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October 30 2018
By Tim Deakin

Tim is Editor of routeone and has worked in both the coach and bus and haulage industries.

Volvo and MCV's keenly-priced, entry-level coach

A surprise unveiling at Euro Bus Expo is Project 523, the first coach spawned by the Volvo and MCV partnership in the UK – and which has already generated eight orders from London-based Golden Tours

Project 523 on B11R has generated an order for eight from Golden Tours

Volvo has added what it describes as “a competitively-priced, fixed-specification” coach to its already extensive retail line-up thanks to an extension of its burgeoning relationship with Egyptian bodybuilder partner MCV.

Mounted on a two-axle B11R chassis, the as-yet unnamed product has been given the working name of Project 523.

It is made of stainless steel, and it is a completely new body; Volvo is at pains to stress that it has not been adapted from an existing product that MCV supplies to its core markets of Africa and the Middle East.

Project 523 is 12.65m long and 3.60m high. It comes with 53 Brusa Create 120 half-leather seats that also include USB charging points, drop-down tables, magazine nets and three-point belts. Volvo quotes the retail price as £215,000.

The new body debuts this week at Euro Bus Expo, with a example in the colours of Golden Tours on Volvo’s stand. Golden Tours has ordered eight, with all planned to be in service by Q1 2019.

Addition of the MCV-bodied B11R represents further growth for what is unquestionably the widest range of coaches in the market. What is Volvo’s thinking behind the new model?

Entry-level coach

Retail Sales Director James Hyde explains Volvo’s belief that the MCV-bodied B11R will not cannibalise sales that the manufacturer would otherwise have made in conjunction with existing bodybuilder partners Jonckheere, Plaxton or Sunsundegui.

Instead, it is an entry-level product, but it is well-suited to many tasks, says Mr Hyde; although some buyers may purchase it for shorter-distance duties, the relatively generous specification will also suit higher-mileage use.

“The demand for a competitively-priced, fixed-specification coach that can undertake a wide range of work is growing, and the B11R MCV has been developed to bring more value and choice to operators,” he says. “Introduction of Project 523 has been driven by a very competitive marketplace. It completes our range in the UK and we believe that it is another string to our bow.”

Volvo quotes a retail price of £215,000 for the two-axle, 53-seat coach

Quality components

Labour costs in Egypt are lower that in European countries, and that has been leveraged to enable Volvo to offer Project 523 at a keen retail price.

However, Mr Hyde points out that while the body is assembled in Egypt, it uses components such as a Sutrak air-conditioning unit, Brusa seats, a Shades toilet and others that are already proven in the UK.

Project 523 also comes with a fridge, a drinks machine and a reversing camera, and it has a Bosch Infotainment system in conjunction with twin monitors.

The coach will be serviced via the Volvo dealership network, and MCV will support the body from its UK base near Ely, complementing the chassis manufacturer’s efforts in that regard.

MCV has established a significant presence in the bus market here in partnership with Volvo. It has a number of mobile technicians to support the over 500 bodies that the agreement has placed into the market since 2010.

MCV provides a three-year body warranty, and Volvo is predicting a volume of 25 units in 2019, with double-digit growth beyond that.

First order done

The market segment that is being targeted is arguably the most competitive of all, with several existing models already available in right-hand drive format that are produced in lower-wage economies. But Project 523 has already attracted one volume customer.

Golden Tours’ first coach, a pre-series example, comes with seat-back monitors, as will the seven others. They will all be used on London sightseeing work, where they will rub shoulders with a considerable number of MCV-bodied B5TL and B9TL double-decker buses in the fleet.

“When Volvo came to us to discuss the B11R MCV Project 523, we were excited at the prospect of being the first customer to order this new combination,” says MD Mikesh Palan.

“Golden Tours prides itself on having fun with transport, and offering our customers an innovative travel experience that brings the journey to life the moment they set foot on the vehicle, and as such we have specified seat-back TVs as a bespoke addition.”

Rear aspect is pleasing on Project 523; official name to be revealed soon

Under the bonnet

Volvo’s D11K engine is well-established and it is well capable of hard work. The standard gearbox is the automated manual I-Shift, and that is what the Golden Tours coaches will have.

I-Shift equipped B11R MCVs will be kept in stock by Volvo, but in conjunction with the D11K at 380bhp it can also offer the fully-automatic ZF EcoLife on coaches built to order, furthering Project 523’s appeal.

Volvo says that the coach weighs in at 13,300kg unladen. It will be certified via the National Small Series approval process. The formal body name is set to be revealed after completion of a trademarking process.

Behind the wheel

At a press event two weeks ago, routeone was able to drive the pre-series model over a brief course from Volvo’s new sales centre in Coventry.

The appearance of the coach when approaching it is distinctive, and the headlight surrounds are not entirely dissimilar to those used by another manufacturer. Boarding is easy, although the step area could arguably benefit from being a little brighter.

In the cab, much is standard Volvo, with a binnacle that will be familiar to many drivers. The mirror arrangement is of gullwing arms complemented by a lower offside repeater, although the view has a small degree of conflict with the A-pillar when the driver’s seat is as far back as it can go.

Other than that, the MCV body is well-equipped for the sector that Volvo is targeting, although the addition of seat-back monitors is perhaps surprising in an entry-level coach. Project 523 does not come with all of what would be expected on Volvo’s various higher-level models, but then neither does it come with their price tags.

Where it is identical to those coaches is below the floor. The 10.8-litre D11K is more than sufficient for a two-axle coach; indeed, an argument could be made that the smaller, 7.7-litre D8K would do the job just as well. However, drivers will not complain about power. The D11K propels Project 523 towards the horizon at a rate of knots when unleashed, and as would be expected, the torque is marshalled by I-shift impeccably.

Project 523 headlight design distinctive; B11R chassis has good manners

All of the traditional Volvo strong points are present in Project 523 from a driver’s perspective. It handles well, it goes well and thanks to the auxiliary brake, it slows well without recourse to the left pedal.

A promising future?

Volvo is not the first premium European manufacturer to have turned to lower-wage economies to help it to deliver an entry-level coach that suits applications where purchase price is an important consideration.

Whether any more OEMs will do the same remains to be seen, but Project 523 is a competent model at this end of the market. And it needs to be; competition for orders is strong, and routeone is aware of at least one more manufacturer that aims to break into this sector.

Golden Tours is convinced of Project 523’s merits, and when combined with the investment that Volvo has made in its sales infrastructure the product looks an increasingly attractive option. MCV is an established and stable name in the UK and Volvo’s pedigree is beyond question.

The B11R beneath Project 523 delivers everything that it does when combined with products from other bodybuilders, and when all is considered, the hoped-for volumes should be well within grasp.

See the new coach by visiting Stand D50 at Euro Bus Expo.

routeone comment

There had been no hint that Volvo was going to debut its first coach for the UK developed with MCV at Euro Bus Expo, such is the way that it has been kept under wraps. But when thought is given to why it has been added to Volvo’s existing range, the reason becomes clear.

Entry-level coaches that meet a simple requirement for 53 seats, a toilet and a competitive price account for a growing part of the market. A manufacturer that is not able to satisfy that need is depriving itself of a proportion of potential sales.

Volvo has a well-established relationship with MCV that has delivered in the bus market. It’s thus logical for that to extend to coaches. To get off the ground with an order for eight vehicles is quite an achievement.

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