VDL delivers another cut in TCO for Futura 2

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No manufacturer is neglecting desires to see operating costs reduced, and VDL says it has done just that with its Futura 2 coach thanks to a revised DAF- and ZF-based driveline and an overall weight reduction

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A conservative estimate for efficiency gain is 3%; PPC grows that to 5.5%

VDL promises that its Futura 2 range will deliver increased fuel efficiency, a smoother ride and lower maintenance costs thanks to a new-generation driveline.

Changes made by DAF and ZF are complemented by a weight reduction. VDL says that when all are combined, a minimum 3% baseline fuel consumption improvement is the result.

That figure potentially rises to 5.5% with optional Predictive Powertrain Control (PPC). While only worthwhile on coaches that spend time in hilly terrain, the GPS-based PPC optimises how climbs and descents are tackled.

“New engines from DAF, and ZF’s Traxon automated manual transmission (AMT) and its EcoLife Coach option, will be available in all models built in right-hand drive,” says Business Manager Coach Pieter Gerdingh.

Although these developments impact the purchase price, VDL is sticking to its line of total cost of ownership (TCO). It comes down with the new driveline. Other factors, such as extended maintenance intervals and easier access to components, also contribute.

DAF’s delight

The FDD2 double-decker will be available with an automatic gearbox for the first time from Q3. That’s facilitated by DAF’s revised 10.8-litre MX-11 engine, and the ZF EcoLife Coach’s torque handling ability.

FHD2 single-deckers are now standardised on the MX-11 and it is available at 370, 410 and 450bhp. The latter gives 2,300Nm of torque, which was previously 12.8-litre MX-13 territory. In the FDD2, the MX-11 is offered only at 450bhp, and then exclusively with EcoLife. The double-decker retains is MX-13 option, which now delivers 530bhp and 2,600Nm of torque; the MX-13 is available only with Traxon.

To achieve power and torque increases, DAF has undertaken considerable work on each engine. Improvements include reduced internal friction, auxiliaries that operate only when required, and revised pistons to optimise combustion.

Torque now peaks from 900rpm in the MX-11, and from 1,000rpm in the MX-13. As a result, VDL has incorporated a revised axle ratio. To match the new torque curves, engine speed at 62mph has been reduced to just 1,090rpm.

Additionally, both engines’ aftertreatment unit is smaller. The benefit of that is particularly obvious in the FDD2. Its luggage bay walk-in arrangement is improved thanks to reduced exhaust intrusion.

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SFHD2 range now exclusively uses MX-11; EcoLife is available at all ratings

ZF’s contribution

As already revealed, Traxon is capable of more shifts and more frequent clutch operation than AS-Tronic. Clutch control as the gearbox ages is much improved and Traxon also has a torque converter-esque ‘creep’ function.

The Intarder 3 retarder remains, and the Futura 2 now incorporates DAF’s MX engine brake. The two are blended automatically.

A key option, available only in conjunction with Traxon, is PPC. “In hilly terrain, it is a terrific addition,” says Mr Gerdingh, although only coaches that regularly encounter inclines will see a benefit that justifies the extra cost.

Figures recorded on VDL’s varied 500km test route in Belgium and the Netherlands show the value of PPC.

The baseline, achieved with an outgoing DAF MX-11 and AS-Tronic, is 12.34mpg. When the new MX-11 and Traxon are substituted, that rises to 12.72mpg. Add PPC and consumption becomes 13.08mpg. Those are modest increases, but they form part of VDL’s overall approach to TCO – something that is will no doubt continue to hone.

Behind the wheel

At last week’s launch, VDL provided a line-up of FHD2-129s with the new MX-11 engine rated at 450bhp coupled to Traxon. All were PPC-equipped.

AS-Tronic has come in for justified criticism from some quarters of both its sometimes hesitant nature, and of shifts that are slower than in the market-leading AMT. Both points have been addressed in Traxon.

Upshifts are much quicker, and clutch control from stationary is noticeably better. There is none of the judder that could afflict AS-Tronic, and ZF’s work on the hardware that controls clutch actuation should allow that to remain the case throughout the gearbox’s life. The most marked change is in how Traxon downshifts, however. It is much quicker than AS-Tronic and that will deliver economy benefits on stiff climbs.

PPC works well; it has an excellent knowledge of terrain and it sometimes engages neutral on a barely-noticeable downhill stretch. Behaviour when climbing is also impeccable. The challenge, however, will be to get drivers to trust it.

Improvements to the Futura 2’s driveline represent evolution, not revolution. But they will no doubt help the coach to maintain its position as a product that is highly-dependable in more ways than one.

www.vdlbuscoach.com

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VDL is the first manufacturer to formally launch the next-generation DAF engines in conjunction with ZF’s new gearboxes.It planned for the combination to debut six months ago. It wasn’t quite ready at that time and the changeover was delayed. While disappointing, VDL Bus and Coach CEO Henk Coppens had no hesitation in making that decision.

“We have only three focuses at VDL: Quality, quality and quality.” he says.

Operators agree: VDL does a good job in delivering on all of those. The Futura 2 is highly thought of. It is a premium coach, and priced as such, but buyers should perhaps listen to what VDL says regarding TCO.

There will be one major challenge with the new driveline: Driver acceptance of PPC. It is a big change from the norm. If VDL and its representatives can incorporate training into the package, it will reap the benefits.