Things are looking buoyant for MAN Bus and Truck’s coach arm in the UK. 2013 saw a very strong year in the used market, and 2014 is shaping up to be excellent for new coaches.
With its two Neoplan products â€“ Tourliner and Starliner â€“ it was the early leader in Euro 6 deliveries, and that was no accident.
â€œWe sold our last new Euro 5 coach before Christmas,â€ says Ian McLean, stressing that while 2013 was a strong year for used, he and his team saw identical success with new coaches. .
â€œAs with all manufacturers, I’ve got to have stock built and available. Starliner is a bespoke coach and built to order, but the standard Tourliner is a stock vehicle.â€ Stock they may be, but equipment levels are unusually high. A toilet, wood-effect floor, servery and Kiel half-leather seats are all specified as standard on those for the UK.
â€œWe sold and delivered 87 coaches in 2013, although some customers who took delivery didn’t register them until this year,â€ Ian continues. â€œBut from our point of view, they were sold in 2013.â€ That represented the last Euro 5 Neoplans for the UK.
It would have been an easy option, he accepts, to have ordered more Euro 5 stock Tourliners to sell into 2014. But Euro 6 is here, and MAN insists there is nothing to fear. â€œI believe that the way Euro 6 is packaged, and how we sell the product, means it’s a very attractive offering to operators. It’s all about the package.
â€œI want people to get away from the Euro 6 scare stories that went around. In both Starliner and Tourliner, the MAN engine at Euro 6 is much the same as at Euro 5, with one or two differences. The main change for the operator is that they have to put AdBlue in. That’s it.â€
MAN has been comfortable with Euro 6 for some time, Ian says, and he is confident that that ease will rapidly transfer to operators who still have reservations. MAN has considerable experience of both EGR and SCR systems, and has also built EEV compliant vehicles, which Ian describes as â€œEuro five-and-a-half.â€
Backing it up
In line with Ian’s wish to see the purchase of a coach viewed as part of a package, MAN offers a complete maintenance agreement, including Warranty Plus, as standard on all new deliveries.
He accepts that not all business will be won with repair and maintenance contracts in place, so another option is available where customers don’t wish to use a local MAN dealer for servicing.
â€œI want to help people look after their vehicles correctly and ensure they’re maintained to MAN standards. So as part of the package, we also offer a two-day course where the buyer can send one of its technicians to us in Manchester. We won’t start pulling engines to bits, but we will give them an overview on what they must check.â€
Something else MAN offers customers as part and parcel of the package is ProfiDrive. Adapted from its truck sales arm, which has a number of dedicated HGVs for this purpose, ProfiDrive sees the new coach’s driver and his or her vehicle visit Manchester to be taught how to get the best from it. A full day’s course, it can deliver serious benefits in terms of fuel consumption.
Both training packages come as part and parcel of the vehicle’s sale. â€œWe’ve got all the facilities here,â€ Ian explains. â€œI can make it work because we have excellent training facilities and plenty of conference rooms. All we ask of the customer is to send their driver or technician to us. You pay for the accommodation; we deliver the course.
â€œWe can sell the best coach in the world â€“ and I believe we do â€“ but the customer might then miss an opportunity by putting a driver on it who doesn’t know how to get the best out of the vehicle.â€
Telematics as standard may be the next step, accessed via a real-time web portal to give a complete run-down of the vehicle’s behaviour and treatment. It has already been fitted to a number of Neoplans sold, and can go into as much detail as the operator requires.
â€œIt depends on what customers want,â€ Ian continues. â€œDo they just want the coach’s location? We can do that. But there’s a whole web portal there to be tapped into.â€ The telematics system can either be purchased outright or rented, and visitors to this week’s Commercial Vehicle Show at the NEC will have a chance to see it in person.
A fresh approach
Telematics, driver and engineer training, R&M packages and Warranty Plus: all have been introduced since Ian took the helm of MAN’s coach and bus arm in the UK.
â€œWhen I took over, clients were bringing in vehicles where a third party had installed telematics. Why were they doing that? Because we didn’t offer it. But now we give the full package, and the added bonus is that MAN’s entire UK dealer network is part of this. There’s a whole new connectivity, extra training and greater buy-in.â€
MAN’s Manchester base – with its design modelled on dealerships in Germany – now has a Competence Centre, which at the time of routeone‘s visit contained a new Euro 6 Starliner receiving the finishing touches before delivery to one of its most prestigious clients.
Behind the vehicle area is a room dedicated to coach and bus customers. It contains samples of all the fabrics and leather available across the PCV range, a number of demonstration seat pairs and a multimedia centre used to showcase other aspects of the offering.
