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Harris - Higer 29 Nov 2017
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November 29 2017
By Mel Holley

Mel is the Editor at routeONE magazine. He has more than 30 years’ experience in road and rail transport journalism.


Higer’s new coaches scrutinised

UK operators visit Dublin to cast a critical eye over Higer’s - and others’ - new offerings

A group of UK operators visited Dublin to cast a critical eye over Higer’s - and others’ - new offerings. We joined them

UK operators have two new coach choices in 2018, both from Higer and they are poised to add serious competition into a discerning market.

The question is, how do they stand up to operators’ scrutiny?

That’s the question that importer Harris Group, answered by flying a group of UK operators to its Dublin HQ for them to give feedback on the proposed offerings.

Updated and refined

You may recall that the dramatically-named Storm 1 made its UK debut, in Euro 5 form, at Euro Bus Expo 2016. An initial stock batch of coaches was sold to Irish operators, with only a few still available.

Harris Group took feedback from Storm 1 to the factory and the new Euro 6c Higer Super 9 and its XL stablemate are the results.

Alongside the 9.6m midicoach is the H12, as its name suggests, a 12.3m 55-seater coach. Both have quality interiors, married to familiar components, including Darlington-built Cummins engines.

To further whet operators’ appetites, the growing range of LDV minibuses was displayed, along with a left-hand drive 8m Isuzu midicoach - one of a pair of models from the Japanese manufacturer - that Harris is to import.

Higer Super 9 on a ramp for full inspection, with part of LDV minibus range

In total, says Group Marketing Manager Chris Haughton, this will give the dealership a range of products to serve all core market segments.

Partnerships

One of the key questions asked by the operators was about UK support. That is already being answered by the creation of a UK base in Stourbridge, aided by service partner RWT Commercial Services, headed by Bob Turnock.

A separate unit on the same industrial estate as RWT’s existing base is being converted as a showroom for Harris Higer’s range and a salesperson is to be recruited.

In the new year, demonstrator models will arrive on the mainland. Initially the sales operation will kick off with a fortnight’s tour around the country, led by Chris, to launch the new sales base.

As for parts, this is already well catered for by Harris Group, which already has an extensive parts operation at its Dublin HQ, in business since 1964. It carries €14m worth of stock in three buildings, in an operation run by 18 people.

Indeed, parts supply is its core business and it continues to support all the models it has sold over the previous 50 years (mainly truck) alongside current models.

The scale of the Dublin operation is beyond anything seen in the UK, on a 59-acre site. Currently it houses 1,800 LDV minibuses and vans, while the first 50 pure electric LDV vans for a major Irish customer have just arrived.

Praise from operators for interior of H12 Higer

At one end of the site a €10m new HQ building is under construction to replace the one Harris has outgrown. A further building has just been kitted out with racking, in a €4m investment that includes robotised automatic picking machines.

In 2018 the parts operation will transfer to this building for the ‘fast-moving’ range. In a word it is vast, and it comes as no surprise to learn that Higer is contemplating using it for its European parts centre.

Harris Group has a clear philosophy for parts - they must be available today. For UK and Ireland operators, next day service is offered and parts for the new Super 9 are already on the shelf. Prices are reasonable, and the range includes small items, such as switches, magazine nets, through to a Cummins engine, gearboxes and a back axle.

Chris says Harris’ aim is to get the coach back on the road as soon as possible, and it sets great store by its parts operation. “We are contactable 365 days a year, 24/7.”

Higer coaches

Making the best use of winter daylight, after a group shot (sadly a late plane meant not all could be pictured) we headed inside the display area in yet another of the buildings on the vast site for a hot lunch, before exploring the integral coaches.

Visigo to come in right-hand drive in 2018

To enable close inspection, a Super 9 was on a ramp, whole other examples - alongside a Storm 1 for comparison - were on view. Outside a further Super 9, already in use by Fair Isle Tours, was available for short test drives.

The question of ‘what defines a luxury coach’ is answered by the specification. It’s comprehensive, from air conditioning to leather seats with detachable soft headrest, entertainment systems, lap or three-point belts, plus all the mandatory safety equipment required by Euro 6c.

