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Buses at the ABA Marketplace

The American Bus Association held its annual Marketplace in Louisville, Kentucky from January 9 to 12, 2016. Some of the people driving in had to fight snow and ice that is not untypical at this time of year. Some of us oldtimers remember the Marketplace in Kansas City, I think in 1986, that was even worse with an ice storm. However, in spite of the cold outside the welcome was warm and attendees had a chance to take a tour of Louisville and attend parties at the Muhammad Ali Center and Churchill Downs.

As most readers know, the ABA Marketplace is primarily a meeting place for bus tour planners and the industry suppliers including convention and visitor bureaus, hotels, motels, restaurants and attractions. Hence, it is more appropriate for our sister publication Bus Tours Magazine. However, buses have always had a part in Marketplace events. Some of the early Marketplace shows included a parade of coaches into town.
Today, the coaches are more likely to be seen working to shuttle the Marketplace attendees between the hotels, the convention center and various events. As has become a tradition, there are also several buses displayed on the show floor. They are often worth a close look because Marketplace is typically the first show of the year. Hence, new models often make their debut here and new developments are often announced here.

We counted 14 buses on the show floor although one was not open to the public. Included were several new developments as well as a new manufacturer entering the market. Another company had a booth on the show floor but no bus on display. Here are our notes on what we saw and what we heard.

MCI (Motor Coach Industries) had two coaches on display. Included was a J4500 with the new severe duty equipment package and a Setra S 417 with the center door, the TopSky glass roof and a rear lounge area.
The severe duty package on the J4500 included several special features that will help coach operations in dusty and problem environments such as mining. Included was an extra filter in the engine compartment, a filter in the compartment below the driver, underpans below the engine for protection and several other items. This coach also introduced a number of improvements and new systems that I will try to cover. I was particularly impressed by the numerous little note cards attached to the coach to highlight various features and improvements. They certainly made all of these obvious to someone looking at the coach.

Drivers will find more legroom in the cockpit area as well as improved HVAC controls on the dash. Particularly interesting is a new four camera monitor system that watches pedestrians and other hazards around the coach. Do not ask me how it is done, but these camera views are combined into an overhead display of the coach showing pedestrians or other hazards nearby. There was also a switch on the dash for the driver that plays the pre-departure safety video.

This particular coach was equipped with the advanced Bendix Wingman braking system that uses radar to monitor vehicles in front and will dethrottle or apply brakes in the event that the closing distance becomes critical. Also noteworthy were two lights mounted at the driprail above the windows. When combined with the docking lights on the underfloor compartment doors, this gives the driver substantial lighting at the side of the coach. This can come in handy when loading or unloading luggage at night or maneuvering in a parking lot at night.

The J4500 was built “lift ready” which means that it has the handicapped door at the side near the rear but the lift itself had not been installed. This apparently is considered an exit door by the feds. While this coach had the popular woodgrain floor, we noted sparkles in the woodgrain. In addition to giving the floor a unique look, this helps give the passengers better traction and reduces the chance of slipping.

Both an H3-45 and a Volvo 9700 were being shown at the Prevost display area. We learned that with the recent retirement of Gaétan Bolduc, the management at Prevost was being separated into two areas with production being separate from sales. François Tremblay was recently appointed vice president of the Prevost Business Line. This reflects a move to have Prevost, Nova Bus and Volvo work closer together as a group.

It was also noted that the Nova Bus plant in Plattsburgh, New York is being used by Prevost to complete coaches so they comply with Buy America provisions. The first such order was the commuter coaches for New York. Now, there will be 13 coaches completed there for Indian Trails.

There were several improvements on the 2016 model Volvo 9700 on display. It featured a new REI entertainment system that incorporated larger monitors now with high definition. This up-to-date new entertainment system also features a Delta speaker arrangement. There is an HDMI plug in the modesty panel and operators can install or use anything that feeds into the system including a pre-departure safety video.

Other new features on the Volvo include LED passenger reading lights and a redesigned restroom that increases passenger capacity to 56. There is also a new front underrun protection system to prevent autos from going under the coach in the event of an accident. It was noted that the Volvo is now optionally available with an Allison transmission as well as the previously available Volvo iShift.

The new entry into the U.S. market is Irizar. On display was their i6 model that was the standard 45 feet long and 102 inches wide.

Irizar is a well-known and well-respected coach builder headquartered in Spain but with additional facilities in Brazil, Mexico, South Africa and Morocco. They have been a major player in the European market and developed an enviable reputation for putting their bodies on Scania chassis. In recent years Irizar listened to what their customers wanted and increased their integral coach offerings. Their i6 model has been increasingly popular with European coach operators.

The Irizar name is not totally unknown in the United States. An arrangement with Metrotrans brought over some Irizar buses on Freightliner chassis in 1998 and 1999. Although Metrotrans had problems, some of the Irizar buses are still on the road.

