The last edition of Busworld was held in the small west Belgian city of Kortrijk from October 20 through 25. The attendance was a record, with 376 exhibitors and more than 37,000 visitors from 118 countries.
Sadly, Busworld has outgrown its traditional home since 1971, despite regular extensions to the Kortrijk Xpo site. More than 60 potential exhibitors could not be given any space. That has persuaded the Board of Busworld to relocate to larger exhibition facilities in Brussels, with the next edition of Busworld Europe scheduled to be held from October 18 through 23, 2019. The Busworld team must first prepare a floor plan for that event but will be taking stand bookings from May 1, 2018, at the latest.
The relocation to Brussels makes a lot of sense. The city is well connected internationally, and there is a much larger choice of accommodation for exhibitors and visitors. However, Busworld in Kortrijk has always had a unique and friendly atmosphere. Hopefully, that will carry over to Brussels in two years time.
Irizar won the coveted “International Coach of the Year 2018” prize with the superb i8 model which is the top of its coach range, with a height of almost 13 feet including the roof-mounted air conditioning. It was a worthy prize winner, judged against strong competition by 20 European journalists, each representing a leading trade magazine in their home countries. The Coach of the Year award is made every two years, alternating with the International Bus of the Year award.
Irizar said it was happy with sales in the United States, and would continue with the i6 range, with some minor modifications in design. The i6 has a lower height than the i8, but looks similar and has many of the same features. Irizar offers a steering tag axle as standard on tri-axle models in Europe and has found that this saves considerable tire wear compared with a fixed tag axle.
On a large and lively booth, one of the Irizar exhibits was a lower height i4H hybrid coach, intended for shorter distance services where there is little or no demand to carry luggage. This coach used a Cummins ISB engine and an Eaton hybrid drive system. Several have entered service with customers in Madrid, on commuter routes to nearby satellite towns. They are achieving savings in fuel consumption of around 20 percent compared to standard diesel coaches.
As expected, there were quite a number of electric buses in the exhibition and the numbers in service in Europe are steadily increasing. Volvo has recognized that some customers require sufficient range for a full day’s operation, without opportunity charging at each end of a route. The popular 7900 Electric is available with a choice of batteries and ranges, using plug-in charging overnight, which is now the European standard.
During Busworld, Hess, the Swiss specialist builder, signed a contract with the French city of Nantes for 22 80-foot bi-articulated all-electric buses which will run on a dedicated route between the city center and suburbs south of the river Loire. These will be equipped with the world’s fastest flash-charging connection technology from ABB, another Swiss company. Batteries mounted on the roof will receive a 600kW boost of power in 20 seconds at selected stops along the route. A further one to five minutes charge at each end of the line will enable a full recharge of the batteries.
One of the exhibits on the Alexander Dennis stand was a double-decker bus for the prestigious Swiss PostAuto. This company provides bus services in many parts of Switzerland, and the Enviro500 was built to their requirements, with two staircases, three double width doors, and a very comprehensive specification. It was one of 19 that are entering service in the St Gallen area where high capacity is required.
In an exclusive interview, Filip Van Hool, CEO of the family-owned company, expressed strong interest in North America. He was looking for a site for a factory, with plans to build city buses and commuter coaches that would meet buy-American requirements. He thought that the range could include electric coaches for shorter journeys, such as home to office.
Van Hool is doubling capacity of its new factory in Macedonia, which is building a more standardized range of products including the CX range of coaches that are popular in North America and the EX European equivalent.
Filip Van Hool said that one of the next projects would be to build a city bus in Macedonia, with the possibility of finishing the vehicle to specific customer requirements at the main factory in Belgium. Costs in
Macedonia were much lower than in Belgium, and it was the only way that the company could re-establish itself in the mainstream European city bus business.
Diesel is by no means dead, although the fuel has a tarnished reputation, primarily caused by the Volkswagen car scandal. Fortunately, European regulations on emission levels and controls for trucks and buses are much stricter but there is an increasing call for the latest and cleanest emission standards, giving opportunities for specialist suppliers to retrofit filter equipment to older buses.
Scania has also approved the use of alternative fuels like biodiesel and hydrogenated vegetable oil in some of its city bus engines. These can lead to further and quite substantial reductions in emissions.
There were numerous other trends. Because of a shortage of public funds in Turkey, some of the manufacturers have developed smaller buses around 28-feet long with simplified specifications. One of the most interesting was an Otokar low floor midibus with a Cummins 4.5-liter engine and front wheel drive. This gave a large area of floor only one step above the ground.
The last Busworld in Kortrijk was a great exhibition, and everyone is looking forward to moving to larger facilities in Brussels in two years’ time. That promises to be an even larger and better Busworld Europe.