As the industry continues to recover from COVID-19, attention will turn to fleet investment for many operators that earlier paused or reduced it. Those running smaller vehicles will find that Co Kildare-based Brian Noone has used some of the quiet period to continue to develop and expand its range in that segment. Those models are now sold and supported in England and Wales by Jones Coach and Bus Sales; in addition, Jones will serve Scotland jointly with Brian Noone direct.
The Noone Turas range of front-engined mini and mid-sized coaches is well established. It is topped by the Turas 900s, which is available on the DAF LF chassis at a GVW of 12,000kg alongside a Mercedes-Benz Atego-based option. The segment served by the Turas 900s – which on the LF delivers up to 37 seats with PSVAR compliance – is one where both businesses see significant opportunity.
But they also believe that considerable scope exists for the Rosero Connect, which is a new addition to the UK. Both models are complemented by established small coaches in the Brian Noone line-up: The Turas 500s, 600s and 700s and the Envoy. Jones will supply all of those.
In the Connect, a 7,200kg Iveco Daily is used as a base vehicle. To that is added a low-floor ‘box’ that provides step-free access to an area that can accommodate a buggy or a wheelchair user. In the raised rear, Slovakian builder Rosero provides a high standard of finish that is more akin to that of a midicoach.
Llew Jones Coaches, which is a sister business to Jones Coach and Bus Sales, has the UK’s first Rosero Connect. It has been earning its keep since October 2021. A second example will act as a demonstrator.
Both are PSVAR compliant, and Managing Director Steve Jones says the Connect brings multiple advantages for a rural operator: It is compact, fuel efficient and delivers an attractive passenger and driver experience.
Investment to support Jones Coach and Bus Sales expansion
A move to selling the Brian Noone range represents significant expansion for Jones Coach and Bus Sales. Based at the same North Wales premises as Llew Jones, work with the new vehicles sits alongside existing efforts with used stock. Yard expansion has been undertaken and an adjacent building was recently purchased. It will be soon refurbished to act as a showroom.
“We are looking forward to getting Noone products in front of operators,” says Steve. No targets for sales are yet being set, but stock across the range – including the Connect – will have been delivered from their respective factories well in time for the summer season.
Discussions between the Jones businesses and Brian Noone were first opened by PSVAR conversions of Mercedes-Benz Tourismo coaches. Noone continues to have that work carried out by partner Irmãos Mota at the latter’s facility in Portugal. Irmãos Mota has long built some members of the Noone Turas range.
In addition to supplying new vehicles, Jones Coach and Bus Sales will support the Noone Turas range and the Rosero Connect. A technician has been appointed, and a stock of glass and parts will shortly arrive from Brian Noone in Ireland. The parts area of the business will be looked after by a further dedicated employee. Kevin Williams is Head of Sales, a role he has moved into after a long career in operations with Llew Jones. At the time that routeone visited, he was soon to head off on a tour around Wales with a DAF LF-based Turas 900s demonstrator.
Jones Coach and Bus Sales is based in Llanrwst. That gives good access to Ireland via Holyhead port, which eases the transfer of parts and vehicles between Jones Coach and Bus Sales and Brian Noone. A representative of either business can travel to the other and return home again within one day. The A55 North Wales Expressway is also not far from Llanrwst, making visits by potential customers straightforward.
Rosero Connect: Versatility at its heart
Both Brian Noone and Jones Coach and Bus Sales expect the Rosero Connect to pique operators’ interest. It takes the front-engined, low-floor concept that has been successful in multiple Mercedes-Benz Sprinter-based minibuses and scales it up. The example already in service with Llew Jones seats 29, including four tip-up positions within the compact low-floor area.
Rosero is based in Spišská Nová Ves in eastern Slovakia. It works only with Iveco Daily base vehicles and was recommended to Brian Noone by the Italian OEM when the Irish company began to look at the segment that the Connect serves.
“The Connect is established in left-hand drive format and Rosero collaborated with Iveco on development of a transfer box that drops the prop shaft below the low-floor area,” says Brian Noone Director Mark Noone. “That work is fully approved by Iveco.”
Standard specification for the Connect has been influenced by what the industry told Brian Noone during the pandemic: Versatility is good. As a result, Llew Jones views its Connect as a dual-purpose vehicle. While its primary occupation is on local bus service work, it has already proved its worth on private hire duties. Since delivery the Connect has covered 33,000km.
