Alliance Bus Group recently announced a round of improvements on their CAIO G3600. Included is a new Detroit Diesel engine being offered as standard as well as increased underfloor luggage capacity that may now be the highest in the industry. When they offered us a chance to test drive the G3600 we jumped at the opportunity to get behind the steering wheel and see what it could do.
The story behind the CAIO G3600 is the story of a partnership between Mark Middleton of CAIO North America and Doug Dunn of Alliance Bus Group.
Middleton heard complaints from several American bus operators about the increasing cost of new coaches. As a result, he decided to bring a coach to the American market that is more economical yet well suited for the average tour or charter operator.
In order to do this, he decided to emulate the “sled integral” type of construction that is popular in Europe and used on many charter and tour coaches built there. This involves taking a quality web frame body from a good body builder and installing the axles, engine, transmission and drive line directly to the body using integral construction. Since it can be said that the components are slid under the body, this has come to be called sled integral construction.
Since there are no body builders like this in the United States and Canada, Middleton decided to use CAIO in Brazil. In addition to building integral buses, CAIO has an enviable reputation for building high quality and very durable bodies that are mounted on Mercedes-Benz, Scania and Volvo chassis.
Looking for engines, transmissions, axles and other components that could be supported and serviced in America, Middleton turned to Freightliner Custom Chassis. They supplied the required components not as a chassis but as what they called a “power module” for integral construction.
Alliance Bus Group had customers looking for a coach like the CAIO 3600. Dunn from Alliance took on the responsibility for sales, support, service and parts for the CAIO. Alliance, which sells nearly 2,000 buses annually, has the motto “Along for the Whole Ride” and has an enviable reputation in customer support and service. See the article in the February, 2013 National Bus Trader for more information on Alliance Bus Group and CAIO.
The G3600 is built at the CAIO plant in Botucatu, Brazil, located approximately 140 miles a little north and west from Sao Paulo. It has a staff of approximately 5,000 and operates 20 bus routes to neighboring areas to provide transportation for them. The huge complex is very vertically integrated and in addition to actual bus building has plants for fiber products and glass that also supply other vehicle manufacturers.
CAIO’s product line is very extensive. It includes school buses; mini-, micro- and midi-buses; regular, articulated and double-articulated transit buses and two bus models for intercity service. CAIO produces high-quality bus bodies including impressive higher quality body-on-chassis transit buses for local use. For more information on the CAIO plant and facilities, see the May, 2013 issue of National Bus Trader.
The G3600 just went through a round of improvements. Some of the more noteworthy items include the following.
New quick change, double pane windows with increased tint are now standard. They are more affordable to change, easier to maintain and have better curb appeal. The new six-cylinder 655cc Bock air conditioning compressor is a significant upgrade in terms of efficiency and is lighter in weight.
The engine compartment has been updated for moving to the Detroit Diesel DD13 engine. Maintenance and service is now easier. This move also provides a better drivetrain warranty – up to five years and 500,000 miles. It is noteworthy that without a wheelchair lift, the underfloor luggage space is now approximately 517 cubic feet, which may be the largest in the industry.
Drivers will appreciate the new ABS system with traction controlled suspension and the ZF following tag axle. This ZF Itag passive steer tag axle reduces the turning radius by five percent and reduces tire scrub and overall wear during hard turns and maneuvers. It will obviously reduce maintenance and increase safety over the life of the coach.
In the passenger area, FMVSS 210-compliant Amaya 2Ten seating featuring integrated three-point seat belts and adjustable headrests is now standard. Both power outlets and upgraded foot rests are optional. The CAIO restroom has been upgraded with a larger holding tank and a fresh water flush system that eliminates chemical lavatory odors.
The use of Freightliner components or “power modules” on the CAIO G3600 deserves two comments.
One is that this was obviously a wise move on the part of Middleton, Dunn and CAIO. Trust me, developing a drivetrain that works well is not easy and requires a qualified engineering staff. Using the Freightliner components not only provides a quality drivetrain but also guarantees support, service and parts availability in the United States and Canada.
It is also a feather in Freightliner’s cap. Up until this time Freightliner has been a leader in mid-size bus chassis. Time and time again when body builders were looking for a quality or heavy-duty chassis, Freightliner got the nod. In fact, there was not much competition in the heavier duty rear engine chassis market. With this move of supplying power modules to CAIO, Freightliner moves up into the integral big coach arena with their components.
Detroit Diesel Engine
One of the latest developments with the CAIO G3600 was the move to offering the Detroit Diesel DD13 engine as standard equipment, replacing the Cummins ISM engine. A coach with the new Detroit Diesel engine and improved engine compartment was on display at the recent United Motorcoach Association Motorcoach Expo in Los Angeles.
Why this move from Cummins to Detroit Diesel? For many years Freightliner has partnered with Cummins to supply engines for its line of mid-size bus chassis. This was a good move on the part of Freightliner because Cummins provides a range of engines suitable for mid-size buses that are very well regarded. In addition, engineering was in place to coordinate with the Freightliner chassis. Hence, when Freightliner was asked to provide power modules for the CAIO G3600, it was only natural to provide a Cummins engine because of past positive experience and engineering.
