BUSRide Road Test: The Volvo 9700

A veteran operator makes an objective assessment in southern California

By David Hubbard

As operators in North America begin to take delivery on Volvo 9700s, Brad Hunter, general manager of Orion Pacific, a family-owned charter tour operation established in 1985 in Orange, CA, agreed to take the coach on the BUSRide Road Test and offer his objective assessment. Orion Pacific operates a mixed fleet of Prevosts and Van Hools.

As operators in North America begin to take delivery on Volvo 9700s, Brad Hunter, general manager of Orion Pacific, a family-owned charter tour operation established in 1985 in Orange, CA, agreed to take the coach on the BUSRide Road Test and offer his objective assessment. Orion Pacific operates a mixed fleet of Prevosts and Van Hools.

Representatives from Prevost delivered a Volvo 9700 to Hunter to comb over and drive for most of one day in September.

“I was pleasantly surprised,” says Hunter. “I had to keep reminding myself that this is not the type of high-end tour coach we operate. With that said, once I quit trying to make such a comparison, I found the Volvo a very friendly coach to drive.”

Their first leg of the road test was over a 10-mile loop of city avenues, freeways and toll roads Hunter calls his normal test track.

“From the yard we drove the bus through Orange and Anaheim Hills, down the 91 to the 241 toll road where we could then give it a really good uphill pull,” he says. “Coming down the other side, we were able to get a feel for the many features passengers would never think about, such as the new Knorr-Bremse braking system, stability control and multiplexing that go a long way in making this an above average coach.”

Hunter says overall he thought the Volvo 9700 would be easy to maintain, and appreciates the service access hatches on the interior of the coach. He says he found the D13 Volvo engine to deliver exceptional performance and to marry very well with the Volvo I Shift transmission.

From the stop and go of heavy city traffic, Hunter and the group then set out for a longer run over Cajon Pass and across the desert to Barstow, 110 miles northeast from Orange County.

Hunter was at the wheel to Barstow, and Orion Pacific service manager Martin Richards drove back, which gave them time to also experience the bus as passengers.

“I am very satisfied with the exterior fit and finish, but one thought on the interior fit and finish would have to do with the cosmetic appearance of the entrance,” says Hunter. “I think it could use a little more of an upgrade to make it look less like a transit bus.”

He felt the changes could be made to the steps into the coach.

“The driver area is simple and comfortable with good vision,” he says. “I did have some reservations with the European-style extended mirrors. They would take some getting used to.”

Hunter had some thoughts on another area of the interior.

“Also being six-foot seven-inches, I found the restroom very small,” he says. “But having said that, I understand this coach is targeted at a market that does not have a high demand for top-end luxury features. But I was impressed with the two tank bathroom flush system. The system gives the user fresh clean water when flushing and the grey water is stored in a separate tank.”

At the end of the day, Hunter offered his overall assessment of the Volvo 9700.

“This coach is an excellent, stable piece of equipment with some exceptional features,” he says. “I think its best application would be short haul or fixed route services.”
Delivery to North American coach operators requires coordination with countries and cultures

Production of the Volvo 9700 spans the globe
Delivery to North American coach operators requires coordination with countries and cultures

As the Volvo 9700 makes its way into North American coach operations, a unique modus operandi is woven from diverse corporate cultures and nationalities. Grown from the roots of Volvo in Sweden it threads to Prevost in Canada, where the sister company oversees manufacturing in Mexico for distribution, sales and service of the coach in the United States. Additionally, the Volvo D13 engine is manufactured in the United States.

Because Volvo and Prevost enjoy long histories and solid brand recognition, the companies see the 9700 coach as more familiar to North American operators than as a totally new player in the market.

To help BUSRide trace the trail, Helene Gamner, Volvo 9700 product line manager at Prevost, explains where and how the cultural intermingling coalesces, clashes and complements. She says the members of this international team balance one another, while Prevost serves as the pillar of the project.

