Busworld Turkey exhibits significant growth and evolution

Busworld, the Belgian organizer of international bus and coach exhibitions, recently held its third edition of Busworld Turkey in Istanbul in conjunction with its local partners. A number of significant changes were evident this year.

Turkey began building its motor industry less than 50 years ago with several international manufacturers establishing local subsidiaries. But some Turkish-owned companies also acquired the necessary technology to become equally established. Today Turkey manufactures cars, vans, trucks, buses and coaches, and also has a well-developed component supply industry. Its excellent education system produces skilled managers and shop floor workers, as well as internationally competitive labor rates.

Until the end of 2008 Turkey only imposed Euro 1 emission standards on truck and bus engines. The country already has a Customs Union with the European Union, so there are no import duties in either direction. Turkey would like to become a full member of the European Union, but some of the existing members are worried about bringing in a nation of 75 million people. There will be no quick solution, but in the meantime Turkey is adopting European standards.

It was originally decreed that Euro 4 emission limits would become mandatory from January 1, 2009. That is only one step behind the Euro 5 level, which is current in the European Union. It meant a major change for Turkey, from old mechanical engines to electronically controlled units. It was also a challenge for the oil companies to convert refineries to produce ultra low sulphur diesel and to set up a distribution network for it.

Through a compromise, manufacturers will be permitted until the end of this year to sell pre-built Euro 1 and Euro 2 engines, and be to continue to offer them in export markets that are not imposing European emission limits. Within Turkey, Euro 4 will become obligatory on all new vehicles beginning January 1, 2011.

Until recently, most Turkish city buses had high floors three steps above the ground. Mercedes-Benz introduced the full low floor Conecto in its Turkish factory two years ago in solo and articulated layouts. BMC has also had low floor buses in its range for four or five years. More recently, two other Turkish manufacturers, Otokar and Temsa have launched low floor city buses.

Now the country has decided that low floor layouts will become standard from 2012. This will be quite the challenge in some towns and cities where the infrastructure is simply not suitable for low floor vehicles.

Istanbul has installed a Bus Rapid Transit system on dedicated lanes in the center of some of the major highways. These are served by a fleet of 250 Mercedes-Benz Capacity articulated buses with two axles in the trailer section that run at 32 tons gross.

The system also runs 50 hybrid articulated Phileas buses by the VDL Group in the Netherlands. They were so heavily overloaded they have now been fitted with sensors to prevent the vehicle from moving if it exceeds its permitted weight.

At the exhibition, Wolf-Dieter Kurz, president and CEO of Mercedes-Benz Turkey, said the company and its predecessors had been building buses in Turkey since 1967. The factory at Hosdere outside Istanbul had been redesigned so its capacity can be raised to 4,000 complete buses and coaches per year. Previously, they were built on a combination of a line and docking system, but the latter had been removed and replaced by two continuous lines.

Mercedes-Benz Turkey is working with Turkcell to provide internet connectivity on express coaches. There are frequent services between the main cities, with different standards of on board comfort available. Customers pay a higher fare for superior facilities.

BMC was celebrating 45 years of production of commercial vehicles in Turkey. One of the exhibits was a low floor city bus, the 300,000th vehicle to have come off the production lines. That is no mean feat.

BMC has had a license from Cummins to build the older mechanical B and C engines for many years. In April 2009, the partners signed a new agreement under which BMC will make a family of Cummins engines to Euro 4 and Euro 5 emission standards. They will come onstream early next year.

Temsa has relaunched itself as Temsa Global, reflecting the increasing number of export markets where the company is active and also the joint venture to build coaches in Egypt.

Its exhibits included diesel and CNG-fuelled examples of the Avenue low floor city bus which is now going into volume production. The Safir coach has been built for a number of years, mainly for the Turkish market and using a Mitsubishi engine. The model has received an extensive face lift and is powered by an engine made by DAF, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Paccar.

There is a large market in Turkey for buses and coaches 23 to 30 feet long for use in  applications such as suburban and rural services, private charter and works transport. There are several new models in this sector updated with Euro 4 engines.

The market leader in these vehicles is Otokar, a member of the Koc conglomerate. Otokar also builds a wide range of military vehicles and therefore works to international standards on engineering and quality. The company has now entered the full size city bus sector, offering the Kent model both as a full low floor vehicle and with a higher floor for customers who prefer that layout. Otokar is already selling in Western Europe and announced ambitious plans for expansion.

Guleryuz is another Turkish builder that has a modern factory in Bursa, one of the main centers of automotive manufacturing in Turkey. Its range includes low floor single and double deck buses, as well as  midibuses and midicoaches. One of its exhibits was an open top double deck for city sightseeing.

One surprise was to find a completely new manufacturer. The Isotlar Group is based in Adana in southern Turkey and builds a range of bodywork, mainly on MAN chassis, almost entirely for neighboring export markets. The company uses the Isoto brand and said it was planning to relocate to a new factory in Bursa.

Isuzu has a factory in Turkey building light trucks and a range of mid-size buses and coaches. These included one ingenious midibus with a low floor just ahead of the rear axle, capable of taking a passenger in a wheelchair. This enables the company to make use of standard components like axles, built in high volume, and keep prices competitive.

Although the Turkish industry has been affected by the global economic crisis, there were some encouraging signs. Most manufacturers thought that the worst had passed and that customers would start to renew their fleets in greater numbers. Fortunately, funding from the central government is stimulating the city bus sector. In Istanbul alone, there is currently a tender for 500 vehicles.

A large and varied component supply industry supports the manufacturers allowing  a high percentage of parts and equipment for any vehicle to be sourced within Turkey. Many of these suppliers were displaying examples of their product ranges. They are working to international automotive standards, therefore the quality looked very good and prices are still competitive.

The Turkish automotive industry has come a long way in little less than 50 years.

Doug Jack is with Transport Resources in the United Kingdom.

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