A record for an indoor commercial bus show
Article and photo by Larry Plachno
The annual BusCon event returned to Indianapolis from September 19-21, 2016 for its 21st edition. Sponsored by Bobit Business Media, BusCon is primarily geared to small and mid-size buses for all types of owners and operators including private, government and commercial. My usual mantra of “So many buses, so little time” was very appropriate this year since the event set a new record in the number of vehicles on display and became a real challenge for taking photos and obtaining information.
This was the third year for BusCon in Indianapolis following several years at Navy Pier in Chicago. The move from Chicago to Indianapolis three years ago was originally looked at with a little skepticism. After all, many of the exhibitors are based in northern Indiana in Elkhart or nearby. However, Indianapolis has increasingly won praise. Among other reasons, things are within walking distance. Not only are hotels adjacent to the convention center but several restaurants are nearby and prices are more reasonable. Indianapolis also has an above-street passageway system that allows people to walk above traffic and avoid inclement weather. The weather during BusCon this year was excellent and even a little unseasonably warm.
Although primarily geared to small and mid-size buses, BusCon has become remarkably diversified with vehicles on display ranging from small vans to full-size intercity coaches. At least a part of the reason for this diversification is that the limo operators are moving up to small buses while the coach operators are moving down to mid-size and smaller buses. While the event is national and even international in many respects, we are finding that BusCon is also increasingly becoming a regional gathering for bus people of all kinds from the Midwest.
As always, exciting new things turn up at BusCon. One thing that caught my attention was a fuel-saving hybrid system based on hydraulics. On display was a chassis from Europe that combined with an American composite body to offer a low-floor cutaway. Also interesting was a sliding lift that allowed the same van entrance to be used by both ambulatory and handicapped passengers.
The most noteworthy trend at this show was the record number of vehicles on display. We counted 75 inside and five more outside for a total of 80. This is obviously a record for an indoor commercial bus show that probably goes back decades. We also noted that more exhibitors elected to display on the show floor this year and fewer had vehicles outside for inspection and test drives.
For the past two years there was a noticeable trend towards more vans and fewer cutaways. That trend reversed this year. The number of vans on display was less than half of last year while the number of cutaways on display this year was more than double of what we had last year. Several readers will ask “why?”
Much of this seems to result from the recent introduction of the new Ford Transit and Dodge Ram Promaster vans. Since they were available as vans last year, many of the exhibitors moved quickly to put the new vans in their product line. As a result, there were more vans than cutaways on display in 2015.
The Sprinter had been available as a chassis as well as a conventional van for several years. Body builders like Mauck2 have done well with the Sprinter chassis, but they were only rarely seen at BusCon. However, the Dodge Ram Promaster is now available as a chassis and the new Ford Transit chassis for cutaways has taken off like wildfire. I counted a dozen cutaways on the show floor with a Ford Transit chassis, making it easily the most popular chassis at this year’s show.
As has been typical in recent years, alternative fuels have not made a large impact. Gas- and diesel-powered vehicles represent approximately 90 percent of all on display. There were two electric buses on the show floor as well as a bus with a hydraulic hybrid system. Propane continues to dominate as the most popular alternative fuel at BusCon. There were two propane-powered vehicles in the propane booth as well as a propane-powered Ford Transit on the show floor.
I might note that I also see the start of a trend to underfloor luggage in cutaways. Indbus again displayed a cutaway on a Freightliner chassis that offers substantial underfloor storage as well as an optional restroom. Grech also displayed a cutaway with big-coach type underfloor luggage and a restroom.
We did take the time to look at some of the interiors. Woodgrain flooring is very popular. The gray color seemed to be the most popular, but there were other colors of woodgrain. As far as seating is concerned, leather, and particularly black leather, seemed to be the most popular seat covering although we did see some seats covered in cloth. We also noted that black was a popular exterior color. Much of this may have come from the limousine influence on the industry.
Following is a list of the vehicles on display. Because of the number involved, I will try to keep the information brief. However, I will provide more detail where a particular vehicle was interesting or unusual. For the sake of simplicity, I will try to break them down into different groups but this may not work well in every case because of unusual vehicles or different types in the same display booth.
Most of the major integral coach builders were represented at BusCon in one way or another. There were four big coaches on the show floor and another two outside.
