By Doug Jack
Headquartered in Södertälje, Sweden, Scania is one of the oldest and most respected brands in the European commercial vehicle industry. The company dates back to 1891 with the Vagnfabriks family who built railway carriages and wagons following the dramatic expansion of the Swedish railway network in 1880s.
Scania opened in 1900 in Malmö in the south of Sweden. It produced its first car in 1901 and was building its own engines and light trucks by 1905. Although Scania enjoyed considerable success, it lacked resources and merged with the Aktiebolagest and Södertelges families of the Vabis enterprise in 1911 to form Scania-Vabis. The early trucks were sturdy models built to withstand the Swedish climate.
One chassis featured an enclosed passenger compartment with the roof extended forward to create a canopy over the driver sitting behind a full-height vertical windshield without protection on either side.
In the early 20th century European buses were predominately on high truck-based chassis before the industry moved toward specialized designs that featured lower frames and maximum space for passengers. Customers demanded larger and more powerful buses and Scania responded in 1932 with the strong Bulldog.
Although Scania built some vehicles with heavy oil engines, its first successful diesel appeared in 1936. Its bus output of buses surpassed trucks while its production of cars ceased around 1927.
In the early 1950s, Scania crossed the Atlantic and struck a deal with Mack to build the Metropol integral city bus in Sweden. The Metropol had an eight-cylinder engine mounted transversely at the rear and retained its typical American styling, with small windows above the main side windows.
The Metropol, with its long American wheelbase, was not ideally suited to Swedish conditions, and the company developed a shorter version known as the Capitol, the first Scania fitted with air suspension.
By this time, Scania had successfully exported buses and trucks to Brazil and established a factory to manufacture chassis and engines, with an increasing percentage of Brazilian-built content. Buses and coaches came with the option of front or rear mounted engines.
In 1966, with Sweden and Denmark at the forefront of developments to reduce noise and emissions, especially in vehicles working in urban areas, Scania launched the CR76 city bus, a totally new integral design without any influence from Mack. This was a landmark model with a lower floor and an exceptionally quiet rear-mounted diesel engine. Scania updated it to the CR111. The “silent” bus launched in 1971.
The move in Sweden from right- to left-hand drive created a boom in demand for new buses and coaches. In 1968 the company purchased one of the largest bodybuilders, based in Katrineholm, about 60 miles west of Södertälje. After its production of integral vehicles, Scania started building chassis assembly in 1969.
With Sweden’s concern for the environment becoming more significant, Scania looked to alternative and renewable fuels. It introduced the first city bus to run on ethanol in 1986. Scania has since sold more than 700 of these buses in Sweden, principally in Stockholm. At first fuel production came from the European Union’s “lake” of surplus wine. More recently the Swedes have found a way of producing fuel from the sap of pine trees.
With the factory in Katrineholm losing money at the start of this century, Scania brought its chassis assembly into a dedicated unit in the main truck plant while transferring the assembly of bodywork to a facility at Slupsk in the north of Poland, benefiting from much lower labor rates than those in Sweden.
This decision transformed the fortunes of Scania bus operations and everyone in the main factory began to think in terms of truck and bus.
Scania is an incredibly disciplined engineering and manufacturing company. For instance, the company makes five-, six- and eight-cylinder engines all with the same cylinder dimensions, which enables Scania to benefit from economies of scale and keep its parts count to a minimum. On a coach chassis, up to 80 percent of the units share a commonality with the truck family.
City buses are different because they require drop center rear axles and fully automatic gearboxes from specialists such as ZF. A remarkable range of products incorporate combinations of three front modules consisting of the front axle, suspension and driving controls with rear modules which carry the axle, suspension and driveline. For instance, by marrying a low height front module with a twin axle rear module, Scania can offer a double deck coach chassis.
Scania assembles interurban and luxury coach chassis in Sweden and city buses in Poland, as well as at factories in Brazil and Mexico. For a number of years the policy has been to introduce new models simultaneously in all its factories. If it must fulfil a major order on short notice, it can supply chassis can from more than one factory with identical specifications.
Scania’s main activity is building chassis. It makes its own city bus bodywork in Poland in single and double deck versions. Whereas the factory in Katrinholm had been building in steel, the new Omni range is aluminium: a cleaner and less labor intensive system that also saves weight.
Scania also collaborates with many bodybuilders around the world. Some of them are essential partners, because they hold the key to sales in their domestic markets. Nevertheless, Scania’s relationships with bodybuilders numbered more than 100. Of those, the last 30 are building only in very small numbers, which leads to disproportionate costs.
Melker Jernberg, head of buses and coaches, is tackling this problem by working more closely with a limited number of bodybuilding partners. His program, Strategy 20+, has already produced some interesting results.
Scania has ruled out assembling and manufacturing chassis in China, but has established a close collaboration with Higer, one of the largest bus builders. It imports complete chassis to Higer for use in the highest quality luxury segment at the top of the Chinese market. In 2006, the two companies established a separate unit within the vast Higer factory in Suzhou to build luxury coaches jointly for export markets, including selected countries in Europe. The Scania Higer Touring created a sensation in its debut at Busworld Kortrijk in 2009.
In another example, Scania contracted the Finnish bodybuilder, Lahti, to build the OmniExpress coach.
Although intended primarily for long distance express services in the Nordic countries, customers in several European countries have ordered the same model for private charters and tours.
Jernberg says his ambition is to develop further strategic partnerships, because more and more customers are demanding complete buses and coaches from the same supplier. Although production fell back during the global economic crisis, bus and coach volumes held up much more strongly than trucks, and there is an ambitious target of 15,000 units by 2015.
As a final note, although Scania has no plans to enter the North American market, it signed a major agreement last year with Terex to supply engines, which meet the latest emission standards for installation in construction equipment. It is now establishing parts and service networks throughout the United States to support this valuable contract.
Doug Jack is with Transport Resources in the United Kingdom.