Scania’s Chinese-built Touring coach was unveiled for the UK market at Euro Bus Expo 2014. Since then, it has proved itself as a strong newcomer with aftersales support ensuring everything runs smoothly. Tara Lepore visits the Opglabbeek warehouse to see how it all works.
Scania’s Touring Coach, launched in European left-hand drive in 2009 and made available on the UK market last year, stands out from other coaches for its unconventional collaboration between Chinese builder Higer and manufacturerScania.
The 13.7m tri-axle Touring model is a first for the UK, and amid initial comments concerning the Chinese build, Scania is keen to highlight that the coach is â€œa Scania coach built in China for the UK market.â€
With a Swedish-built chassis, the body is made on a dedicated Scania line at the Higer factory in China, meaning Scania can ensure the manufacturing and quality control standards are upheld.
The Scania production line â€“ based at a factory just outside Shanghai â€“ was established in 2007, the same year the Touring was launched in Egypt. A decision in 2009 came to adapt the product for a European market and the Touring as we see it today (albeit in left-hand drive) was launched at the Busworld event in Kortrijk, Belgium in the same year. The right-hand version has been available since November last year.
The HD Touring range has seen a steady growth since its introduction in 2008, with 508 vehicles delivered worldwide in 2014. Of these, 136 were distributed in Europe, with Germany as its biggest buyer.
The product provides value for money at under 300,000, considerably lower than Scania’s other tri-axle offerings.
The vehicles are sent as empty shells from China to the Scania-owned delivery centre in Antwerp. Formerly used for truck repair, the workshop began to house Touring coaches in 2010, headed up by Delivery Centre Manager Jan Molendyk. According to Jan, the premises â€œhad existing bus expertiseâ€ that they have since â€œstepped up.â€
The facility handles all vehicles coming into the European market and carries out quality inspections and factory requests such as kitchen assembly, wheelchair lifts and tachograph updating.
Paul Chapman, Product Sales Manager for Scania UK, says that the UK Touring model has been designed with operators in mind.
â€œWe have designed the Touring following feedback from operators on the key things they want, meaning future costs are kept down. There is a better flow on the production line, with no major changes needed.â€
However, a decision to adapt specifically for the European market includes the fitting of Kiel seats, a redesign from the original Chinese brand Vega, providing a lighter seat with a larger seat area capacity.
Safety features include the fitment of advanced emergency brakes, adaptive cruise control and lane departure warning systems â€“ a specification that will become mandatory in all new vehicles from 1 November this year.
The workshop has a capacity to work on a maximum of two Touring coaches per day, totalling 500 a year.
Robin Skantz, Product Manager, says: â€œWe are waiting for the right time to see when we can expand this capacity.â€
Scania provides well-reputed aftersales support, with an impressive logistical system at its central warehouse â€“ the global distribution Scania Parts Centre (SPC) in Opglabbeek, Belgium.
The location is one of two central warehouses opened in 1993.
After the closure of the first warehouse in Sweden in March 2006, the premises at Opglabbeek became the main provider to 107 distributing countries around the world, and remains to serve all warehouses worldwide today, including the Asian Parts Centre in Singapore.
Opglabbeek was chosen for its prime location near both a seaport and airport. A former coal-mining area, the SPC provides employment to over 600 employees at any one time, relying on manpower over automated technology.
Of the 113,000 stock keeping units at the facility â€“ of which 31,000 are specifically for bus parts â€“ workers manually pick out parts using rolling product technology to navigate around the site area measuring over 100,000m2, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Up until 1995, the warehouse used automatic technology, including cranes, guided vehicles and conveyers â€“ but found it was not reliable enough.
Hans Thijs, Manager of Demand Chain Management at Scania Opglabbeek, says â€œreliability is key.â€
â€œWe have the logistics service to match our premium product range.â€
However, there are plans to trial electronic equipment out again as part of the 2020 ‘Masterplan.’
â€œWe will slowly phase this method out again in smaller parts of the factory. Hopefully the technology will have improved since we last used it 10 years ago.â€
By using manual labour, Scania can also increase the flexibility of its output and ensure the maximum number of lines can be picked in correlation with demand, reducing order lead time.
To improve accuracy, automated instructions are given to workers through a headpiece using voice recognition to confirm the job has been completed.
Says Graham Dale, General Manager for Parts Operation UK: â€œThe SPC in Opglabbeek oversees the global distribution of our products â€“ but only seeing as far as the distributor’s level.
â€œIt’s important that the dealer network is left to deal. Our markets across the world want a variety of different things, so each link in the supply chain is equally important to ensure our high-quality service is delivered at a good pace.â€
There are seven Regional Warehouses (RWs) across Europe, the first of which was set up in Milton Keynes in 2000.
Referred to as RW1 by Scania, it is the ‘core’ for the UK’s Scania dealership, with a warehouse measuring 4,500sq-m. The regional warehouse aims to get parts to its dealers within 12 hours, a â€œglobal standardâ€ for Scania’s logistics.
For the Touring coach, the UK team worked closely with Bus & Coach teams within Scania GB, using previous knowledge of Irizar and OmniExpress 212 models to predict the critical stock lines that would be needed. Any errors in the parts catalogue are reported to the factory using a failure report system, meaning order lead time can be kept to a minimum.
Training has also been provided to seven branches that will be maintaining the first vehicles bought in the UK.
With a two-year repair and maintenance package, the coach has been acquired by a number of UK operators this year, including Skills Motor Coaches â€“ having three delivered in April â€“ and Tranzcare Travel Ltd of Manchester, with one going into service this month.
In what will be the Touring’s first full trading year in the UK, Scania certainly has an impressive global logistics system with a regional network to match, offering a good customer support network direct to the operators that opt to buy Touring.