“We were looking for a vehicle that is PSVAR compliant but flexible,” says Steve. “I mentioned it to Mark and he answered: ‘We have one’.” Llew Jones has a further Connect on order that will arrive soon. Steve anticipates that more will follow. The stainless-steel frame used by Rosero is a plus, he notes, and drivers have taken well to the vehicle.
17mpg returned so far on bus use by Connect
The establishment of a large chain hotel near to Llanrwst provides opportunities for the Connect to service small group hires. Llew Jones has also been paying close attention to the vehicle’s fuel consumption. On bus work it is returning an average of 17mpg, representing a £25 per day saving over a comparable rear-engined vehicle.
For private hires, Llew Jones allocates the Connect as a 25-seater to reflect the number of Sege high-backed positions it has within the raised-floor area. When it is used in that application, the operator ‘backfills’ the requirement on bus work with an existing fleet member. As a result, it is confident that the Connect will work seven days most weeks, maximising its fuel efficiency benefit.
Other standard elements of the Connect specification are wood-effect flooring, USB charging points and three-point belts. Air-conditioning in the saloon is optional, although it is standard in the cab. Llew Jones has opted for that function in the passenger area to suit private hire duties.
A boot is fitted, and Mark notes that while it may not be necessary on bus work, second life and private hire considerations influenced its inclusion.
Passenger access is via a large two-piece door and a manually extended ramp provides access for wheelchair users. The step is low, but a torsion bar kneeling mechanism reduces that height further. Brian Noone uses the 3.0-litre F1C engine at 180bhp coupled to the Hi-Matic automatic gearbox. A Telma retarder is optional, although it comes with a weight penalty.
A new option for medium-demand work
routeone was able to drive the Connect demonstrator. The cab arrangement is unusual; as part of COVID-19 safety measures an optional two-thirds width screen is provided, with some of it forming part of a full-height access door in the centre. This vehicle also has a courier seat adjacent to the driver, although it may be deleted.
For fare collection, a ticket machine stand is mounted adjacent to the dash, some way from where a boarding passenger will stand. As a result, the driver’s seat swivels through 45 degrees via a release switch within the base. A coin tray is part of the cab door.
As is the norm with the Daily at Euro VI, noise levels are low for a front-engined vehicle. With an electrically operated handbrake in the test vehicle and the Hi-Matic gearbox, the driving impression is more akin to that of a car.
The Connect adeptly handled the narrow centre of Llanrwst. Where passenger demand exceeds that of a Sprinter but does not justify a larger rear-engined model, the Connect is well suited. Add its private hire capability, and it ticks the versatility box that Brian Noone is so keen to major on.
Turas 900s on DAF LF: Ideal for PSVAR
In the midicoach sector, the Irish dealership has also been working to develop the Turas 900s. The s-suffix offering, which utilises a different design language than before, now extends across the Turas range, including the Sprinter-based 500s coachbuilt mini and the Daily-mounted 600s and 700s.
“We have been encouraged by feedback from operators of the Turas 900s on the DAF chassis,” says Mark.
“It has delivered good fuel efficiency and residual values, and customers tell us that the midicoach sector was reasonably resilient during the pandemic. We have also seen strong repeat business.”
Noone’s Turas 900s is a high-end offering. The demonstrator on an LF with Jones is to a shorter length of 9.2m and has 33 high-specification Sege seats in synthetic leather, although Kiel product is an option. Power is from the Paccar PX-5 engine driving through a ZF AS-Tronic Lite six-speed automated manual gearbox. As an alternative, a length of 9.6m is available, offering up to the 37-seat capacity.
The demonstrator is also PSVAR compliant. That is key to the Turas 900s in the UK, Mark continues; while the existing accessible specification includes a lift within the boot envelope, that equipment has been moved to above the rear axle on further examples, restoring full luggage storage space. Brian Noone has worked closely with Italian company Autolift to develop a slimline, 350kg-capacity unit for the Turas 900s.
“The DAF marque has been well received by the market,” Mark continues. “Customers are equally accepting of it and the Mercedes-Benz Atego, but in some cases, they have a preference for the DAF.” He adds that further LF-based stock is on order, and that at a GVW of 12,000kg there is ample tolerance for passengers and luggage even when the weight of a lift is considered.
A drive of the Turas 900s demonstrator shows that it performs well. It also looks good, both internally and externally. Pick-up by the PX-5 is prompt and the driving position is commanding.
It and the Rosero Connect are competent in their respective segments. Add other members of the Brian Noone range and the work already put in by Jones Coach and Bus Sales, and their new partnership already looks strong.