More than just vehicles from Volvo

More than just vehicles from Volvo More than just vehicles from Volvo

Visitors to Volvo’s stand at Euro Bus Expo may be pleased to see the return of an old favourite; a bare chassis to remind us all what powers today’s buses. There used to be a plethora of chassis on display at trade shows in the past, but there then came a trend to be more ‘passenger-focussed’ rather than appealing mainly to engineers; so no more undercarriages, complete vehicles became the order of the day.

However, we all know that there are plenty of visitors who just love to poke around on a chassis and a Euro 6 B5TL chassis at the NEC will keep them busy for some time.

There will also be two complete vehicles on Volvo’s stand, interestingly both all-Volvo models, with a Euro 6 7900H Hybrid bus and a 9700 integral coach. The 7900 will be positioned alongside a replica of a charging station to show the direction of travel for Volvo as it pursues electric operation in city centres with the forthcoming 7900 Hybrid Electric.

Volvo is keen to promote its show theme,  ‘Your partner for the complete journey’, while also emphasising customer choice with five body options on the coach range and four on the bus range, including a revived partnership with ADL which will eventually offer bodies for B5LH, B5TL and B8RLE.

Wrights has long been a close partner for Volvo and bus sales director Phil Owen says it is still “the lead bodybuilder for our product”. The Wright-bodied B5TL appeared at last year’s NEC show and highlighted its 0ne-tonne saving in unladen weight. This might have been trumped by Optare’s recently-launched MetroDecker which comes in a further tonne lighter at under 10 tonnes, but Optare still has its work cut out to attract fleet orders in a sector where it has been absent for a decade.

Wrights is also developing a new body for the Euro 6 B8RLE to be available from May 2015. Those who are paying attention will have noticed that Volvo’s single-deck at Euro 6 has an 8-litre engine, whereas the double-deck has just a 5-litre. It’s a reflection of the cost of the R&D that all global manufacturers have had to devote to Euro 6 and there simply wasn’t the funding to enable a completely new single-deck, so the B8RLE is something of a compromise until further development takes place.

MCV continues to figure in Volvo’s plans as a lower-cost bus option with one- and two-door versions planned for B5LH and B5TL at 10.5m length and the B8RLE. And of course the complete Volvo 7905H is available with a two-door version for London due in 2015.

Phil Owen reports that 2014 has been a challenging year with a somewhat halting transition to Euro 6. One senses a little frustration from Volvo, along with other continental-based marques, with the UK’s decision to enable its domestic manufacturers to use the National Small Series exemption to continue Euro 5 production long after the 1 January 2014 introduction of Euro 6. And the lack of any end date in sight for this ‘loophole’ appears to be a particular bugbear.

Volvo did pre-build a batch of 142 Euro 5s itself, however, and reports that it has now sold all but 22 of them. Its sales target for 2014 is 640 buses, including 258 Euro 6 models. The hybrid target is 132 with 121 of these at Euro 6 including 40 single-deck 7905Hs. Major orders from Dublin and Translink and the first bus orders from Stagecoach have helped it get well on the way to this target.

For 2015, Volvo is reducing its bus sales target slightly to a total of 595, with the difference, according to Owen, being the growing midibus sector where Volvo is not represented. The bus total includes 444 double-decks, with 141 hybrids, and 151 single-decks. The order book for 2015 is likely to be boosted with a number of announcements scheduled during Euro Bus Expo.

In terms of future development, Volvo is targeting a staged transition towards electric buses with its Electro-Mobility strategy which will see hybrid, hybrid-electric and full-electric buses in the medium to long term and the group is targeting a number of key cities across the globe to bring these plans to fruition with Memorandums of Understanding already signed with Montreal, Gothenburg, Stockholm, Hamburg and Luxembourg.

Meanwhile coach sales manager James Hyde reports a positive year in 2014, albeit that he contends that the UK market is unlikely to return to its previous heights of 1,000+ coach registrations a year. Volvo’s market share in this sector is 40 per cent and while there is some renewed confidence in the retail sector, it is the fleet buyers who continue to dominate the volume business.

There are bright spots amongst smaller independent operators however, according to Hyde, including City Circle which took its first Volvos this year for seven years and an order for eight B11R Jonckheeres for Tappins. The Irish market, which disappeared almost entirely in the financial crash, is also slowly returning to health with 136 coach registrations last year and 2014 likely to top 200; Volvo’s current share is more than 50 per cent.

The used coach market is always a key concern and Hyde says that sales in 2014 have been going so well that he is now a little short of stock, although a number of trade-ins are on the horizon. Around 5-6 years ago you might find 250-300 used coaches in Volvo’s yard. Today the number is just 35, although Hyde would prefer a level of around 80 to give a good choice of models and age profiles.

“We are now paying customers more for part exchanges,” says Hyde, pointing out that demand is exceeding supply when it comes to quality used vehicles.

But despite this, Volvo’s used coach operation reached break-even in 2013 and is likely to return a profit in 2014, according to Hyde.

The key coach body partner for Volvo continues to be Plaxton, accounting for around 160 chassis last year for UK operators and more than 200 including the PolskiBus order for left-hand-drive Elite i coaches.

The Jonckheere option has continued to be successful however with 80 B11R/HVs delivered in 2014 and this year saw the total number of Jonckheere-bodied Volvos ever sold in the UK and Ireland pass the 2,000-mark. “Our successful partnership with Jonckheere continues to deliver the very highest standard in luxury coaches,” says Hyde. “Passing the landmark milestone of 2,000 vehicles sold in the UK and Ireland shows the appeal that the option has for operators.”

The integral Volvo 9700 accounts for 30 sales so far this year with the future for this model boosted by the falling away of some of the competition at the top end of the coach market following the introduction of Euro 6.

Sunsundegui, which has recovered from its well-known difficulties of a few years back, is developing a new SC5 body for the B8R chassis for launch around March 2015.

Hyde reports that the transition to Euro 6 in the coach sector has been a smooth one with strong customer acceptance of the new models. All the derogated Euro 5s were sold in the first quarter and he could have sold more, but claims he hasn’t been held back by only offering new coaches at Euro 6, with particularly good feedback on fuel consumption for the B11R and B8R.

Look forward to a rush of further order announcements from Volvo during Euro Bus Expo.