This is all part of MAN’s bid to demonstrate to coach operators that their business is just as important as hauliers’. The eight-acre Manchester site, the largest MAN dealership in the UK and hub for its coach and bus sales, now has dedicated service and preparation lanes for coaches and buses. Four specialist technicians are employed.
Trading it in
Naturally, the sale of new coaches will generate secondhand business through those vehicles taken in part exchange. MAN operates a strict policy when it comes to valuing part exchange vehicles and ensuring the deal is fair for both sides.
If a used coach is to be taken into MAN’s stock and retailed, it is subject to a Freight Transport Association (FTA) audit. â€œWe pay the FTA to do that,â€ says Ian, who adds that a monetary figure is not placed on the value of the part exchange until it has been audited by the industry body.
â€œSometimes we can quite easily complete transactions on larger deals months in advance. So what we do is FTA the trade-ins at that point, and repeat the process when we take them into stock. Again, we cover the cost.â€
Most of the above, Ian accepts, weren’t part of MAN’s coach business in the UK a year ago. Now they are, he is confident they will pay dividends. A walk round the Trafford Park site suggested that might well be the case; a number of Euro 6 coaches, both Starliner and Tourliner, were awaiting delivery to customers.
MAN’s coach business in the UK is looking good thanks to the efforts of Ian and his team. They will soon turn their attentions to the manufacturer’s underperforming bus arm, following high-level strategy discussions at its Munich headquarters.
Its biggest bus success recently has come from the gas-powered heavyweight A69 single-decker, sold to Arriva and Go-Ahead subsidiary Anglian Bus.
This model remains available, but at Coach & Bus Live 2013 Ian made it clear that MAN’s desire is to return to being a major diesel bus player.
That’s not to say it is moving away from gas completely. On the contrary; the A69s with Arriva and Anglian Bus have proved themselves highly-competent, popular and reliable, which is to say the gas product is where it needs to be.
â€œGas is there, and it’s doing well,â€ Ian explains, adding that growing experience with the logistics supporting gas buses is also benefiting the concept. â€œNow diesel is the bit we’re focusing on. It’s the last part of the jigsaw that I need to complete. We’ve had some success, but we need more. That’s where the volume of the PCV market is.â€
He accepts that British single-deck demand has moved irretrievably towards lightweights, and is unlikely ever to return to favouring heavy-duty chassis in the numbers seen earlier. The CitySmart, with a GVW of 14,400kg, was launched in 2012, but unlike other products in the lightweight sector is not available at full length, instead coming in at 10.8m.
Several stock CitySmarts remain at Trafford Park, but Ian says they will have found buyers within two months. MAN remains keen to be part of the ever-growing lightweight revolution, and announcements in this regard are expected later in the year.
â€œWe have got to look at what we’re doing and what we’re bringing into the market,â€ he says, accepting that the lightweight bus sector, with solid offerings from Alexander Dennis, Optare and Wrightbus, is a congested area of the industry, but one which offers rich pickings.
â€œThat’s where the volume is now. I understand that. But where does MAN sit? That’s a discussion we’ll be having at a very high level in Munich.â€
As it stands, the A66-based CitySmart could be offered at Euro 6, should demand warrant, and so could the RC2 18-tonne single-decker. It remains fact, however, that the Lion’s City, MAN’s single-decker which has proved enormously popular in Europe, will not be built in right-hand drive form.
Although both the CitySmart and RC2 can be built at Euro 6 in right-hand drive, there will be no rush by MAN UK to order stock vehicles. â€œIt’s got to be more strategic than us ordering half a dozen or a dozen of them. Where’s the market?â€ Ian says.
â€œAt the moment, we’re being more strategic in what we’re doing [bus-wise], and we’ll be in a position before Euro Bus Expo to spell out where we’re going from there. But at the moment, if a British operator wanted CitySmarts or RC2s at Euro 6, I could quote them; I have quoted in tenders, in fact.â€
Rebuilding MAN’s bus business in the UK is one of Ian’s priorities for now, he says. â€œThe core citybus is where the work is. Our coach models are there; we’ve got the market, and we’ve got the acceptability as far as coaches are concerned.
â€œWhat I need to do now is get the same with bus. But we’ve got the products and it’s all about stepping forward. We’re looking at what we need to do and where we need to be in 2015 onwards.â€
It’s fighting talk from MAN’s Head of UK Bus and Coach, but Ian recognises that its weakness in the market is its diesel bus offering. He’s taking steps to correct that, but as part of a long-term strategy. Don’t expect a sudden change; rather, expect it over the next couple of years.
Its coach, and gas bus, offerings are different. Neoplan has been the clear leader in early Euro 6 coach registrations and if, as Ian says, operators have â€œnothing to fearâ€ from the updated legislation â€“ and following early worries, it seems he is right â€“ then a strong year looks to be in prospect. Stay tuned.