Scania Touring HD
Full support for Chinese bodied tourer
The last few months have seen the initial deliveries to UK customers of Scania coaches carrying Touring HD coachwork manufactured in China by Higer. It is the first time that British operators have been able to purchase a Chinese built body on a European built chassis, as previous imports from China have been of completely Chinese built integral or body/chassis combinations, albeit with European running units. An initial batch of 20 coaches has been built, all 13.7m long examples mounted on the K410EB6x2*4 tri-axle chassis.
Scania’s relationship with Higer had begun a decade earlier in 2005 when the two manufacturers cooperated on the production of a coach called the A80 which was first offered on the Egyptian market during 2007. The decision to develop a model for Europe followed soon after and the Scania Touring was launched at Busworld in Kortrijk late in 2009, with another model, the more basic A30 intended for work such as school contracts, launched in local markets, especially France. Two other models, the 2.50m wide A50 and the A80 (which has the same frame as the Touring) are sold outside Western Europe. In total 1,233 Higer bodied Scanias were built up to the end of 2014, of which 505 were Touring HDs. In 2014, the biggest Touring market was Germany followed by decreasing volume order by South Africa, The Netherlands, Slovenia, Poland, Myanmar, the Czech Republic, Spain, Sweden and France, illustrating the fact that it is a global product.
Today, Scania’s products are built on completely separate lines within the Suzhou plant by 250 dedicated workers employed by Higer but under the control of a Scania quality team. Working a single shift, Monday to Friday, the current annual volume is 400 units with the installed technical capacity to go up to 500. The Suzhou plant as a whole is building a vast number of buses and coaches, some of them quite small and basic, totalling well over 20,000 units.
Serious consideration was given in 2009 to bringing the A30 to the UK as a 3+2 seated school coach. This went as far as the production of a prototype but ultimately this project did not come to fruition and the coach was sold in Australia, where quite a number of A30s are operating.
The intention had always been that Higer would be offered in the UK but the Scania Coach Sales management team did not want to do it until the time was right. They were intent on ensuring that when it was launched it would be to a
specification that suited the market and would be welcomed by it. There was no desperate hurry because with the existing Irizar and OmniExpress ranges there was already a good choice to offer customers. The niche that was foreseen for a tri-axle coach was as a 57 seater with toilet, but General Manager – Retail Sales, Martin West, did not think the 14.1m option he was first offered was sufficiently well fitted to the UK’s needs.
Both Higer and Scania continued to develop the product on the basis of feedback and the big change came two years ago when the possibility of offering a Kiel manufactured seat instead of the Chinese built Vega 440 made it possible to offer the 57 recliners required within an overall length of 13.7m, a variant already produced for Australia. Not only was the Kiel Aviance 1020 seat more space effective it was also more comfortable, while installing them in Europe rather than China meant that the seat trim could be specified later in the supply process than had previously been possible – of which more later.
Last year it was announced that Scania was to begin offering the Touring in the UK and of the initial batch of 20 imported, 18 have been sold already, one is serving as a demonstrator and one is in use at the company’s Loughborough training facility helping educate operators and their staff. The first to be delivered went to NAT in South Wales, while the first into service was one of two for PC Coaches in Lincoln. Other customers include Skills who have three, Omega Holidays who have five, Harry Shaw who has taken four in two batches of two, Transcare who have one and Pat’s of Wrexham who also have one.
At a retail price of £249,000, it sits comfortably below the two existing Scania products in the high capacity seating plus toilet market. The three-axle 13.22m Irizar i6 bodied K410EB to a similar specification with 57 recliners and toilet retails at £275-280,00, while the 14.1m OmniExpress 36 with 63 seats and toilet also retails at around the £275-280,000 figure, giving the Touring a initial purchase price advantage of £26,000-£31,000. The tri-axle Touring retails at around the same price as a 12.8m two-axle OmniExpress 53 seater but gives extra capacity and the additional ride comfort of the steered third axle. Martin, who has delivered a number of the Tourings on two, three or five year contract hire packages involving an agreed residual value at the conclusion believes they will have good resale values. Scania’s experience has been that tri-axles taken in part exchange are usually among the first used stock vehicles to find new owners.
The chassis specification includes the 13-litre DC13.115 410bhp engine and the eight-speed Scania GR875R transmission with two-pedal Opticruise. Safety related features of the specification include: ESP (Electronic Stability Program), Electronic and Anti lock Brake systems, Adaptive Cruise Control, Advanced Emergency Braking, Lane departure warning, a reversing camera and Xenon headlights.
