Despite describing the UK bus and coach sector as being “in the doldrums” with uncertainty from Brexit, regulatory change and air quality all dampening down the market, Volvo is taking its responsibility as a leading manufacturer seriously with hefty investment in new products.
This year’s Volvo stand at Euro Bus Expo will feature three brand new vehicles for the UK and Ireland markets, including the new premium segment 9900 integral coach, a new high-capacity double-deck chassis and a new coach model, to be unveiled on the show’s opening day, in conjunction with its launch order partner.
The Volvo 9900 won’t be a surprise to UK and Irish operators as a number of them will have attended the global launch in May this year in Sweden. Indeed, Volvo has already sold 11 in the UK and Ireland with the first order received from Hollinshead Coaches, followed by those from Hams Travel, Pierce Kavanagh, DJ Thomas, Brent Thomas, Bernard Kavanagh and Ridleys.
“We strongly anticipate that this list will steadily grow now that the 9900 has been publicly launched and operators are able to see and experience it for themselves,” says Nick Page, managing director, Volvo Bus UK & Ireland.
Based on the B11R chassis, the 3.85m-high 9900, the product of a €40million development, incorporates a ‘Z’-shaped window and theatre floor and has been adapted for the UK and Ireland with either 13.1m or 13.9m length, and 53 or 57 seats with a centre demountable toilet. The retail price will be £285,000.
Chassis displays at the NEC are much rarer than they used to be at shows past, but Volvo is addressing that this year with a naked Volvo B8L 6×2 which will be offered as a 100-seat double-deck with bodywork initially from MCV, but also available with Wrights and ADL bodies.
The B8L was originally developed by Volvo for Far East markets, and will be seen in cities such as Hong Kong and Singapore. The first UK model should arrive in spring 2019.
Volvo sees the three-axle B8L fulfilling a niche for high-capacity double-decks, not a high volume seller, perhaps just 20-50 a year.
“Our existing two-axle diesel-powered double-deck – the Volvo B5TL – is the mainstay of many fleets, especially outside of London,” says Volvo Bus commercial sales director Phil Owen. “By adding a three-axle option, with the extra power required to operate at peak capacity, the B8L is meeting a growing requirement of running fewer buses with higher passenger loadings on certain routes, helping to free up road space, reduce congestion and as a result, improving air quality.”
The 11.8m-long B8L has a wheelbase of 5,590mm and Volvo says it comes at 600kg lighter than its B9TL chassis, which it replaces in the Far East, and improved fuel consumption.
Major changes are also afoot for Volvo’s electric options with a recasting of its entire electromobility approach in the UK.
The company, which has pioneered electrified buses and declined to offer diesel-only buses in continental Europe, has always had to have an adapted solution for UK markets, given our predilection to be a bit different. Volvo has now acknowledged that completely and will be moving to a new electric chassis offering for both single- and double-deck that will eventually see the complete Volvo 7900e disappear from its UK and Ireland portfolio.
The new full-electric chassis is now in development, with plans to develop a common platform for both single- and double-deck, and a planned launch in the UK in 2021.
The 7900e has of course just reached the stage of commercial operation in the UK following a 12-month demonstation tour, with Transdev Blazefield’s eight opportunity-charged buses about to go into full commercial service in Harrogate, but the Polish-built model will eventually be replaced by the new chassis.
The new electric vehicle will have four 66kW batteries and be capable of more than 100 miles on a single charge, which according to Volvo is enough to make it suitable for around 70 per cent of routes. A demonstrator, with a brand new MCV body style, is being prepared for the UK by mid 2020 with series production to follow for deliveries in 2021.
The current plans are for 95-passenger capacity on the double-deck and 44 on the single-deck version, and both will have full electric heating and are being designed to meet TfL requirements.
“We continue to have a very positive response to our current generation full-electric single-deck bus the 7900e,” says Page. “The development of the new modular chassis further extends our possibilities and will allow us to progressively develop our Electromobility footprint in the UK and Ireland.”
On the hybrid front, Volvo is also expanding its range with a B5LH single-deck on the way, with bodywork again by MCV which is using the same styling as its body for the B8RLE.
“We are currently being told that our Euro 6 double-deck hybrid is the best performer in the market and we believe the single-deck can deliver an extra 10-15 per cent fuel economy,” says Owen.
Volvo is adamant that the single-deck hybrid can offer a commercially viable package for operators and aims to launch it in 2019.
In conjunction with these changes, Volvo is also dropping its electric hybrid version of the 7900 since it believes the market is now focused on either hybrid or full-electric with no room for a plug-in hybrid intermediary.
Volvo has also been investing in its UK infrastructure with a £1.4million revamp of its coach sales centre in Coventry which has seen a quadrupling of floor space to over 800sq m, and a new handover facility that offers a “car showroom experience,” according to James Hyde, retail sales director. “It’s a clear demonstration of our ongoing long-term commitment to the industry.”
In spite of the tough market conditions in the UK and Ireland, Volvo does have some key orders in the bag for 2019, including more than 200 B5TLs and 52 B8RLEs for Ireland and 69 B5LHs for Metroline in London.
Its forward-looking show line-up should certainly give it a boost, with new coach options and a clear pathway towards lower and zero emission buses, specifically designed for UK and Ireland operators.