The Turkish bus industry is in great health
Turkey is a fascinating country of 77 million where only 3 percent of the land lies in Europe at its eastern extremity. The other 97 percent is one of the western-most parts of Asia. While the capital, city of Ankara, lies firmly on the Asian side on Anatolian plateau, Istanbul is the largest city with an estimated population of the greater area now approaching 20 million. Istanbul spreads out on both side of the Bosphorous Channel that separates Europe from Asia.
Currently, the political situation in Turkey is not relaxed. There are fierce wars on its southern borders with Syria and Iraq, complicated by ISIL occupation of some parts of both countries. Kurdish refugees in the southeast of Turkey have resumed hostilities with the government. Many refugees are pouring into the country as a transit point on their attempts to reach and settle in Western Europe.
On the other hand, many of the international sanctions against Iran have been lifted. It is one of Turkey’s immediate eastern neighbors. A government minister in that country recently said that it urgently needed 17,000 city buses to modernize its fleets and Turkish manufacturers are in a strong potential position to assist.
Against this rather lengthy introduction, the sixth edition of Busworld Turkey was held from 14 to 17 April in the Istanbul Expo Center on the Europe-facing side of the country.
Turkey is home to the largest bus and coach manufacturing industry in Europe, and is one of the largest producers in the world – though it’s lagging a long way behind China and India, with their populations at around 1.3 billion each.
The timing of Busworld Turkey was interesting. The authorities decreed that vehicles which had been pre-built with engines to Euro 5 emission standards before December 31, 2015, could be sold during 2016. Any new vehicles built from January 1, 2016, onward had to comply with Euro 6 emission standards. That meant there was a rush to buy the remaining Euro 5 stock, even though evidence from Western Europe has shown that admittedly more expensive Euro 6 models soon have a payback from more economical fuel consumption.
Most of the main Turkish manufacturers had already been building Euro 6 models for their customers in the European Union for two or three years, therefore the technology was not new to them. However, Busworld Turkey was the first opportunity to show Euro 6 models to their domestic customers and the event attracted 11,078 visitors from 91 countries.
The largest bus in the exhibition was by Akia Duich, an Iranian company based in the northern city of Tabriz that builds railway carriages and, more recently, city buses.
Turkey has the largest Bus Rapid Transit system in Europe, and there is also interest in these systems in the larger cities in Iran. Akia Duich launched the Metrobus, a full low floor bi-articulated vehicle with four double-width doors on each side. The 82-foot bus has two axles in the rearmost section, both driven by electric motors, with the last axle also steerable. A Daimler 10.7-liter engine and an Allison fully-automatic gearbox power the vehicle. The company said this drivetrain can be replaced by electric motors to run as a trolleybus.
There was a full-width driving compartment with monitors to allow the driver to see what is happening around each of the eight doors. At the time of the exhibition, the company held no orders but they were confident that customers in Turkey and Iran would come forward.
Until the 1960s, Turkey relied very heavily on imports for all its commercial vehicle requirements. The government at that time started to encourage progressive domestic manufacturing. One of the first companies was BMC, which industrialized rapidly in the 1970s, building a range of buses, vans and trucks.
BMC’s parent company ran into severe financial problems a few years ago, and the company almost shut down. It ticked over on contracts for vital military vehicles until new investors came in around 12 months ago. They took a large and impressive stand at Busworld, with a range of low floor midibuses and city buses, powered by Cummins engines running on diesel and compressed natural gas. The new owners largely continued the previous city bus range, with some tweaks in styling, but said that they
had ambitious plans for future product development.
Bursa, the automotive capital of Turkey, lies across the sea of Marmara from Istanbul. There several car and bus manufacturers are based, including Güleryüz, a family-owned company that builds a range of low-floor city buses and medium-sized coaches.
The company has also developed a double-decker bus and has been successful with open top versions for city sightseeing in quite a number of neighboring countries. They have a full low-floor layout, with wheelchair accessibility at the second door. Various engines are specified, including Mercedes-Benz.
Anadolu Isuzu is a joint venture between Japanese and Turkish investors, building a range of Isuzu light commercial vehicles, midi-coaches and city buses. There is a large market in Turkey for small coaches around 25 feet in length for rural services, employee transport and charter. Some of the Isuzu vehicles have engines mounted over the front axle, leaving much of the rearward space available for underfloor luggage capacity.
The largest city bus in the Isuzu range is the full low-floor Cityport. This is yet another vehicle available with the popular Cummins ISB engine, mounted vertically in line on the offside rear. One of the attractive features of this bus is the window line lowered between the axles to let more light into the bus and provide greater visibility out for passengers.
Isuzu recently opened a new research and development center costing more than $6 million. It includes a prototype workshop and was part of a strategy to come closer to customers and their passengers.
Otokar is another very important manufacturer. The company makes an extensive range of buses and coaches in all sizes except full-size luxury coaches. Last year, the modern factory built 3,531 vehicles that sold in 45 countries. It has a European subsidiary with headquarters in Paris, where it is making good progress in a number of European markets.
Busworld was the first opportunity for Otokar to show its extensive Euro 6 range to Turkish customers. The company also announced an order for 100 Kent articulated buses to the principal operator in the city of Izmir.
TEMSA had a long line with examples of its extensive range, again all with the latest engines. The new super-high-deck Maraton is one of the most stylish coaches on the market. It is a classic that will not show its age quickly.
One of the two examples was around 43 feet long with two-plus-one seating for 41 passengers. Metro, one of the leading Turkish inter-city operators, had placed an order for 50 units. These coaches work on the main intercity routes, charging a premium fare for the higher levels of comfort.
One of the most interesting vehicles on the stand was the 31-foot ElectriCITY midibus with 200kWh batteries, sufficient for a day’s range. TEMSA said that it was also developing a full-size all-electric bus, but with a system that would enable it to take fast charges during the course of daily service.
There are sufficient manufacturers in Turkey that all keep one another on their toes through their tremendous variety of products, built to quality standards at competitive international prices.
Doug Jack is with Transport Resources in the United Kingdom.