“Sweden is known for its emphasis on quality, high standards and its structured work ethic,” says Per Jarenfors, chief project manager for Volvo Bus Corporation. “Swedes are used to bringing in the team and working by consensus. The discussions on the individual initiatives become exhaustive.”

He says their marketing and managing counterparts in Canada honor these same values, while North Americans overall seem to require more of a sense of order. Mexico values leadership and manages in a more hierarchical way with enthusiastic and engaged workers who maintain a very positive attitude.

Prevost has worked long and hard with its Mexican manufacturing partner in Tultitlán to ready the plant and team for North American production, which has involved a steep learning curve before Prevost could ready the Volvo coach for import.

“A cross-functional team of experts have worked to certify the unit,” says Prevost President and CEO Gaetán Bolduc. “We focused on training all involved parties to understand the American requirements, such as the DOT regulations, which are often quite different from the rest of the world, as well as the needs and tastes of our North American customers.”

Yet, according to Gamner, the method for measuring and ensuring quality is the same in all Volvo Bus plants worldwide, such as universally taking calibrations at strict intervals.

“Early in the process we conducted quality audits focused on how North Americans view fit and finish,” says Bolduc. “We also overcame many challenges regarding the logistics of distribution. We have innovated many new processes and procedures to bring the Volvo 9700 into Canada and the United States.”

Nonetheless, the production and marketing trail is not without bumps in the road. Bolduc says the North American legal requirements presented a challenge for everyone, from both a teaching and a learning perspective.

According to Gamner, making the differences mesh is just part of the process.

“Some work groups include as many as 11 different nationalities,” she says. “Volvo is a global company and the common business language is English. Yet for many of the people involved in the Volvo 9700 project English is their second language, so we are continually working to improve our communications. Now exchanges only in English generate more efficient lines of communication.”

General Manager Brad Hunter and his wife Helen Weeks, president, Orion Pacific, Orange, CA, were the test team for BUSRide in a road test of the Volvo 9700.

Times zones posed another barrier with the Europeans keeping late hours and North Americans up at dawn to accommodate common meetings. But to begin the project team members met face-to-face, which helped to establish strong initial relationships that would carry throughout the process.

“The Volvo Global Development Process acts as the guideline for clear documentation and stringent process techniques,” says Jarenfors. “The solid relationships we developed early on were crucial in tackling difficult situations.”

Regarding the features on the North America 9700 Volvo stresses the importance of everyone understanding the unique aspects and preferences of the North American consumer. Moreover, grasping and understanding North American legal requirements have been a challenge for everyone from a teaching and a learning perspective.

In support of manufacturing and importation of the new vehicle, a major responsibility of Prevost is to ensure sales and aftermarket support in the same manner as all Prevost products.

For nearly 10 years while running charter tours in northern Mexico, Greg Cosner, president of Mountain View Bus Lines, a family operation in Tucson, AZ, kept an interested eye on the Volvo coaches.

“We liked what we saw and even tried to speak to someone in Mexico about getting this coach into Arizona at least,” he says. “Little did we know at the time what all that entailed. We were excited when Prevost sales rep

Keith Hayward told us his company would soon be importing the Volvo 9700, and we wanted to be the first.”

When the day came Cosner immediately added five Volvo 9700s to the Mountain View fleet and set a plan to acquire more in the future and is presently approaching his tenth.

The Volvo D13 engine is assembled in the U.S. in Hagerstown, MD and meets EPA 2010 mandates.

“We liked everything about this coach,” says Cosner. “Considering we operate in the Arizona desert, we especially like the AC setup on the roof.”

The Volvo I transmission also caught Cosner’s attention, as well as the fact that the coach does not have to build up air pressure.

“I don’t know how it’s done, but there is no waiting around,” says Cosner. “We just start them up and drive.”
Cosner says he makes no distinction in his application of his Volvo 9700s. At the time BUSRide spoke with him, he said eight were heading out on extender charter tours. BR

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