Motor Coach Industries (MCI), headquartered in Des Plaines, Illinois, has been a regular exhibitor at BusCon. The biggest news at MCI is that the company was recently acquired by New Flyer. While both MCI and New Flyer have bus factories in Winnipeg, Manitoba, MCI specializes in coaches while New Flyer today specializes in transit buses. The two companies now share a common president and CEO in Paul Soubry. This acquisition has been looked upon favorably by many in the industry since it puts MCI under knowledgeable bus people following years under outside investment companies.
On display was the MCI J4500, the most popular intercity coach on the market for at least a decade. The J4500 continues to go through regular rounds of improvements, keeping it up-to-date in components, safety systems and clean engines. Available outside for inspection and test drives was a Setra TopClass S 417. This one had a center door, a lower level restroom and a lounge area in the rear. The Setra is built in Germany but is sold and supported here by MCI.
The second bus on display was a New Flyer product. New Flyer’s primary transit bus product is their Xcelsior model which is available in lengths of 35 and 40 feet as well as a 60-foot articulated. On display was their newer Midi model, a medium-duty transit bus engineered by Alexander Dennis. It is available in lengths of 30 or 35 feet and with one or two doors.
Showing a Temsa TS 35E coach was CH Bus Sales of Faribault, Minnesota, the company responsible for sales, service and support of Temsa coaches. A major coach builder in Turkey, Temsa saw a need for a shorter, heavy-duty coach on the American market and engineered their 35-foot TS 35 particularly to fill this need. More than 500 have already been delivered and an updated and improved TS 35E Enhanced model was recently introduced.
CH Bus Sales also offers two other Temsa models. The 30-foot TS 30 model has become increasingly popular for transporting smaller groups. Like its longer sibling, the TS 30 is a heavy-duty integral coach with big coach features including air suspension and underfloor luggage. Recently added to the product line is the 45-foot TS 45 model that offers a full-size coach with the same features and amenities that have made the shorter Temsa coaches popular.
Now celebrating its fifth anniversary, CH Bus Sales has extended sales into Canada. Parts, service and support facilities have been increased and expanded. New facilities in New Jersey and California will be added to existing locations in Orlando and Dallas-Fort Worth. In addition, CH Bus Sales has mobile service trucks to support Temsa owners over much of the country.
Showing a full-size coach was INA – Irizar North America. This Spanish company has a long heritage of supplying buses for the European market and has become popular for charter and tour buses in several countries including the U.K. Recently, they introduced their i6 model to the American market.
Already popular in Europe, Irizar took the i6 and Americanized it for sale on this side of the Atlantic. The resulting coach has traditional American dimensions with a length of 45 feet and a width of 102 inches. Two different heights are available – either 12.2 feet or 12.9 feet. Standard capacity with a rear restroom is 56 passengers plus a driver.
The i6 comes with a Cummins engine and an Allison transmission. All three axles come from ZF. Provided as standard equipment is an entertainment system as well as a reverse camera. Safety equipment includes a Lane Departure Warning System, a Tire Pressure Monitoring System and a Driver Fatigue Detector.
ABC Companies had a booth on the show floor but no coach. However, on display outside and available for a ride and drive was their new 35-foot Van Hool CX35. Painted a light brown with black and red trim, the coach was lettered for Pioneer Trails.
The CX35 was derived from the popular Van Hool 45-foot CX45 model that has been on the market for several years. Essentially a shortened version of the CX45, the CX35 provides the same big coach amenities including air ride suspension, underfloor luggage, reclining seats and a restroom. A major advantage of the CX35 is that many of the parts are compatible with the longer coach and can be sourced from the same ABC parts locations.
Prevost was represented on the show floor with the 1989 LeMirage XL40 owned by Terrapin Blue. It was used for making videos during the show.
Freightliner Custom Chassis had two vehicles on display. One was their popular S2C chassis. Introduced a few years ago, the S2C includes a cab and has become particularly popular in higher quality cutaways. For example, Glaval had one of their Legacy buses on display at this show. It incorporates the S2C chassis with a 102-inch wide body to offer a larger, higher quality cutaway.