At the recent Busworld show in Kortrijk, Belgium, Irizar introduced their new i8 coach with state-of-the-art improvements and design. They also introduced an electric battery transit bus. What makes Irizar somewhat different is that they are employee-owned. Production is done on a team system and the staff have several special programs including optional classes on different languages. This can be a big help when the staff helps customers in different countries.

The new coach being introduced to the U.S. market is an Americanized version of the Irizar i6 built in Spain. It uses a Cummins ISX 12 engine and an Allison B500 transmission. The U.S. distributor is known as INA (Irizar North America) which was founded by Mike Haggerty, who was also involved in the founding of CH Bus Sales. The sales staff is already selling coaches. Coming developments include a driver fatigue warning system and an increase in roof height to 12 feet and 9 inches that will provide 550 cubic feet of underfloor cargo space.

CH Bus Sales had the largest number of coaches on display. They showed all three Temsa models in their product line.

The newest model to be offered is the 45-foot TS 45. It has been available for several months and has been doing well with sales. Many operators who had been running the smaller Temsa coaches elected to put this new full-size model into their fleet. The coach on display was powered by a Cummins ISX 12 engine and had an Allison B500 transmission. It had enclosed parcel racks and the passenger seats were equipped with 110-volt outlets and USB plugs.

The 30-foot TS 30 was on display. It has been on the market for a few years now and is particularly popular with operators who want integral construction and big coach features in a shorter coach. It was powered by a Cummins ISB 6.7 liter engine and came with an Allison transmission. It had a rear window, leather seats and both 110-volt outlets and USB plugs at the seats.

Also on display was the 35-foot TS 35, a model introduced back in 2008. This coach was powered by a Cummins ISL 8.9 liter engine and had an Allison B500 transmission. Interior features included leather seats, 110-volt outlets and USB plugs. What is noteworthy about the 35-foot Temsa is its ability to stay within weight and axle limitations. Fully loaded it weighs in at 37,500 pounds.

The big news at CH Bus Sales is the forthcoming introduction of the TS 35E – an enhanced version of the popular TS 35. There are a number of new features and improvements, many of which are designed to make service and maintenance easier. The first of the enhanced models should be delivered in mid-2016.

While they did not have a coach on the show floor, BCA (Bus and Coach America) did have a booth to talk to customers. Some of their 45-foot coaches are already on the road and in revenue service. One was available nearby for those interested in taking a good look. The next new development from BCA will be the introduction of a 40-foot model in the near future.

ABC Companies had two Van Hool coaches on display. The longer coach was their CX 45 with the standard 45-foot length and 102-inch width. This is the most popular model in their product line. Also on display was their recently-introduced 35-foot CX 35. This had a Cummins IXL engine and a Allison transmission. It could seat 40 passengers. It had several components and systems in common with the longer 45-foot coach. The 35-foot coach was auctioned off to benefit the ABA Foundation. The winning bidder, Bill Torres from D.C. Trails, paid $380,000 for the coach.

On display in the Alliance booth was a CAIO S 3645 45-foot coach. The CAIO coaches sold in the United States are built in Botucatu, Brazil using a drive train and components supplied by Freightliner. Two 36-foot models are available – the conventional G3400 and the stainless steel S3436. Both are powered by a Cummins engine and an Allison transmission. There are also two 45-foot models: the conventional G3600 and the stainless steel S3645. These models have a Detroit Diesel engine and an Allison transmission.

Noteworthy developments include the delivery of the first stainless steel models in or around March. Both models will have new parcel racks and a new dash in the second quarter of 2016. By the end of the second quarter, the buses will include CAIO seats with three-point belts. These buses are all built for the U.S. market and are sold by Alliance Bus Sales.

There was also a cutaway on display. Davey Coach Sales from Sedalia, Colorado had a Turtle Top Odyssey XL on display. It was built on a Ford F550 diesel chassis. Davey Coach Sales is a dealer and a leasing company. They offer 15 product lines and operate in 13 states.

One of the more interesting coaches on display was an MCI J4500 shown by John Hall’s Alaska. Based on Minnesota, John Hall’s Alaska designs and sells tours to Alaska and works with tour planners and operators to provide them with Alaskan tours. Some of the trips leave from the United States including some 23-day trips that originate in Seattle.

The coach on display had custom seat covers, more legroom with fewer seats, and extra amenities including a custom galley at the rear. All of the coaches in the fleet are low mileage because they are only used on the Alaskan tours and are very well maintained.

For those who ask, the 14th bus on the floor was Ryan Kelly’s Prevost from Terrapin Blue. It was parked on one side of the hall behind the MCI and Prevost areas and was not accessible by the public. Our presumption is that it was there to record the event on video.

In 2017 the American Bus Association Marketplace will be held in Cleveland, Ohio. The dates are January 14-17. I am sure that both tours and buses will be on the agenda.

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