Bus Industry Trends
By: John Paul Davis
The January issue of RPN is the perfect opportunity to look ahead to 2014 and the trends, developments and innovations expected to positively impact the bus/coach industry this year and beyond. To do so, we thought we'd first look back - to September 2013 and BusCon, the annual - and largest - conference and exposition of the bus industry for North America, which took place in Chicago. BusCon covers buses of all shapes and sizes - including motorcoach, transit, shuttle and trolley - for a full range of markets, including churches.
At BusCon 2013, nearly 150 exhibitors showcased a variety of products, including more than 60 vehicles slated to hit the market in 2014. Several important and exciting trends jumped out at us as we talked with fellow exhibitors and attendees - and we're happy to discuss them with you in more detail below.
Electric vehicles continue to grow in prominence, with four companies showcasing electric products at BusCon, ranging in size from a small, 14-passenger unit to a 40-foot all-electric coach. As charging technology becomes more accessible - in turn making charging stations more affordable and widely available - and, as technology and innovation continue to drive battery prices down, expect to see a sustained increase in the number and quality of electric buses and motor coaches hitting the marketplace over the next several years.
Alternative-fuel or alternative-propulsion vehicles continue to dominate the show floor and most conversations, and it would be hard not to see that trend continuing. Indeed, vehicles powered by a wide range of alternative fuels were virtually everywhere at BusCon; fuels featured included compressed natural gas (CNG), electric-gas hybrids, and even propane auto gas. As natural gas continues to become more abundant and, as a result, more affordable, expect coaches powered by alternative fuels like CNG to stay a popular, economical and efficient choice for many congregations.
The use of composite materials in the construction of new coaches and buses continues to grow and bring with it numerous benefits for coach operators and customers. Such benefits from the use of composite materials include lighter coaches, which help them be more fuel efficient in the process; better durability in even the most demanding or rigorous weather and conditions; and improved coach safety and maneuverability.
More Powerful Coaches
The increase in efficiency hasn't come with a sacrifice in power, thankfully - another benefit of the growing use of lightweight composites and other components. New coaches making their debut at BusCon 2013 showcased impressive power capabilities, both in horsepower and GVWR. The S2C chassis we unveiled at BusCon, for example, is the first model of its kind to hit 300hp, and there were several coaches with GVWRs of 36,000lbs. For churches, this means you can transport more people more quickly and more efficiently.
And, you can transport them more safely, too, thanks to continued improvements in safety technologies and features available to today's coach builders and operators. A few highlights included new products improving critical stabilization for paratransit products and more proactive and responsive technologies. Additional products make it easier to transport bicycles, wheelchairs and other products without impacting driver visibility or overall safety and wider integration of technologies like electronic stability control, tire-pressure monitoring and fire detection and suppression.
In addition to the many innovations and trends taking place inside and outside most coaches on display at BusCon 2013, there were plenty of new developments taking place underneath them as well. Continued innovation from several coach builders and key chassis suppliers – including Freightliner Custom Chassis – is helping drive a new generation of coach suspensions coming to market that improve ride quality and coach durability. The new X-Ride suspension, for example, features a number of new highlights that offer coach builders and operators improved axle control even in extreme conditions, increased ground clearance and decrease in weight. This is just one example – it was clear that coach builders and suppliers are looking to suspensions as an important way to improve ride quality and safety while decreasing weight, which improves fuel efficiency and economy.
As you can see, BusCon 2013 provided a comprehensive view of the bus/motorcoach industry as well as a wealth of great insights to the many exciting things to expect in 2014. Certainly, many of the trends discussed above are key driving factors in the development of the next generation of products we look forward to making available to the church market in 2014 and beyond. There are many products, technologies and innovations across the industry coming out in 2014 that will help churches move more people more safely, more quickly, more efficiently and more economically.
John Paul Davis is product manager for commercial bus for Freightliner Custom Chassis Corporation (FCCC). He joined FCCC in 1996 as a design engineer at the company and, since then, has worked as an engineering and platform manager for a variety of products across the company's diverse product lineup.