For the future, the two axle 12.1m long Touring will also be coming to the UK as a 49 seater with toilet, with the first examples expected to arrive in the UK in November. The chassis has already arrived at the Higer plant in Suzhou. It will be mounted on the K360IB4x2 chassis with beam front axle. This offers some advantages in weight over the independent front suspension system used on the tri-axle. Like the DC13.115 410bhp unit, the 360bhp version of the nine-litre DC09.112 uses only selective catalytic reduction (SCR) without exhaust gas circulation (EGR). Incidentally, as a cost option, you can also have a 450bhp version of the DC13 that is SCR only, though whether it is necessary in the tri-axle Touring is open to debate.
In terms of specification, Martin explained that the intention is to replicate that of the 13.7m coach as far as is possible. With both the 13.7m model and the 12.1m, the concept is one of offering a relatively standard specification that meets most needs, which also brings with it price and parts advantages. A further benefit of this is that, when the need arises, an operator can purchase from stock to meet it. If a longer lead time is available, there is more opportunity to specify elements such as the seat trim and add in items from the limited option range.
There is another distinct advantage in taking product that is similar to the rest of Europe because, apart from manufacturing and parts stocking advantages, it means the majority of problems that are likely to occur have already been ironed out. Talking to members of the Scania team, the biggest issue that has had to be addressed is the air conditioning and heating system. Originally Scania used the same system for all markets but it now offers three specifications; Nordic, Standard (a specification developed for the majority of Europe) and Tropical. UK coaches have the Standard version.
A left hand drive 12.9m two-axle version of the 3.8m high Touring is also built, but this can only be offered in markets with a 19-tonnes maximum GVW limit so there are no plans to bring it to the UK.
One of the major challenges Scania faces in importing the Higer Touring is the distance of its main markets from the plant in Suzhou, a two hour drive from Shanghai. Once vehicles leave the plant they take a seven week boat journey before arriving in the Belgian port of Antwerp. Here, Scania has established a Delivery Centre referred to as DC Antwerp (it seems everything at Scania is known by an acronym). This is located within the Antwerp Haven Scania dealership close to the massive Antwerp docks complex that has been on the site for 20 years. It hosts the Delivery Centre operation while also maintaining its other business of maintaining and repairing trucks and buses of both Scania and other makes. It previously handled the import of some Irizar models and continues to deal with some Van Hool products, though none were there when we visited.
Jan Molendyk, a Scania employee, is the Delivery Centre Manager and he works closely with Piet van Nijnatten, the Dealership Manager. In total, the facility has ten workshop bays and two or three are made available to the DC team at any time. Any engineering capability or staff requirement is supplied at an hourly rate by Piet at Jan’s request, including the hiring in of additional staff for roles such as the fitting of seats.
When it was first set up in 2009, the idea was that it would simply be a stocking unit and that vehicles would come in from China complete, ready for minor pre-delivery inspection work and despatch. It soon became clear that the same specification for every customer in every European market would not meet customer requirements so the role of DC Antwerp altered.
While orders for vehicles have to be placed eight months ahead to ensure the chassis are built and shipped to China in time for the build process and shipping back to Europe to be completed, by building vehicles that are complete apart from their seats and serveries, operators are able to select trim patterns and shades to match their house colours.
Accordingly, as well as collecting coaches from where they are landed, about 20km from the Centre, and dealing with all of the paperwork and invoicing, and spending a day per coach completing quality inspections, the Centre arranges for most coaches to be fitted with Kiel seats sourced in Europe on a shorter lead time that gives operators a ten week window to make their choice. From the factory TM servery units can be specified but if a Frenzel unit is requested it will be installed in Antwerp, as will AD Systems units for the UK. Other factory requests handled include the installation of wheelchair lifts, updating tachographs, wheel aligning and similar tasks. Any damage sustained during the shipping process will also be attended to.
When all is complete, arrangements are made for the delivery of the coach, using one of two contractors, to the delivery address. This will either be the operator or the Scania importer’s premises, in the UK’s case Worksop.
Normally the capacity of the facility is ten coaches a week, but when things are busy a maximum of four a day can be handled.
Absolutely crucial to customers’ faith in the Touring is their ability to obtain whatever parts they need when they need them, with no more fuss than parts for vehicles manufactured nearer to home. The same applies to service support. To this end Scania will be fully supporting the Touring through its dealer network in exactly the same way that it does its own in-house bodied products (such as the OmniExpress, OmniCity and OmniCity Double Deck) and those of other body manufacturers marketed through Scania (such as the Irizar i4, i6 and PB). Scania undertakes to support products it sells on this basis in the market for a minimum of 20 years. The fact it no longer has a new sales agreement with Wrightbus but continues to offer the parts support provides some proof of this.
