Seeking solutions from Munich to Mzansi
Two MAN Bus product introductions, and a delegation of representatives from the MAN Truck & Bus AG parent company, made the 2016 Southern African Bus Operators Association (Saboa) conference and exhibition one to remember for the MAN Truck & Bus SA team.
“It’s difficult to understand the South African market from a European perspective. We’re not used to the variance of vehicles and customers, or the market structure and the many applications,” explains Heinz Kiess, senior manager: sales buses and coaches, product marketing high-floor vehicles, at MAN Truck & Bus AG.
Based in Munich, Germany, Kiess found his first experience of Saboa quite an eye-opener. “The South African bus industry is really special; I’ve never seen a market like it before.
“My impressions are that it’s more challenging than the European market for sales. To match the local requirements, as a manufacturer, we have to listen to every customer – and they all have their own philosophies as to what they expect from our vehicles.
“MAN needs to be flexible and we have an experienced team here,” he adds.
The reason for Kiess’s visit was just that: to engage with customers and further establish what must be done to support them and the local MAN team in the future.
“This market will also evolve and increase its requirements for emissions regulation and safety. We want to lead the market with our safety features, as we do in Europe,” he notes.
“Our South African market is more complicated than the European market. We have buses ranging from Euro-2 to Euro-6 vehicles, front or rear engines, truck conversions – and so on,” adds Philip Kalil-Zackey, head of sales and product – Bus, MAN Truck & Bus SA.
Kiess quips: “In Europe the city bus business is more or less just about low-floor or articulated vehicles, and we have maybe three different coach lengths. Engines are not a concern, other than in terms of their efficiency. When I was listening to some of the discussions earlier, I couldn’t believe all the options available here! South Africa is a very dynamic market.”
Adding to this dynamism, MAN Truck & Bus SA used Saboa 2016 to reveal two new products. The first was its reworked, revived 18.350 HB Lion’s Explorer. Running on a front-engined 4×2 chassis, the 18.350 is powered by MAN’s 10,5-litre D20 engine.
Its 257 kW (350 hp) is channelled to the drive axle through a 12-speed Tipmatic transmission, while comfort for the 65 passengers is increased thanks to the fitment of air suspension. Anti-lock disk brakes are fitted all round, and a retarder is standard.
“With the revival of his product, we’re targeting customers that operate in arduous commuter or intercity conditions, such as in Lesotho, Swaziland and KwaZulu-Natal, where they need high horsepower for the mountainous topography. However, it is a very versatile, one-bus-fits-all product,” says Kalil-Zackey.
The second product to make its debut was the new CLA 18.220 chassis. Although catering for the budget segment of the city/commuter market, this 65-seater, front-engine bus also features air suspension, anti-lock brakes and a retarder. Its six-cylinder engine produces 164 kW (220 hp), driving through a six-speed manual transmission.
Both chassis are assembled locally, with some local content in both, while the Lion’s Explorer is produced entirely at MAN’s Olifantsfontein production facility.
“We’ve tested the CLA for three years in South Africa, and we expect customer feedback to be very positive. In fact, we’ve sold the first two local units already, and we believe more will follow very quickly because we’ve priced it perfectly for the market,” smiles Kalil-Zackey.
There’s more to come this year, too, he alludes – with new products in the pipeline. “We’re looking forward to an exciting year,” he adds.
Kiess adds some motivation: “We’re working together on a strategy and to see what we can do, step for step, to bring the best solutions to our customers, at the right time. We have some good ideas and I look forward to the future!”