Safety, simplicity and value make BCI Falcon 45 a hit with Team Trailways operators
By David Hubbard
It has been almost three years since Bus and Coach International (BCI) debuted the Falcon 45 at the UMA Expo in New Orleans. Now with close to 120 units in the United States accruing more than 5,000,000 fleet miles much of the skepticism surrounding the introduction of this new full-sized motorcoach has ebbed.
Recent coach purchases by four Trailways operators, who admit they watched from afar for a few years, bear out the plan by BCI to minimize acquisition, finance and insurance costs, and make the maintenance less expensive and more convenient.
“Looking back over our first three years, I think we have come through our teething pains the same as with any new venture,” says BCI executive vice president, Larry Brennan. “We continue to listen very carefully to our customers and respond accordingly.”
Thrasher Brothers Trailways, Birmingham, AL, known for its willingness to put new products to the test, is onboard with five BCI Falcon coaches, citing pricing as the deciding factor.
“We enjoy the challenge of a new brand,” says Thrasher Brothers president, Alan Thrasher. “We have owned too many coaches to think a new model is not going to have its bugs to work out. But we certainly like to see new manufacturers come into play and encourage the competition.”
The coach typically prices out around $100,000 less than other leading OEMs.
“For an operator talking about more than one bus, BCI really turned our head around,” says Thrasher. “This coach gets the price down to a point where smaller companies have easier access to new equipment.”
Only by coincidence are these new BCI owners Trailways affiliates, but they concur most Team Trailways stakeholders are similarly value minded, and say they appreciate that the level of quality the BCI Falcon 45 delivers for the price is in line with their philosophy.
“We offer our customers practical value,” says Thrasher. “Similarly, BCI offers practical value in its equipment that is efficient and easy to operate and maintain.”
In District Heights, MD, Marcia Milton, president and CEO of First Priority Trailways, says the price enticed her to look at BCI.
“I chose the Falcon 45 once I saw it could get the job done for a lot less money,” she says. “Other than a bug or two to work out, we have not had any problem, and BCI has been very good in working with us to resolve any issue.”
“We consider the BCI Falcon 45 a luxury coach right along with our other coaches,” she says. “When our customers come onboard and see the spotless interior and leather seats, they are as impressed as they are with the rest of our fleet.”
Eugene Shields, president, Eagle Trailways of Texas, Irvine, TX, says his maintenance technicians appreciate the easy access, as well as the fact parts are available from NAPA.
“Of course, there are not as many parts available as we would wish, but nothing ever is for a bus,” he says. “However, our NAPA dealer has always managed to come up with what we have needed.”
Thrasher says from the list BCI provides, his local NAPA dealer stocks all the available parts he has requested.
Like other BCI customers, price attracted Shields to take a closer look.
“The way we look at it, paying 100 grand less means by the time we buy four coaches, we almost get one free,” he says. “That is a huge chunk of revenue we do not have to earn in order for them to pay for themselves.”
After that, Shields says the higher fuel mileage was the biggest surprise.
“We are averaging a little better than nine MPG,” he says. “That is more than acceptable to me.”
Bob Clemmer, owner and president, Lancaster Trailways of the Carolinas, Lancaster, SC, operates a mixed fleet, preferring a variety of vehicles to meet a variety of customer preferences. Clemmer purchased two Falcon 45s after BCI sales representative John Hatch allowed him to demo the coach for two weeks following the South Carolina Bus Association Roadeo. Clemmer says he was impressed inside and out; by the plush interior and all leather seats, and by how the coach handled.
Any sign of buyer’s remorse was completely erased when he chose to take his first long distance coach trip as a customer after taking delivery in Las Vegas, NV.
With Hatch at the wheel, Clemmer rode the 2,300 miles back to Lancaster. He says the experience gave him an opportunity to observe the amenities and safety features in operation, along with the improved fuel mileage.
“The trip went smoother than I expected,” he says. “I thought I might have trouble with my back, but the seats were very comfortable for the whole way and I never experienced any discomfort.”
Clemmer says the appointment calendar has been filling up fast in the short time he has had the BCI Falcons.
“Our customers love the BCI coaches,” he says. “The seatbelts are a selling point, and frankly they have no idea that this is a less expensive coach.”
BCI launched with the premise its coaches are built by operators for operators with safety always the highest priority. The first 2008 Falcon 45 to roll off the line came equipped with two-point lapbelts and Eaton Vorad Collision Avoidance radar system as standard equipment; and BCI says its Bendix disc brake system greatly exceeds Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) specifications.
The adaptive cruise control alerts the driver to changes in traffic speed. If the coach is cruising at 70 mph and traffic ahead suddenly slows to 50 mph, the radar adjusts the cruise control to maintain a safe distance between vehicles, and has documented a 199-ft stopping distance from 60 miles per hour.
However, the rollover-cage frame construction is perhaps a lesser-known safety feature of the Falcon 45 that only recently acquired ECE R66 Certification, which describes ways to approve large passenger vehicles with regard to the strength of the superstructure.
“While this protective construction is now certified, it is important to know VIN No. One Falcon 45 would have passed the same rollover test,” says Brennan. “We designed the coach to satisfy these standards, and there is no difference between the first units and all subsequent units. It just took awhile to get the certification.”
For 2010 BCI says it plans to implement the Navistar MaxxForce 13 engine coupled with the Caterpillar CX31 automatic and Eaton Ultrashaft automated manual transmissions. The Navistar is alone among the engine manufacturers in offering a non urea-based EGR solution. BR