Mellor turns to DRT as Pico makes debut

Mellor saw its reach in the small bus world grew further two weeks ago with the launch of the Pico at Busworld Brussels. A lightweight, high-specification minibus, it is designed as an efficient, effective and versatile product for the growing demand responsive transport (DRT) sector.

That target market represents new territory for Mellor, but the Pico’s overall design concept is the same as that for the other new models that the Rochdale manufacturer has released in recent years.

Under the leadership of Managing Director John Randerson, Mellor’s established focus on accessibility has been complemented by a growing emphasis on stylishness. Because of that, part of the Pico’s design brief was to make it as an attractive means of travel as possible.

That appeal extends just as much to those users who are less mobile, says John. The Pico is highly accessible. It uses the front-engined Fiat Ducato as a base vehicle, giving a fully low floor.

The Pico is available with either Euro VI diesel or zero-emission battery electric powertrains. It has full approval from Fiat and a three-year/100,000km comprehensive warranty, along with five years’ battery coverage on zero-emission variants.

‘A social angle’ for the Mellor Pico

There are already vehicles from other manufacturers in the market that suit the DRT role, but Mellor’s intent with the Pico is to add something that is different to those.

Optional zero-emission capability is a big box-ticker in the current climate. The Pico’s welcoming interior is another important consideration in a sector of the minibus industry that will naturally see car users as a significant part of its target demographic.

Mellor Pico
Mellor Pico has been designed to give an attractive and accessible environment for passengers, says the Rochdale manufacturer

Up to eight passenger seats can be fitted in a diesel Pico. John is adamant that more will not be crammed in to maintain an attractive user experience.

“We need to look at the travelling environment from a social angle. The Pico has been designed for comfort, because that will bring users back in the future,” he says. It would theoretically be possible to get more passengers into the Pico, but at a cost to the on-board experience.

In the demonstration vehicle displayed at Busworld, Mellor has taken the opportunity to show what is possible in the Pico, although it can do a more basic layout when cost is key.

The demonstrator has six Phoenix Blenheim seats that are to a high specification, with prominent white stitching on a black synthetic leather trim. Headrests and three-point belts are fitted, while the floor is finished with wood effect covering.

Wall-mounted USB charging points have been installed and the vehicle also comes with wi-fi. A saloon heating and air-conditioning unit complements the dash-mounted one; the former vents at roof level.

Floor is lowered during conversion to benefit accessibility

As part of its conversion work, Mellor lowers the original floor to 250mm in height. A manually operated ramp is placed within the sliding passenger door and a discrete wheelchair area is behind the driver.

Traces of the original floor height can be seen around the perimeter, but the new arrangement makes access simple. Twin strip lights are fitted into the ceiling and a bright colour scheme (other than the seats) enhances the airiness of the saloon.

That fundamental continues at the rear. The OEM doors there are removed and replaced with a coachbuilt moulding that comes with a large window.

Air suspension is an option on the back axle in place of standard coil springs. If specified, it will be likely to further benefit the travelling experience.

Driveline choice: Diesel or battery-electric

In battery-electric form, the Pico comes with the same driveline as the Orion E, except that at 46kW/h it has half of its bigger brother’s onboard energy storage capacity. That gives what John describes as a conservative 60-mile range on one charge.

Mellor Pico
Pico will be available in both diesel and battery-electric variants; eight passengers is the comfortable maximum capacity, says Mellor

The charger is mounted onboard the vehicle. Because of that, it can be fed from either a three-phase supply or a standard 240v connection, although in the latter case charging time would be extended. At its fastest, replenishment can be undertaken in below an hour.

Performance of the Orion E is sparkling. That looks set to also be the case with the electric Pico. The motor has a nominal rating of 148kW and a peak output of 289kW, which suggests that it will cope well with any hills that can be thrown at it.

Work to convert a diesel Ducato to zero-emission format takes place at Mellor’s Rochdale premises. Batteries are mounted behind the rear row of seats. In diesel versions, that space is used as a boot.

For those buyers that choose diesel, the Pico comes with a major upside. The Ducato is now available with a fully automatic, latest-generation ZF torque converter gearbox. That complements its standard manual transmission.

In the Ducato’s size category that represents a significant upgrade and it will greatly enhance its attractiveness for use in urban environments.

Mellor has such Ducatos in stock and Picos based on them they can be ordered now. ZF gearboxes have proved to be highly competent in Iveco Daily-based minicoaches and that will likely also be the case in the Ducato.

Small bus future: Pico demonstrates Mellor commitment

The Pico reaffirms Mellor’s commitment to small buses. It engaged widely with potential buyers while designing the new model and it believes that it will also suit taxi operations, opening a further new customer base.

While use of a platform as small as the Ducato for DRT applications may be surprising, it is the fully low floor layout that comes with front-wheel drive that is key to the Pico. It avoids what John describes as a “containerising” experience for less able passengers.

“I am passionate about low floor access and I make no apologies for continuing to bang that drum. The Pico brings an essential step forward in the provision of DRT. A successful introduction of widespread DRT is required. Doing so will help to tackle air quality issues and congestion.”

Mellor has already shown with its other small buses – and in the commercial sector, particularly with the Strata range – that TCO can be significantly reduced by using highly economical lightweight platforms.

In diesel form the Pico will retail at £60-65,000. Expected fuel returns are around 28mpg. That will gives a low per-mile cost, although that is balanced by the vehicle’s modest passenger capacity. Nevertheless, a well-appointed specification may allow higher fares to be charged.

Mobility as a Service ready and just the first DRT product

DRT has been in Mellor’s sights for some time, John continues. The Pico is set not to be its only venture into that sector; instead, it is “the first in a planned series of products” for the application and it represents still further expansion of a model range that has grown a great deal in recent years.

Mellor Pico
Demand-responsive transport has been in Mellor’s sights for some time; Pico is first in a range of products to suit that sector

The ability to target new sectors comes via backing from Mellor’s parent, the Woodall Nicholson group. It is committed to investing in Mellor, as proved by the builder’s attendance at Busworld for a second time.

Growth in the both the Australian and European markets is strong, and the Orion E is also showing promise. Mellor has now sold over 20 of that zero-emission minibus, and its Strata continues to do well, both in the home market and abroad.

“The Pico is a product of customer feedback. It reaffirms our belief that offering a good passenger experience is how the industry will capture new business,” says John. “We also believe that the Pico will unlock growth in the DRT sector.”

The first- and last-mile element of journeys will become increasingly prominent thanks to Mobility as a Service. With the Pico, Mellor is ready and waiting to service that demand.