However, after the CAIO G3600 was in production, there was increasing interest in the Detroit engine by Alliance Bus Group customers. It soon became obvious that the DD13 engine had advantages over the ISM including warranties, support, distribution network and coordination from being in the same Daimler family as Freightliner.
Alliance Bus Group made inquiries about the Detroit Diesel engine two years ago. Once the decision to move to the Detroit engine was made, work started on the engineering. When the engineering was completed, the CAIO G3600 switched to the Detroit Diesel DD13 as its standard engine.
Moving to the Detroit engine has helped Alliance Bus Group increase optional drivetrain warranties up to five years and 500,000 miles. This is more than two-and-a-half times more than previously offered and fits well with the Alliance Bus Group culture of being “Along for the Whole Ride,” and providing better customer support.
The DD13 engine provides 450 horsepower at 1800 rpm and offers outstanding fuel economy. It offers for some of the longest service intervals in the industry and is supported and serviced by a comprehensive, nationwide service network.
One of the biggest advantages of the Detroit engine is its GPS-based Virtual Technician™ telematics remote diagnostics system that has won a Technology of the Year award. When a “check engine” incident occurs, it immediately collects data and generates a “technical snapshot” of the engine’s status before, during and after the fault code event. Detroit technicians can then identify the problem or suspect part and can advise of the nearest location with that part in stock. They can even notify the Customer Service Center of the inbound bus and provide pre-diagnosis. With Detroit Connect, the system now offers tablet-based fleet management solutions and is exclusive only to Detroit.
For clarification, I should mention that the shorter 36.7-foot CAIO G3400 model that seats 38 passengers still has a Cummins engine as standard equipment.
The Test Drive
In overall dimensions, the G3600 is the typical American length of 45 feet and width of 102 inches. It is 12.5 feet high and has a nominal seating capacity of 56 passengers plus tour guide and driver.
One of the most impressive external features of the G3600 is its huge underfloor luggage compartment. Originally figured at 477 cubic feet of space, the recent improvements have moved it up to somewhere around 517 cubic feet. I suspect that this may be a new industry record. A nice touch are the fold-down baggage door guards at each opening.
Walking in the front door, two items caught my attention. On the right is a great handrail that will increase safety for passengers boarding or leaving the coach. On the left is a fold-down tour escort seat that is provided as standard equipment.
In the passenger area, the new CAIO G3600 coaches will come with Amaya 2Ten seating with three-point seat belts and adjustable headrests. Upgraded foot rests and 110-volt outlets are optional. Open overhead parcel racks are standard. The larger restroom is a positive passenger feature and the larger holding tank and flush system is certainly a step in the right direction.
Sliding into the ISRI driver’s seat is a pleasure because it is infinitely adjustable and a vast improvement from the old days. There is a personal compartment for the driver on the right. The dash area seems very workable. Controls for the REI entertainment system are on the right with gauges in the center. The panel on the left below the side window includes your transmission selector and parking brake. My general impression of the dash is that it is very clean and uncluttered.
There is a back-up camera on the center windshield post. The “smart” steering wheel is very convenient and includes controls for lights, wipers and cruise control. Perhaps the only thing that displeased me was the cup holder located to the left rear of the driver’s seat.
Moving out into traffic, my first impression of the G3600 was that it is very solid. There are buses that give you the impression that the parts are all headed in the same general direction, but the G3600 seemed to be put together well. The coach I drove had no rattles, creaks or groans.
My second observation on the G3600 was its impressive turning. Over the years I have owned a few older coaches that frankly required some planning to get around tight corners. The G3600 did well on corners and generally turned inside of my expectations. It is the kind of bus that makes the driver look good.
The large windshield provided excellent visibility. I had no problem seeing anywhere I wanted to look ahead. Frankly, that large windshield also let a lot of sunlight into the coach. However, the separate driver air conditioner worked well and kept me cool.
I had no problems or concerns with the drive train. I discovered that the G3600 did have a three-speed Jake Brake. You could set the controls so it came in when you took your foot off of the accelerator – similar to the way some transit buses are used. Or, you could simply leave it off and just use it for hills or deceleration from speed.
I had the opportunity to drive the coach on both city streets as well as expressway driving. Under both conditions I was reasonably impressed by the combination of good ride and good handling. You do not always get both in a coach. When I mentioned this to the Freightliner people, they took credit. They mentioned that a combination of a good ride and good handling are a trademark of Freightliner Custom Chassis. Hence, I would have to tip my hat to both Freightliner and CAIO for the positive features provided to the G3600 by the Freightliner components.
Alliance Bus Group
The CAIO G3600 is available through Alliance Bus Group. You can phone
them at (866) 287-4768 or visit their Web site at alliancebusgroup.com. The new G3600 coaches are now being delivered with the Detroit Diesel engine. Alliance Bus Group also offers the shorter 36.7-foot CAIO G3400 model with the Cummins engine.