Fuso commences export of built-up large buses
FRANK BEETON reports on important bus news from overseas.
Japanese buses are certainly not unknown in the global market, but, until now, they have mainly appeared in chassis form, and were provided with locally built bodywork at final destination.
The South African passenger transport industry was awash with Nissan Diesel CB20s in the late 1970s, and there was also a fair sprinkling of Hino BY340s and Isuzu DPR 610s in operation by the time that locally manufactured engines from Atlantis Diesel Engineering (ADE) became compulsory fitment in the early 1980s. All of these models followed the “trambus” layout that was pioneered by British manufacturer Guy Motors twenty years earlier, where a straight ladder-frame chassis was fitted with a front vertical engine and a retracted front axle, allowing a full-width entrance to be placed adjacent to the driver.
After ADE implementation, European manufacturers Mercedes-Benz and MAN, using similar chassis layouts, dominated the local bus market and the Japanese chassis slowly faded out of contention.
Buses built on Japanese chassis were also to be found working in places such as Singapore and Australia, but large fully built or integral units from that source have been less common, presumably because of tariff protection provided to local bodybuilding industries, or operator preferences for home-grown coachwork.
However, smaller capacity fully built buses such as the Mitsubishi Rosa, Toyota Coaster and Nissan Civilian did find their way into a number of export markets, including Australia, despite the existence of a prolific local bodywork manufacturing industry.
Building on the established success of its Rosa in that market, Daimler-controlled Mitsubishi Fuso Truck and Bus Corporation has now made its MP300, large city-route bus available to Australian operators. This is an ultra-low floor, 10,5 or 11-metre unit with a capacity of 63 passengers (34 seated and 29 standing). Features include Fuso’s 6M60, 7,5-litre twin overhead camshaft, turbocharged and intercooled diesel engine mounted at the rear offside, BlueTec emission reduction, six-speed automatic transmission, and Idle Stop/Start.
The MP300 appears to be based on Fuso’s Japanese home market Aero Star model range, which, in its “Non-Step” format, has a front entrance step height of 310 mm, and in its “Urban/Rush-hour”, predominantly standee configuration, can accommodate up to 80 passengers (27 seated and 53 standing). This bus has a two-level floor, with an extremely low front section, and a raised section to the rear of the central entrance sliding door.
The Australian bus industry has a substantial number of independent operators, who, through participating in integrated ticketing systems, can work seamlessly in conjunction with other modes of transport such as public sector city bus operations and rail services.
The first MP300 to enter service in Australia was purchased by Turnbulls, which operates between Traralgon and Yarram, in rural Victoria. This unit has already covered more than 40 000 km in operation. The operator has reported improved fuel consumption when compared to other units in its fleet.
It will be interesting to see if Daimler opts to offer completely built up Fuso large buses to other export markets, including our own. While the South African government gives preference to locally manufactured buses when purchasing for public sector entities, imported fully built buses have not been ruled out in this market, with substantial numbers having arrived from overseas sources such as Brazil.
The local bus operating industry, which has worked in an environment of legislative and financial uncertainty for many years, should be interested in any product offering either reduced acquisition or operating costs. Watch this space!
New Flyer buys NABI – and the Marcopolo web widens
It seems that there is a giant force growing in the global bus business. Global Bus over the past two years has reported on the expanding business interests of Brazilian bus builder Marcopolo SA. These have included: the establishment of an important joint venture with Russia’s leading truck and chassis builder, Kamaz, in the form of Kamaz-Marco; the acquisition of a 75 percent stake in Australia’s largest bus bodybuilder, Volgren Australia; and an entry into the North American market, through the purchase of a 20 percent stake in Canadian bus builder New Flyer Industries Inc., which claims to be the leading manufacturer of heavy-duty transit buses on that continent.
These acquisitions were expected to take the combined annual production total of Marcopolo’s 17 global operations and its allied manufacturers to well beyond the 33 000 unit mark.
New Flyer has now, in turn, used the proceeds of Marcopolo’s share purchase to acquire North American Bus Industries Inc. of Anniston Alabama, from its previous owner, Cerberus Capital Management LP (Cerberus was the owner of Chrysler before its Chapter 11 bankruptcy and subsequent move into the Fiat empire).
The purchase reportedly includes NABI’s Anniston factory, the parts distribution centre in Delaware, Ohio, and its service centre in Jurupa Valley, California. NABI is also a substantial player in the all-makes parts aftermarket, sourcing items from more than 200 suppliers to support bus operators throughout North America. In the financial year ended March 31, NABI delivered 582 buses and had a firm order book of 593 units at the time of the sale.
The integration of NABI into New Flyer’s business is expected to generate significant benefits. These include: a wider selection of low floor, BRT, and midibus products; a stainless steel body frame option; expanded parts business; improved customer support; rationalised purchasing and strategic sourcing; as well as technology and best practice sharing. The combined operations will employ more than 3 000 people and will gain access to a parc of some 40 000 heavy-duty transit buses currently operating across North America.
It must be assumed that this combined operation will also have access to Marcopolo’s engineering, technical, purchasing and operational expertise as well as its products, as stated in the agreement when the Brazilian company bought into New Flyer.
New Flyer also recently concluded a long-term arrangement with Alexander Dennis Limited of the United Kingdom to manufacture, market and support a medium-duty, low-floor transit bus in the North American market. The newly acquired business will operate under the titles NABI Bus LLC and NABI Parts LLC within the New Flyer grouping.