Also on display was an Arboc Spirit of Liberty Bus. It was built on a Freightliner XBA rear-engine low-floor pusher chassis and offered a two-door transit bus design. The low-floor design has been a standard feature of Arboc buses to offer ease of entry and exit for the handicapped. Arboc uses ramps instead of wheelchair lifts on its buses.
There were three vehicles on display at Ford Commercial Vehicles. All three were significant in one way or another.
A Ford E-450 chassis with a Glaval shuttle bus body was displayed on a Stertil-Koni lift. The reason for the lift was to show the hydraulic hybrid system from Lightning Hybrids of Loveland, Colorado. Popular gas- and diesel-electric hybrid systems typically generate energy while stopping and store it in a battery so it can be used to help in starting This system takes the stopping energy and stores it in a hydraulic tank to assist the bus when starting. Like the electric system, there is a control system to monitor the operation and prevent excessive pressure.
I might mention that another E-450 with the hydraulic Lightning Hybrid system was outside and available for inspection and test drives.
Two other vehicles on display at Ford were both cutaways built on Ford Transit chassis. One had a Starcraft body with a brown woodgrain floor, black leather seats and a rear luggage area. The other one had a Turtle Top shuttle body, gray woodgrain flooring and leather seats. I again note that the recently-introduced Ford Transit chassis dominated at this show with cutaways.
The Fiat/Chrysler booth had two Dodge Ram Promasters on display. One was painted red and had a Primetime shuttle interior with 1+1 reclining leather seating. There were also two Primetime Ram 3500 Promaster vans outside for inspection and test drives.
A second vehicle on display was somewhat unusual since it combined a special Ram chassis by Cox in Breda, Netherlands with a composite body by New England Wheels in Billerica, Massachusetts. Known as the Frontrunner, it joined the economy and popularity of the Dodge Ram with a durable low-floor body. Advantages included a computer-controlled air suspension system, which is rare in these smaller vehicles. The low-floor body allowed use of a 1:6 lightweight fold-out ramp for handicapped passengers.
The Mercedes-Benz Vans people had three of their Sprinters on the show floor this year. One was a passenger van 144 with rear luggage and a 12-passenger interior with rows of three, three and four plus driver and copilot. A second van was their Smartliner Transporter with a 15-passenger interior plus luggage at the rear. The third Sprinter had an interior by McSweeney with 2+1 leather seats and rear luggage.
There were two vehicles displayed by the General Motors Fleet people. One was a G 3500 Express chassis painted white. The second was a G 4500 Express chassis with a Turtle Top body. The interior had 2+2 seating with cloth seats.
Several different buses were on display that do not fit well into either the van or cutaway categories. I might mention that this bus category appears to be increasing in popularity since my notes show five more vehicles in this category this year over 2015.
A regular exhibitor at BusCon is Complete Coach Works from Riverside, California. On display was IndyGo bus #0021, one of their ZEPS (Zero Emissions Propulsion System) battery-electric buses. IndyGo is the local transit authority in Indianapolis. The significance of this particular bus is that it was the last one of 21 ZEPS buses recently delivered by Complete Coach Works to Indianapolis and now in regular service.
What makes the ZEPS bus unique is that Complete Coach Works combines a rebuilt low-floor transit bus with their battery-electric drive system. The result is an economical battery-electric transit bus for operators who would like to take a step towards battery-electric operation. One major advantage of the ZEPS bus is that it allows an operator to get into battery-electric operation at a relatively nominal cost. A second advantage is that it offers a bus body that is compatible with most existing fleets and hence makes things easier for mechanics and the service staff.
Alliance Bus Group once again showed their Vicinity transit bus. Built by Grande West in British Columbia, the 30-foot Vicinity has proven very popular in Canadian transit applications. In spite of its size, the Vicinity offers numerous higher quality features including a Cummins engine, a ZF Ecolife transmission, a 24-volt electrical and multiplex system, a kneeling system, an optional second door and a Braun ADA wheelchair ramp.
It was mentioned that Alliance has expanded recently with the acquisition of Bus Group, Lasseter Bus & Mobility, Arcola Sales & Service and First Class Coach Sales. The company now has seven locations in eight states.
