an imminent tender for some 500 low-floor rigid and articulated city buses, of which 200 solo units will be CNG-fuelled.

Among the exhibits at the show were:

•  BMC’s Procity 12 m super low-floor city bus, powered by a Cummins Westport ISL Euro 4-compliant CNG engine with outputs in the 250 to 320 hp (186-239 kW) range. Features include three double-width entrance doors, manual folding wheelchair ramp, full air suspension, and a right-side kneeling facility.

•  Otokar’s Kent fully low-floor 12 m city bus for the European market, which will go into production in June, 2010. This uses a Deutz 6-cylinder 7.15 l Euro 4-compliant water-cooled diesel engine developing 290 hp (216 kW) and driving through a Voith DIWA automatic transmission. Other features include full air suspension with Voith independent front units, ventilated disc brakes with ABS and ASR, air conditioning, and surveillance camera systems at the rear and inside the bus.

•  Guleryuz Otomotiv’s four recently-developed models, manufactured at its new purpose-built Bursa plant. These were the Cobra GD 272 low-floor 12 m city bus with 280 hp (210 kW) MAN engine, the Cobra GD LE low-entry 9.2 m city bus, the Cobra GL9 Intercity 11 m 42-seater integral coach with Allison 3000 Series transmission, and an open-top
11 m double-decker bus with 310 hp (230 kW) Euro 5-compliant DAF engine.

•  The Mercedes-Benz Türk operations at Askaray (trucks) and Hosdere (buses) were upgraded with a combined investment of €35 million during 2009. The Hosdere plant is now claimed to be the biggest bus and coach manufacturing facility in Europe, with a total production capacity of 4 000 units per annum.

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