Graham Dale, General Manager – Parts Operations for Scania GB, explained that of 107 individual country markets globally in which Scania is active, when it comes to parts sales the UK is the biggest ‘by a stretch’, having been third behind Sweden and Brazil until three years ago. At a wholesale level (sales to the dealers) UK parts turnover is £117m of which 90% of parts sold are core Scania branded products and 10% are VRS (Vehicle Related Services) branded non core Scania parts (such as trailer parts, consumables, chemicals, lubricants, all-make truck parts and ancillary equipment). Of the £117m total, purchases by bus and coach operators account for £12.5m, slightly over 10%. Buses tend to have longer working lives than trucks but working on a ten year rolling average, the total size of the Scania commercial vehicle (including bus and coach) fleet in the UK is estimated to be 62,000 vehicles.
In the UK, Scania has a broadly 50/50 split between captive Scania-owned dealerships and independently owned private equity dealerships. Scania’s own are Scania Scotland, Scania East, Scania North, Scania South East and Scania South West. The six independents are Graham Commercials, Haydock Commercials, Keltruck Group, Road Trucks Northern Ireland, Truck East and West Pennine Trucks. Between these 11 businesses they operate 93 main dealer points, each of which handles truck, bus and coach. As a contractual element, every dealership holds at least 435 specified PSV items (worth £27,000) as a minimum parts holding of bus and coach related items, as well as many items that are common to truck and bus. In addition there are four further service dealers that also handle bus and coach, none Scania managed VMUs (vehicle maintenance units in customers’ workshops) and, completing the network, 18 marine dealers.
Parts support for the entire Scania vehicle parc worldwide is masterminded from the vast Opglabbeek site in Belgium. Opened in 1993 when it covered only 19,000 square metres, it was originally one of two central warehouses, the other being in Sweden. It was extended again in 2000 by which time there were three regional warehouses in addition to the two central ones, the first of the regional sites to open being that in the UK. A big change and a big extension to Opglabbeek came in 2007 when it became the only central warehouse feeding six regional warehouses including one in Sweden. Today, after another massive extension, it is at the core of a network with four parts centres globally and seven regional warehouses in Europe.
We were told that the Scania Parts centre alone now occupies 120,000 square metres (20,000 square metres of which is rented), handles 26,000 order lines daily and has 650 workers. Of those 26,000 order lines, 700 will be for bus specific parts, though bus parts usage will be greater because many parts used are common with trucks. Across all of its sites, Scania Parts Logistics has 170,000 square metres of warehousing, handles 33,000 order lines daily and has 800 workers. The aim is to maintain high parts availability at retail level, with a global target of 99.5% of parts reaching dealer level within 12 hours.
The system operates three levels of order types. The objective is that over 80% of parts orders will be supplied as stock orders to replenish existing stocks. Where the local network needs something additional less than 19% of parts will be supplied as daily orders directly from the nearest warehouse with an evening order cut-off and early morning delivery. Finally, in the less than 1% of cases where a vehicle is off the road (VOR), parts will be delivered direct from source in the shortest available lead time on a round the clock basis, 365 days a year.
I was shown around the Opglabbeek plant by Raf Poets, the plant’s Supply Chain Manager, who pointed out how the main parts storage area was split into fast, medium and slow moving part areas with what was referred to as a Hypermarket area housing the 700 lines that make up 40% of the outbound pick lines. I was quite surprised that although there was mechanisation in the form of fork lift trucks, there was no mechanised parts picking. There had been in the past but it had been found that manual picking was more accurate, more flexible and less prone to breaking down! The warehouse set up is designed to enable women to do the job because nothing weighing over 15kg is manually lifted, with the result that 45% of the workforce is female. Something I noticed was that the contents of any bin with a VCI sticker on it had to be packed in a rustproof bag. There is also a scheme whereby the government employs disabled people to work at the plant and the company contracts for the work done.
Stock taking at the facility and across the regional warehouse network is undertaken on a perpetual basis, so there is never a need to close down for a stock take.
Adding a bit more detail to how the logistics work in the UK, Mark Begley, Warehouse & Technical Operations Manager for Scania GB, said that in the UK, across the Scania Parts Logistics dealership network, there are a total of 74,000 lines picked each month, as well as 1,000 emergency order lines per month. The daily average parts pick is 3,500 lines with an annual average of 882,000 parts lines.