Becoming a regular exhibitor at BusCon is Karsan USA, the American affiliate of the Turkish bus builder. The company currently offers five different models including their CS Electric battery-electric, 19-foot small transit bus. There has been some discussion about building a Karsan factory in the Miami area. They had two buses on display.
Karsan’s Star model has a length of 26 feet and nine inches. It was designed for tourist, employee shuttles and intercity coach transportation. The Star will seat 29 passengers in reclining seats with three-point seat belts, armrests, cup holders and foot rests. Components include a Cummins engine and Allison transmission. There is underfloor space for luggage and an optional wheelchair lift at the rear door.
The ATAK model is essentially a small, modern low-floor transit bus. It has a length of 26 feet and nine inches. A Cummins engine is connected to an Allison transmission to drive the bus. Seats are transit-type plastic with cushions. Several different interior configurations are available that provide capacities up to 46 including standees.
Thomas Built Buses has been a regular exhibitor at BusCon. This year they again showed their Transit-Liner™ C2 model. The C2 is essentially a Type C school bus that Thomas has modified for commercial operation. A Cummins diesel is the standard power but both propane and CNG are optionally available. It is available in seven different wheelbases ranging from 158 inches to 279 inches.
There are a huge number of options to make the C2 more suited to commercial uses. Included are air ride suspension and air disc brakes. Possible passenger amenities include reclining seats, overhead parcel racks or other options, a restroom and a wheelchair lift. Both rear and underfloor luggage space are optionally available. There are also several possible safety features including collision avoidance systems, a camera system, electronic stability control and a telematics system.
While the Girardin Micro Bird buses are regularly seen at BusCon, this year the big Blue Bird buses showed up too. On display were two Micro Birds from Quebec and two bigger buses from Fort Valley, Georgia.
One Micro Bird was a cutaway built on an E-350 Ford classis. It was marked as a D-Series MD Edition and featured a wide 42-inch side door. It was also powered by a Roush propane system. The other Micro Bird cutaway was built on a Ford Transit chassis and marked as their CT Series. It offered black leather seats and a woodgrain floor.
One of the larger buses was essentially similar to a Type C school bus. It was painted white with blue trim and was known as the Vision model. Several commercial and adult options were available. The other larger bus was similar to a flat front or Type D school bus that Blue Bird calls their All American. It had blue cloth reclining seats. Blue Bird was offering their T3RE flat front model with both diesel and CNG power and a wide range of options.
Arboc Mobility from Middlebury, Indiana has been a regular exhibitor at BusCon. They specialize in low-floor vehicles that make access easy for the handicapped. This year they had two buses and four cutaways on display in what was one of the larger display areas. The new bus model was known as the Spirit of Equess. Its name apparently comes from combining the words “equal” and “access.” It was basically a one-door transit bus with a ramp at the front. The second bus was their Spirit of Liberty model. This is a two-door transit model with a ramp in front.
Included among the cutaway models at Arboc was the Spirit of Mobility model. It continued the low-floor theme, was built on a Chevy chassis and had a ramp at the door. Also built on a Chevy chassis was the low-floor Spirit of Freedom cutaway. It also had a ramp at the front door. The two remaining cutaways were the Spirit of Independence models. One was built on a Dodge Ram chassis while the other was built on a Ford Transit chassis. Both had low-floor bodies with a ramp at the door.
Once again showing their C-6 model was BYD Motors. It is essentially a 23-foot, battery-electric powered small coach with a range of about 124 miles. It is available in both low-floor and high-floor versions. While most BYD electric buses use electric motors built into the wheels, the C-6 uses an electric motor at the rear that drives the wheels through a drive line.
Another bus on the show floor was displayed by Rosco Vision Systems. This 1999 Gillig LF40 low-floor transit bus has a center door and originally operated for Hertz. It now shows the Rosco integration of the Mobileye Collision Avoidance system with Pedestrian Side-Sensing. Using sensor cameras around the bus, the system can detect pedestrians and warn the driver of possible unsafe situations. The system can also provide other assistance to the driver.
Here is information on vans on the show floor that have not been previously mentioned.
AbiliTrax of Jamestown, New York had a red Ford Transit van on display. They are perhaps best known for their unique flooring system that allows the interior to be quickly reconfigured with various seating, paratransit or cargo configurations. What they showed at BusCon was their new “Shift N Step” dual entry system. They have developed a 34-inch side mounted wheelchair lift that slides out of the way when not in use to also allow the side door to be used for ambulatory passenger entry.
