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Improvements on the Versatile MCI J4500 for 2016

Perhaps expectedly, MCI has recently unveiled its list of improvements on their popular and versatile J4500 model for 2016. While the improvements are noteworthy in themselves, this does bring up the subject that the J4500 is increasingly being used in all types of service. Your editor may have to eat his words regarding a statement made several years ago regarding coach models being used in universal applications.

Looking Back

All of this starts back in 1982 with deregulation followed by the introduction of European-styled coaches in late 1984 that offered a different design and more passenger features geared towards the tour and higher charter markets. This caused a major shift in the motorcoach industry where operators began using one type of bus for heavy-duty scheduled service and another type of bus for tours and high quality charters.

At MCI this initially evolved into the “A” and “B” models for bread-and-butter operations and the new smooth-side “C” model for higher quality service. I remember suggesting that the venerable MC-9 may well be the last model comfortable serving both of these markets. However, as the J4500 evolved in technology, amenities and popularity, it has also increased substantially in versatility. Today the J4500 is equally comfortable running heavy-duty scheduled ­service for a number of leading operators while also proudly serving on the best tours and charters. Its versatility has been one of the major features of the J4500.

The ongoing improvements in the J4500 date way back to 1997 when MCI put its new Renaissance® model into production. The name was appropriate since it not only witnessed a major change in production from platform integral to Web frame integral, but it also made major steps forward in styling and design. Your editor was honored with a invitation to look at the work-in-progress at Winnipeg and gave the new model high marks.

Soon known as the 102EL3, this model was renamed the E4500 at the turn of the century and became a hit with MCI operators for higher quality service. Understandably, MCI operators began to ask for a simpler coach that offered this same modern styling. As a result, the J4500 was born and introduced in early 2001. At least initially, there was a gap between the two coaches with the E4500 as the top-of-the-line and the J4500 more of a bread-and-butter model.

Then, as they say, a strange thing happened that should have been expected. By 2002, the J4500 began outselling the E4500 and by 2004 it also passed the D4500 in sales and became the most popular coach on the market. To its credit, the J4500 has now passed the 10-year mark as number one in coach sales.

This increased popularity prompted the engineers in Winnipeg to work hard at improving the J4500. At first the J4500 received improvements and upgrades from time to time. More recently, these improvements have come on an annual basis and are a major reason why the J4500 model continues its popularity. While the earlier J4500 coaches are good, the newer ones are better. Hence, operators pleased with their current J4500 fleet keep lining up to place orders for new ones.

With the round of 2013 improvements, the J4500 had effectively surpassed the E4500. The wide suspension, newer design and numerous other improvements put the J4500 in the unique position of being the sequel that outpaced the original. In addition many styling cues and features available on the E were now apparent on the J including a taller profile, vertical rear features and full high/low rise from the MCI Dynamic suspension system. Even the MCI E4500 rear frame was carried into the New J so there really is a family lineage. Operators who wanted a coach in their fleet for higher quality service, moved from the E4500 to the J4500.

While all this was going on, the J4500 became more versatile. From the start, Peter Pan put the J4500 in service in its fleet as a heavy-duty scheduled service coach and came back for repeat orders. Several other major scheduled service operators like Indian Trails and Martz adopted the J4500 for heavy-duty scheduled service. Even more operators began using it for both regular as well as higher quality tours and charters. As a result, the J4500 has become surprisingly versatile and accepted in all kinds of service.

Recent Improvements

I would be remiss if I did not give the MCI engineers a well-earned compliment for some of the recent improvements to the J4500 that truly make it a world-class coach. Noteworthy was a major redesign in 2013 that gave the model a major step forward and set the stage for its continued evolution. Not only was the J4500 sleeker looking, but it offered a smooth rear cap and improved advertising space. It also became more fuel efficient, it handled better and even provided more safety and comfort features for passengers and drivers. Durability was also critical with new energy absorbing bumpers – both look great and reduce maintenance issues from having to replace front and rear bumper outer sections. The coach featured more LED lighting as well as a brushless evaporator and condenser motors for significantly longer life with little maintenance. These were major improvements for ­operators.

What is interesting is that while many of the previous improvements on the J4500 revolved around appearance and systems, many of the more recent advances are geared to economy, the environment and technology.