Respected brands supply main components, from the Darlington-built Cummins 6.7-litre engine, to Alison auto-box, Wabco brakes, Michelin tyres, Spheros air-con, Vega 440 seats and Isri driver’s seat.

Inside, the 9.4m coach - plated to 13,800kg gross weight, and 10,120kg unladen - offers 6.7m3 of luggage space, thanks to the rear engine arrangement, with 590kg luggage capacity.

It comes as a 39-seater, plus a crew seat, with the rear row slightly raised. The short test drive proves it to be a quick accelerating vehicle, that rides and holds the road well, thanks to its full-size wheels. Passengers will appreciate the full coach interior, with proper service units, tinted glass, USB and 240v sockets.

Construction of €10m new HQ to be finished early next year

The coach is relatively quiet; design collaboration between Higer and Harris has resulted in extra sound insulation.

Says Chris: “We want operators to tell us what they think, what they would add, or even take away from the specification.”

Driven correctly, he says, the Super 9 returns 18.6mpg and Higer coaches have two-years bumper-to-bumper warranty.

The Super 9XL is, as its name suggests, longer at 9.6m, taking it up to a maximum of 41 seats, plus a crew seat, or 36 with a continental door and toilet. If the toilet is deleted but offside door retained, it becomes a 39-seater. This also packs the Cummins 6.7 engine, but married to a ZF EcoLife 6-speed auto ‘box. Both are 2.47m wide, helping access to more restricted areas for touring, yet both also have slide-apart seats so interior space is not compromised.

Outside, hotfoot from Busworld in Belgium, and ultimately to be delivered to an operator in Croatia, was a 12.3m H12. Powered by a Euro 6c Cursor9 delivering 420hp, it delivers this through a 12-speed ZF AS Tronic gearbox. With a similar specification to the 9m, the interior particularly caught operators’ eyes, with the attractive seats.

Isuzu range…

Also rear-engined, the 9.6m Isuzu Visigo (Cummins 254hp 6.7-litre engine/ZF transmission) has an attractive interior. While the styling restricts the side view from the front seats, its capacity of up to 39 seats (plus courier) and a 5.5m3 luggage bay give it plenty of options for work.

Crucially, it’s 2.46m wide, offering potential for duties such as golf tours in Scotland, where every inch counts on narrower roads.

Group Marketing Manager Chris Haughton: “We want to be a one-stop shop for the coach industry”

It has a front ‘skylight’ roof section above the windscreen, with a powered blind. It is also available with a glazed roof. The entrance is tight due to the positioning of a dash-mounted fridge on this left-hand drive example. The right-hand drive version, currently in development, will deal with this to create a more passenger-friendly access.

Not on display, but also due is the Isuzu Turquoise, a 33-seater 8m mid-engine coach, powered by the builder’s own 4.6-litre engine.

…and LDV

Now owned by Chinese giant SAIC, the re-born LDV range on display includes everything from welfare vehicles to luxury minibuses. Apart from the low price points and comprehensive back-up by Harris, there is also a five-year warranty.

A stand-out feature is the front (rather than side) entrance option. Conversions are carried out under the watchful eye of Joe Ferry, formerly of Euro Coach Builders, which was sadly toppled by the Irish recession that prompted a major order to be cancelled.

It is clear that the range has much to offer and those already operating the LDVs say that it is a reliable vehicle too. We expect it has the potential to swiftly move from a challenger, to established player in the UK market.

All to play for

With a wide range, starting from the first vehicles next year, it’s clear that Harris Group’s intentions are for it to become a major player in the UK, just as it already is in Ireland. “We’re not a one-trick pony. We want to be a one-stop shop for the coach industry,” says Chris.

“We’re all about feedback. We will take the trouble to make sure everything is right; we will guarantee residuals, provide finance and parts, and we are not afraid to hold stock.”

A small part of the about to open new parts centre. Parts to be transferred from old site in January

The scale of its operation and commitment to parts and aftersales is impressive, while the coaches show great promise.

Higer’s reputation is already well established in the UK, through its body-building partnership with Scania for the Touring.

The final step is for pricing to be confirmed; says Chris: “It will be very competitive for the specification offered.”



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