Located in Winamac, Indiana, BraunAbility is a regular exhibitor at BusCon. They showed a Dodge Caravan that had been modified with a ramp to be used as a paratransit vehicle. They called it their Entervan. We noted that aftermarket seating was available to allow the van to carry ambulatory passengers as well as a passenger in a wheelchair.
Known for their higher quality Sprinter van interiors, McSweeney Designs from Trussville, Alabama had two vans on display. Both were painted black and had upscale interiors. One had black leather 1+1 seating and a total capacity of eight passengers plus the driver. The second van had a wide side entry door and an interior with 2+1 seating in black leather.
Based in Ohio, TransitWorks had a Ford Transit van on display. It had wide bifold doors and seats with black leather. The company offered several different interior configurations on the Ford Transit as well as interiors in other types of vans.
Cutaways were easily the largest group of vehicles on the show floor. Here is some brief information on those that have not already been mentioned.
Indbus from Skopje, Macedonia, has previously exhibited at BusCon. They had two cutaways on display. What makes them different is being able to combine American components with a provision for luggage space. Their Inovo model is built on a Freightliner S2 chassis. The bus on display had a woodgrain floor and cloth reclining seats. A restroom is optional. What is noteworthy is 410 cubic feet of underfloor luggage storage space.
Their second bus on display is their smaller Maximo model. It is built on a Ford Transit chassis and has cloth reclining seats in a 2+1 configuration. It offers both rear and underfloor luggage space. Matthews Buses will be offering the Indbus products as will Best Bus Sales.
Another cutaway with underfloor storage space and additional features was shown by Grech Motors from Riverside, California. It was built on a Freightliner chassis and came with a gray woodgrain floor and black leather seats. The rear restroom was impressive. What was really noteworthy about this bus was that the sides were not flat but had an attractive curving line from front to rear below which was underfloor luggage compartments like a big coach. When combined with a rear luggage compartment, this bus offered some substantial big coach features.
Certainly worthy of special mention was the Rev Group exhibit area. Rev’s recent acquisition of several bus manufacturers from Allied Specialty Vehicles apparently precluded their appearance last year. This group included Goshen, Champion, Krystal, Federal and ElDorado-National. But they returned in full force this year with the largest display area on the show floor that included five cutaways plus a racing car.
Included in the display area was a World Trans T-Series 22T on a Ford Transit chassis. Another World Trans cutaway was built on an E-450 chassis. It had a lift on the right side near the rear and seating for 16 passengers plus two wheelchairs. Champion was represented with their LF Transport seating 25 passengers. It was built on an F-550 chassis and had a ramp at the front door.
Representing Federal was a Federal Spirit model on an E-450 chassis. It had seating for 24 plus a woodgrain floor, leather seats and a rear luggage area. Typically Krystal was their big, black KLX40 model built on the Freightliner S2C chassis. It also offered a woodgrain floor and black leather seating.
The centerpiece of the Rev Group display was a racing car. Rev brought in racing car driver Helio Castroneves who attracted a substantial crowd. He made himself available for photos and talking to fans.
A new company displaying this year was Embassy by SVO Group in Elkhart, Indiana. What we were told is that Al Foris, who ran Ameritrans, sold that bus manufacturer to ABC Companies a few years ago. When his non-compete ran out, he founded Embassy with Del Littrell. They had three cutaways on display.
The smallest cutaway was built on an F-350 chassis with a lift at the right side rear. Interior seating featured blue leather. A slightly larger cutaway was built on an F-450 chassis. It had a gray woodgrain floor and black leather seats. Their M-Series Cutaway was built on a Freightliner chassis. It featured computer-controlled fiberglass construction with a composite floor and sidewalls.
Another new exhibitor is Executive Coach Builders. This company has extensive experience working on limos and now has moved into cutaways and vans. They had a Sprinter van and two cutaways on display. The Sprinter had a luxury interior with tables and black leather seats. It also featured a rear luggage area.
One of the cutaways was built in an F-550 chassis and was known as the E-Coach 45. It had a woodgrain floor, black leather seats and tables. The other cutaway was their E-Coach 34 model. It was built on a Freightliner M2 chassis. Interior features included a gray woodgrain floor and black leather seats.