From RW1, Scania speak for the 4,500 square metre regional parts warehouse in Milton Keynes, there are 23,500 stock lines with an average of 670 lines picked daily and 14,000 lines each month.
If a customer requests a part that is not immediately available from the shelf, Scania Parts Logistics can draw stock from any of the other regional warehouses, any other Scania branch globally, or accelerate the parts arrival through the DSM (Dealer Stock Management) system.
The UK warehouse already holds the critical Higer stock needed for the dealerships to draw on. The team began working closely with the bus and coach teams within Scania GB in June 2014 to identify what items were needed on stock lists and this was drawn up based on experience with Irizar and OmniExpress bodied coaches. Further advice was taken from markets already selling the Touring range, with note taken of differences between left and right hand drive vehicles. As part of the process, parts drawings were created and updated as necessary.
The result was that 45 items were identified as necessary for parts dealers to hold, 212 critical items are being held at the Milton Keynes regional warehouse and back up stocks of 1,019 items (over and above existing stocks) are being held at the Parts Centre in Opglabbeek. Orders to cover the necessary items were placed in November 2014.
Specifically to ensure the smooth introduction of the Touring, a dealer familiarisation programme has been undertaken at key branches within the network (specifically the seven in the areas where the first coaches have been delivered) and this will go on until all branches have been trained. A similar process will be carried out later this year to accompany the introduction of the 4×2 model.
Every new customer gets, as part of the deal, a training package to teach them about the new coach. Those attending are put up in a hotel the night previously and receive two half day training sessions covering the chassis and the body.
To ensure operators are happy with what they have bought and communicate any issues rapidly back to the company, Bob Nevitt, Scania’s General Manager (Customer Support), visits every new customer, usually within six to eight weeks of the coach entering service. Sometimes Steve Dunk, Scania’s Driver Trainer, who is increasingly involved in initial handovers and ensuring drivers know how to get the best out of the coach, will visit to carry out training on fuel efficient driving to help ensure economy is maximised. As Martin West put it, ‘We’re always looking at what we can do to enhance the Scania experience for operators.’
With the 13.7m Touring and the 12.1m model joining it, Scania will have an ‘awesome’ coach range, Martin West believes. The best seller by a country mile is the Irizar range with the i6 dominating sales, though the i4 and PB remain options. The i6 is offered at a considerable variety of lengths between the 10.8m long midi as operated by City Circle, among others, and the 15.0m version as currently being trialled by Stagecoach on megabus.com duties. The 10.8m can be anything from a 36-seat executive to a straight 47 seater, all with rear door, while further up the range are the 12.2m 49/51 seater; the 12.45m long flat floor with 53 recliners, centre toilet and executive specification that is far and away Scania’s best seller in the UK; and the 12.6m with front entrance lift. On three axles, the former 12.9m model has become 13.22m long and capable of either 57 recliners and a full mid toilet or 59 recliners and a low height centre toilet. The 13.9m i6 can have 59 recliners or 61 with the low toilet, whilst West Coast Motors has 14.2m long models with front lifts, 57 recliners and a rear floor mounted toilet.
As well as the Irizar range manufactured at Ormaiztegi in Spain, there is also the Finnish built OmniExpress which is offered in two height options; 3.4m and 3.6m. Hodges of Sandhurst has taken quite a number of OmniExpress 34s, a mixture of straight 12.8m 57 seaters and executive 55 seaters, and will this year be adding a new variant, a 12.4m long 51-seat executive.
Completing Scania’s coach line-up in the UK is the Van Hool option, currently only available on two-axles but later this year to be launched on three, which is only available from the three dealerships of the associated Moseley group of companies, and for National Express work, the Caetano Levante.
Incidentally, everything Scania is now bringing in will be equipped with Euro6 engines. Martin West told me that there were only two Euro5 stock coaches still unsold (at the time of writing), a 12.45m K360 i6 and a 12.2m K400 Irizar i6. The K400 will be retained by the company until towards the end of the year for use at the Loughborough training centre.
Scania’s main purpose in taking members of the press to Belgium was to demonstrate that the Touring HD will be as well supported as any other coach the company offers in the UK market. It seems clear from what we were shown that not only will this be the case but also that the parts support the group has in place for all of its products is well organised and comprehensive.
Scania is enjoying strong sales in the coach market at present and in addition to those supplied through National Express and through Moseley, it expects to achieve around 120 retail sales. Around two thirds of these will have Irizar coachwork, with the remainder split between OmniExpress and Higer, but initial take up of the Touring has been such that 20 examples, split between the 6×2 and the 4×2, have already been ordered and it is expected that this figure will be increased.