Handling has seen one improvement after another. I personally was very impressed with the move to wide suspension that was a major advance. After that, the J4500 took another step forward with the MCI Dynamic Suspension System which adds full coach raise and lower, plus a more efficient kneeling system available through the new Bendix air system. Last year, the ZF axles with independent front suspension became another giant step forward. Now, the turning radius stands at 40 feet and 11 inches with the standard, passive rear tag axle. This makes the “J” very nimble where it counts – on city streets and in parking lots.

Last year’s improvements also included the Bendix Wingman collision avoidance system that helps drivers avoid or reduce the severity of collisions. The Wingman system uses front-mounted radar sensors to monitor metallic objects ahead. In addition to detecting moving objects, the system can also gauge closure rates and either alert the driver or directly take action to prevent an accident. The basic Bendix Wingman (ACB) is an adaptive cruise-control option that provides intervention when speed control is activated. The new Wingman Advanced system is the coach industry’s first always-on collision-mitigation system and acts whether the cruise control is activated or not.

In both options, Wingman will alert the driver of the hazard before dethrottling and braking. There are three types of alerts: stationary object, following distance and impact. The driver can still steer or brake as he or she sees fit. The system can be customized. Wingman also allows “rubber-banding” with forward vehicles that can help operators save fuel and brake pads.

Another area where the J4500 has made some major advances recently is in the area of fuel economy. MCI worked with engine and transmission manufacturers to come up with increased fuel economy. This included axle ratios and other improvements. When performance was measured on a test track, the results were impressive. The J4500 also boats boasts lighter weight with its best-in-class 16,000 plus-pound payload capacity.

Other recent improvements include the attractive curb appeal as well as distinctive lighting featuring custom LED daytime running lights. Noteworthy are the new dual 150-amp Denso alternators. The new Bendix brakes on the J4500 provide car-like control and excellent stopping distances. The easier access to electronic improvements has been a great step forward.

Looking Ahead

Improvements on the J4500 for 2016 include some exciting seating and fabric options including stylish new Kiel seats that offer more than an additional inch of hip to knee room along with a more modern profile. Operators are increasingly opting for MCI’s 110-volt electrical outlets and USB plugs at every seat. An updated Saucon Wi-Fi router is another option that pleases passengers. Also available is an REI entertainment system that will please passengers when they tire of the view out of the panoramic windows.

Drivers have not been forgotten. J4500 drivers will enjoy one of the most ergonomic cockpits found in any coach. Recent improvements include more legroom and an additional overhead vent for improved driver comfort. For 2016, the Bendix Wingman system is getting a new display that is in an improved location and is easier to read.

An interesting new option is a heavy-duty package for use by operators serving mining and other rugged applications. It provides beefed-up undercarriage protection against rocks and road debris. It also has increased engine and cabin air filtration to combat the effects of silt and glacial dust. Most importantly, dual-air filtration provides further engine protection in dusty environments

Another new option is geared for operators who regularly face bad weather. Automatic tire chains on the J4500 eliminate the need to stop and manually chain up a coach in bad weather.
There are also improvements on J4500 coaches equipped with a Braun wheelchair lift. With the Amaya A-2Ten and Torino G seats, the slider seat that gives access to wheelchair-using passengers is gaining a few inches. It will now be 40 inches wide, the same as the rest of the seats. This is a win-win situation since mobility-impaired riders will still have easy access to the coach while able-bodied passengers will no longer get stuck with a narrower seat.

Also on the D4505 for 2016

Some of these improvements, and others, will also be available on the MCI D4505 model for 2016. Included in this list are the dual 150-amp Denso alternators, new parcel racks that expand capacity and the REI audio-visual system. “D” model coaches will also have new 90-millimeter headlights including an LED headlight option.

“We’re still enjoying the success of our 2013 J4500 redesign but were are not willing to sit still,” says Brent Maitland, MCI vice president of marketing and product planning. “Many of these latest refinements are based on customer feedback: the enhancements add to the reliability of our coaches and build on their appeal to operators and their passengers.”

In spite of the fact that the J4500 had been the leader of the pack for 10 years, it is not resting on its laurels but is moving ahead with still more features and improvements to please coach operators. Expect to see the new MCI models for 2016 at the industry trade shows this winter.

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