Official BUSRide Road Test: CAIO S3645
Alliance Bus Group brings European flair to North American operators
By David Hubbard
Throughout its 65-year history of bus building from its base in Sao Paulo, Brazil, CAIO has staked its claim as the largest single producer of commercial buses in the western hemisphere. The company manufactures between 7,000-9,000 buses a year for South American markets, Africa, Central America, Asia and the United States.
CAIO made its North American debut in 2008 and in 2012 began its partnership with Alliance Bus Group, Atlanta, GA. With locations in Texas, Louisiana, Florida, Mississippi, New Jersey and New Hampshire, Alliance is now the exclusive U.S. distributor of CAIO coaches built specifically for the North American market.
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CAIO is a unique OEM in that it also operates buses, running nearly 4,600 buses throughout Sao Paulo, which also allows the company to field-test the coaches it builds.
For 2015, CAIO is introducing its new S-Series product offering for the North American market — the S3645 Model and the S3436 Model which is a midsize 38-passenger coach. The new S Series is best described as a quantum leap from its predecessor in styling, comfort and performance. With a host of improvements based on operator feedback and additional features, the new look of the S3645 is built on the same reliable structure and powertrain North American coach operators know and appreciate, but is now available with a stainless steel structure.
The CAIO body is a sled-integral monocoque construction that incorporates Freightliner power modules.
“The body structure is the strength of CAIO coaches,” says Eugene Hotard, executive vice president, Alliance Bus Group. “We send the Freightliner component compete with drivetrain, engine, transmission and axles to Sao Paulo, where they remove the rails. The entire cage structure fits to the assemblies as complete front and rear components to create a truly integral coach.”
He says with the rear and tag axles, engine and transmission pre-installed as a complete assembly, the CAIO is then able to share Freightliner’s engineering and volume production of 25,000 to 35,000 units per year.
“We are continually putting as many North American parts and components on the coach as possible,” Hotard says. “This additional content bodes well for both service and maintenance, as we supply the items from North America that are most likely to wear or need replacing. Of all the coaches imported to North America, CAIO has the highest number of domestic components resulting in lower operating cost.”
The growing list also includes Mobile Climate Control HVAC system, Webasto heaters, Amaya seating and REI audio and video.
Also new for the S Series are American-made passenger windows available in single and double pane featuring a quick-change replacement process that the maintenance staff will appreciate.
“This is why the CAIO comes in at such a significant saving,” Hotard says. “We are working with two major global manufacturing companies that do enough production volume to bring CAIO coaches to market at a much better price.”
Buckhead Coach reviews the CAIO
On a recent visit to Alliance Bus Group in Atlanta, BUSRide invited the team from nearby Buckhead Coach. On hand were Karin Amatriain, company president; Donald Anderson, maintenance and quality supervisor; and transit and coach industry veteran Roger Steward, who test drove the S3645 model and offered his observations and comments. Now driving part time for Buckhead Coach as he has for the last 20 years, Steward began his 35-year transit career in maintenance with Metropolitan Atlanta Region Transit Authority (MARTA), Atlanta, GA.
Buckhead Coach launched in 1986 as a party-bus company in the community of the greater-Atlanta area that once enjoyed a reputation as a party town. The company eventually moved to motorcoaches in 1990 to do more work with corporate shuttles.
“Over the years, we have expanded our coach charters and contracts to further serve college athletics and popular fishing trips,” Amatriain says. “The bulk of our coach travel is now out of state, primarily in the Southeast, with a few sojourns to Chicago and Washington, D.C.”
She says her company has no immediate plans to grow its fleet of coaches, but will upgrade as necessary.
Before stepping aboard, Donald Anderson had a question.
“We operate coaches by other OEMs, and I understand Freightliner and how the chassis sets up on CAIO coaches,” Anderson said. “My question is, excluding cost, what are we supposed to look for in this bus? What I want to know is how this coach is going to be better than the coaches we are currently operating?”
Hotard cited added curb appeal and ride quality of the new CAIO.
“From a customer’s perspective, I believe we have a coach with distinctive European flair, which I believe can easily set an operator apart from the competition,” he said. “The S3645 has a very tight turning radius and is highly maneuverable. The ZF ITag steering tag axle reduces the turning radius of the previous model by 5 percent. The independent 14K axle features passive steering, which together improves maneuverability and reduces the risk of tire scrub.”