Diamond Coach from Oswego, Kansas did exhibit last year. They are best known for their vacuum-cured composite body. We received news that owner Dick Seybolt, who many may remember from FMCA shows, recently retired. We did meet Caleb Strickland at the show.
Diamond had two cutaways on display. A VIP 2200 model was built on a Ford E-450 chassis. It provided seating for 14 and had a lift on the right side at the rear. The other cutaway, a VIP 2200 model, was built on a GM 4500 chassis. It had seats for 14 as well as rear luggage.
Another regular exhibitor from Elkhart, Indiana is Glaval Bus. This year they had four cutaways on display. New this year is their 21-foot Commute model. Built on a Ford Transit chassis, it came with bifold doors and a rear luggage area. Nearby was their 27-foot Universal model. Built on an E-450 chassis it had cloth seats and a rear luggage area. What made this model unusual is that it had a separate door for the driver.
The Glaval Titan II LF low-floor model was built on a Chevy chassis. It had a ramp at the front for handicapped entry as well as fold-up seats to make room for wheelchairs. Glaval also showed their popular Legacy model. Built on a Freightliner S2C chassis, it had a woodgrain floor. The display bus offered the same 102-inch width as big coaches.
Metro Worldwide LLC is the company selling the Winnebago Metro Link line built at the Winnebago plant in Iowa. Their cutaway on display was built on an E-450 Ford chassis. It had a woodgrain floor, black leather seats in a 2+2 configuration and parcel racks. The Winnebago buses are built differently than their RV products.
Three different cutaway buses were on display at Midwest Transit Equipment / Nationwide Bus Sales. The smallest had a Starcraft body on a Ford Transit 350 HD chassis. It featured a rear luggage area. Next was a Starcraft Allstar XL. It was built on a Ford F-550 chassis. A third cutaway was a Starcraft 2015 Executive that was built on an International chassis. It had room for 28 passengers plus the driver. Features included a woodgrain floor, black leather seats and a rear luggage area.
Mobility/TRANS had a cutaway on display in conjunction with Nor-Cal Vans. Built on a Ford Transit chassis, it was powered by a propane liquid injection system. The interior had leather seats in a 2+1 configuration. It also had a rear lift.
Two different cutaways were on display at the Tiffany Coach Builders booth. Both had black exteriors and higher quality interiors that are normally associated with Tiffany buses. The smaller one was built on an F-550 Ford chassis and had bifold doors along with a 6.7 liter powerstroke engine. A second bus was on the F-650 Ford heavy-duty chassis. It came with a width of 102 inches.
Turtle Top is one of the older and better known body builders. They had four different cutaways on display at this show. Their VT3 model was built on a Ford Transit 350 HD chassis. It had a wheelchair lift on the right side near the rear. A Van Terra XLT cutaway was built on an E-350 Super Duty Ford chassis. It featured a rear luggage area. The Terra Transit model was built on a Ford F-450 chassis. There was a wheelchair lift on the right side near the rear. Their big Odyssey XL model was built on a Ford F-550 chassis. It also had a rear luggage area.
There were a few other booths that did not fit into the previous categories.
As is typical, the Propane Education & Research Council had a booth promoting propane fuel for buses. On display was a Starcraft MTS Access bus on a Ford E-450 chassis. It was equipped with a Roush Propane Autogas system. The other vehicle on display was a Chevy 3400 HD pickup truck. It had an ICOM propane system for fuel.
The SLEC Lift people showed off their lift with a cutaway. It was built on a Ford-450 chassis and had a capacity of 23 passengers. It was marked KSIR and was lettered for Best Bus Sales.
Finally, in keeping with the Indianapolis racing theme, BusCon had a racing car on display in booth 1421. Some of us noted that when several girls in racing uniforms came to pose with the racing car, the area suddenly became more popular.
Wait ‘Til Next Year
After a record of 80 vehicles on the show floor, one has to question what BusCon will be like in 2017. We will simply have to wait and see. Expectedly, BusCon will return to the Indiana Convention Center in Indianapolis. The dates will be September 11-13, 2017. So many buses, so little time.