Yutong delivers its 500th

From a standing start seven years ago, Pelican has delivered its
500th Yutong vehicle, and staged a truly international event which
took in its own 100th anniversary

A stunning Yutong GT12 touring coach took the title of 500th vehicle supplied by Pelican at an event well-attended not only by Chinese delegates from Yutong but by the Chinese and British press.

The 53-seat coach is for Nova Tours – a specialised tour operator. Its Managing Director, David Sherriff, told Bus and Coach Buyer that the coach is set for a life as  a front-line coach with the Chesterfield-based company, which also owns a hotel in Llandudno. of Pontefract,

Alongside it, Pelican presented another GT12 for Welsh’s Coaches, which will take its place in a fleet once famous for its all-Setra approach to quality. In moving to Yutong, John Welsh said he is making no compromises, and believes the 12-metre GT12 has the quality other marques lacked, in the intervening years after Setra’s departure from the UK.

“This Yutong has not fallen far short of Setra for finish, performance and back-up,” said John Welsh, who had just returned from touring Italy with the coach. He said the DAF MX11 and ZF EcoLife combination had proven excellent for the journey.

In terms of the numbers, Yutong’s TC9 midicoach has created by far the biggest section of Pelican’s parc but the event also celebrated Go North East’s order for nine Yutong E10 electric buses, again with a ringing endorsement from Martijn Gilbert, the company’s MD, who told the assembled media that the choice was purely on the merit of the bus and its whole-life cost, not on the capital cost.

Reaching the milestone has not come without investment by Yutong, explained its European General Manager, Jack Li: “It’s a very demanding market,” he said. “We have had to listen to every customer request and adapt the product to optimise it. We now have a dedicated line for our UK coaches.”

He revealed that, not only does Yutong have the 57-seat GT13 shown at Kortrijk on its way to the UK, but a GT14 is being planned.

Looking back on the relationship with Yutong, Pelican MD, Richard Crump, said: “I had no expectation of what would happen, and I didn’t think they would improve the product so quickly. Other Chinese manufacturers will come to the UK, I’m sure, but Yutong is ahead of the rest, and will stay ahead.”

Richard told delegates on the trade visit that although, out of the 500 vehicles, only five have been electric, he is expecting that the next 500 will be sold a lot quicker, and will include many more electrics. By next year, 32 will have been delivered, including the nine for GNE.

It’s MD, Martijn Gilbert, said the electric fleet headed for GNE’s 53/54 routes will tackle local  air quality. They have been part-funded by the green bus fund, which he said makes up much of the capital difference between diesel and electric, including the charging infrastructure, which is being supplied by Yutong.

“The decision to go with Yutong was not made solely on price. We based our decision on capability and range, and the E10 was the best choice,” said Martijn. “The build quality is really exceptional as an integral, and it doesn’t rattle. The attention to detail is better than its competitors. The Yutong isn’t the cheapest, but it is the best.”

Martijn said the plan was to run the buses for 15 years, and that this had been costed with a battery replacement: “The alternative drivelines are beginning to stack up; CNG’s economics work and I hope that soon electric buses will work, cost-wise, without government subsidy.”

BCB Says:

Pelican has achieved its milestone in the PSV market by a mixture of good fortune and unstinting support for its customers.

The decision to focus on the TC9 – widely regarded now as a landmark midicoach design – was important, whether a reaction to demand or a conscious move from the Castleford supplier. The fact is, Pelican had no ‘footprint’ at all in the coach market in 2012 when it launched. Now, it has supplied more than 450 TC9s to the UK, and in just five years, built a reputation for aftersales care that matches the product. Pelican owes the TC9 a debt, in that sense.

My personal experience of the marque came in 2011, when I travelled on a Yutong coach in Cuba, of all places. On my return from holiday, I called another transport editor and said, in essence, Europe better watch out, because if Yutong ever entered the fray, they had the product to succeed. It was the year Yutong was scouting the UK for a suitable partner, found Pelican, and two years later created a UK distributor.

Yutong wasn’t the first Chinese manufacturer to pitch for the UK market, as we all know, and the track record of the earlier imports must have been in the minds of buyers. Pelican and Yutong have together proven that all Chinese vehicles and vehicle suppliers are not the same, and there are signs now that it is poised to make further inroads into the full-sized coach market and bus markets dominated by European and Turkish products.

Let’s be honest about a major reason why Pelican can compete. Economies with low labour costs can dominate an import market. But that is not to say they can do so by driving down quality. The scale and expertise of the manufacturer – and quality local aftersales support – have to compete, too. No operator would consciously weigh low purchase price against an expectation of breakdowns and downtime to reach a positive purchase decision.

Yutong commands some respect these days, having worked hard with Pelican to react swiftly to UK operator demands, whether on styling, seats, driveline or electronics. The GT12 is a fine coach, and when the GT13 shown in Brussels arrives with 57 seats on two axles, anyone with a spreadsheet would be foolish not to weigh it up against the competition.

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