Hotard also notes the dependability of the Detroit DD13 engine coupled to Allison transmission. According to Alliance Bus Group, the Detroit five years/500,000-miles warranty is two-and-a-half times better than the warranty offered previously on the drivetrain system.Additionally, the GPS-based Virtual Technician exclusive only to Detroit is available on all full-size CAIO coaches, which he says helps drivers monitor the engine in real-time and better maintain the equipment.
“From a maintenance perspective, our coach is not difficult to work on,” Hotard says. “The wear items are very accessible.”
The pre-trip review
Before slipping behind the wheel, Steward took time to look the CAIO over inside and out from both a driver’s and passenger’s perspective. He commented on what is easily the most noticeable difference of the S Series — the distinctive European body styling.
“At my first look at this bus in the parking lot, I was struck by the very up-to-date modern design,” he says. “It is almost a sign of the future; how buses will look as time goes on.”
In addition to the stylized front and rear caps and the roofline, improvements to the passenger side windows are significant. The 80-percent tinted glass panels lend a much cleaner exterior appearance and heighten the coach’s curb appeal.
“On my quick tour through the cabin, I found the interior very impressive and comfortable,” Steward says. “I took the time to check out the passenger seating, particularly the legroom. Very satisfactory.”
Steward says that if he would change anything, it would be the plastic footrests.
“I see lot of ‘foot heavy’ passengers applying pressure to the footrests,” he says. “I would say stock up on replacements.”
Alliance Bus Group did note that a more durable aluminum footrest is available as an option.
“In fact, many of the interior components on this coach can be customized to operator preference,” Hotard says. “We can easily spec it to any order and fit a variety of needs. For example, available options include cup holders, 110v outlets, tray tables, foot rests that automatically stow as well as passenger curtains or shades and satellite TV.”
“I would consider the dashboard very driver-friendly,” Steward says. “The gauges are easy to read and the switches are within easy reach. I like the standard fuel gauges that show oil pressure and water temperature, so that I can always know what’s going on. I also like the careful placement of the mirrors.”
The upgraded onboard restroom now flushes with fresh water on every use. The waste tank, sealed off from the restroom compartment to eliminate lavatory odors, is three times larger than previously used with ample capacity on the long charters. A warning light on the driver’s dash signals a full tank.
“From a driver’s perspective, I am very impressed with CAIO for thinking to build in more luggage space,” Steward says. “It seems like that’s where other borrow from to make room for something else; but instead CAIO seems to have expanded the luggage compartment.”
The luggage door latches also moved from the bottom to the center of the panel.
“I like the way the door swings up closer to the side of the coach,” Steward says. “It lessens the chance of anybody bumping their heads, which I have seen many times, especially after the bus has kneeled. All of this is easier on the driver.”
The entry door features a BMP mechanism with a parabolic lift and seal that CAIO says eliminates wind and road noise. The integrated single door also features an open and close button that allows the driver to lock the door from the inside. The driver-viewing window at the bottom of the door allows for better coach parking and reduced tire curb damage.
On the road
In a large parking lot adjacent to the Alliance Bus Group offices, Steward found a wide open space to put the S3645 through several tight turning and controlled braking maneuvers not typically encountered in normal operation; and to test the tighter turning radius of the new steer axle — a surprise to Steward.
“I wasn’t expecting the coach to turn so sharp, so quick,” he says. “None of the coaches I have driven have a turning radius as sharp as this. This makes it very easy to get in and out of tight places. I am familiar with tag axle wheels turning, but I could really get used to this.”
In the empty lot, Steward was able to accelerate and apply three braking scenarios to get a feel for the antilock brakes and traction control.
“I know how to control my distance,” Steward says. “I tried braking to a stop in three ways – from a stiff stop, to a little less and then to a smooth stop. The braking is firm and I never had the feeling the bus was slipping out from under me.”
From the parking lot, Steward headed the coach onto the interstate to let it run.
“Like a dream,” he says. “The acceleration is terrific. Everything is working together. The ride is smooth and very quiet, and I can tell the Detroit DD13 has more than enough power.”