Variety spices FIAA Bus and Coach Expo in Madrid

By Doug Jack

The biennial FIAA bus and coach exhibition was held in May at the Parque Ferial Juan Carlos Center in Madrid.

Spain has always relied quite heavily on tourism; not only travelers from Northern Europe seeking a few weeks in the sun, but increasingly more visitors from around the world.

Recent terrorist events in Turkey, Egypt and Tunisia have hit tourism industries very hard, but have proved a major boost for Spanish resorts. Inbound tourism is up strongly and that has increased demand for luxury coaches, as most people arrive on low-cost airlines.

Traditionally, Spanish vehicles consisted of chassis made by one manufacturer and bodywork built by one of many domestic builders. With the five major builders, Iveco, MAN, Mercedes-Benz, Scania and Volvo contesting equally, the bus and coach market throughout Europe is unusual.

A low-entry Mercedes-Benz Sprinter conversion by

In recent years, the first three have strongly promoted their own complete products, that are built in countries like the Czech Republic and Turkey where labor costs are much lower. This puts pressure on the domestic bodybuilders. Some went out of business during the tough years following the global financial downturn.

The city bus market is becoming increasingly conscious of engine emissions and pollution. Spain consists of coastal regions and a high central plateau. Madrid is in the middle of Spain and can suffer heavily from pollution. The city’s transit authority, EMT, now favors buses running on compressed natural gas (CNG). They also run noticeably quieter.

There is also strong interest in all-electric buses. Poland’s Solaris exhibited its Urbino Electric, which a jury of specialist journalists from each of 22 European countries named as the coveted “European Bus of the Year 2017.”

Ayats all-electric double-decker bus for city sightseeing. Note the folding roof.

Solaris offers a complete electric range of vehicles with sufficient battery capacity for a full day’s operation to those that require fast charging at each end of a route. Where maximum passenger capacity is important, opportunity charging takes fewer batteries, and saves considerable weight.

Irizar had a large and impressive booth, showing three coaches of different heights and specifications, and one all-electric i2e city bus, a low-entry hybrid suburban bus and a hybrid interurban coach with a Cummins ISBe 6-cylinder engine. The segment for interurban coaches is quite  large in Spain, and this model offers strong potential savings in fuel consumption.

Irizar has bought land near its main factory and is currently fitting out a plant with capacity to build two electric buses per day.

Vectia offers the Veris electric bus with fast
overhead charging.

Irizar hopes to be in full operation by the first quarter of 2018 — an ambitious target, but the company is used to building for a wide variety of products.

Jose Manuel Orcasita, CEO, said Irizar’s output would increase this year, expecting to build more than 3,000 luxury coaches in combinations of their own integral line and bodies-on-chassis.

Ayats, a smaller Spanish builder, has largely made the transition from building body-on-chassis to making its own complete integral products.

Its most interesting vehicle was a double-decker all-electric bus designed for city sightseeing. It features an open top with the addition of a sliding fabric roof that can be pulled forward in harsh weather.

Electric traction is ideal for city sightseeing. The buses run relatively slowly through some of the most sensitive areas of old cities where noise and pollution are serious problems. With daily mileage relatively low, the buses can operate using smaller batteries and still offer a full day’s range.

Based in Galicia, the northwest region of Spain, Castrosua is the main domestic builder of city bus bodywork. The company is currently working with Scania to supply 80 CNG buses to EMT Madrid. Castrosua has also formed Veris, a joint venture with CAF, an important tram and train builder, to build hybrid and all-electric city buses. Examples of both types were on exhibit.

Salvador Caetano, the principal bus and coach builder in Portugal, has been working on electric traction for several years. An attractive 40-foot full low-floor electric bus confirmed that demonstrations in Lisbon were successful.

Caetano builds airside transfer buses for the Cobus consortium, which enjoy a very high share of the European market and are strong sales in other parts of the world.

These normally use a front-wheel drive power pack and a small Mercedes-Benz diesel engine. The company has also been carrying out experiments with electric drive. Airside vehicles are a logical application for electricity as they operate with low mileage within a confined area and are easily recharged between duties.

Daimler promotes both its Mercedes-Benz and Setra brands in Spain. Setra has loyal customers in the important intercity market using models up to 45-feet. Rail connections cross country in Spain are poor and coaches are often the best alternative.

Mercedes-Benz offers the German-built Citaro city bus with diesel or CNG engines, also the Turkish-built Tourismo coach range. The company also has a factory in Northern Spain to build chassis not just for Spain but for a number of other markets, including North Africa.

Volvo has had a strong presence in Spain for many years. Their main activities have been in interurban and luxury coaches, working with local builders, especially Sunsundegui. More recently, they have successfully promoted their hybrid city buses and many are in service, especially around Madrid.

Volvo sprung a surprise by introducing its 8600 coach, built in its plant in India. Markets in France, Italy and Spain have demand for competitively-priced low deck coaches used principally for school transport, but also suitable for excursion traffic on weekends and in school vacation periods. The Indian coach was stylish, well-finished, and powered by a Volvo engine developed in India- but meeting full European emission standards.

Sunsundegui, recently restructured following financial difficulties, works closely with Volvo in several export markets, and has a strong position in interurban buses that link Madrid with neighboring satellite towns.

Iveco has a strong position in Spain, operating a major truck plant near Madrid’s main airport. The company more recently has tended to offer complete vehicles built in its factories in France and the Czech Republic. One of its exhibits was a 40-foot all-electric city bus from Heuliez, its French subsidiary.

At least one similar bus is already on demonstration with RATP, the principal operator in France. The agency has set an ambitious target to have 80 percent of the fleet of 4,500 vehicles all-electric, and the other 20 percent ultra low emission possibly using biogas by 2025.

In a rather unusual twist, RATP CEO, Elisabeth Borse, is the newly-appointed Minister of Transport in the new Macron Government of France, which might well stimulate growth for all-electric buses in France.

With some of the major manufacturers offering complete vehicles, local bodybuilders have had to specialize, offering vehicles that the big boys will not build.

Beulas, a family-owned company based in the northeast of Spain, is the best of the local builders. Their range includes double-decker bodywork as well as an over-deck design in which the driver and guide occupy the lower level beneath a full-length upper deck.

This design offers cavernous luggage capacity and superb visibility for passengers. Beulas can also build more standard bodies and is very good at customizing interiors.

The overall impression was a well-organized exhibition and a more confident domestic industry.

If there is an adverse comment, it was a surprise that FIAA took place in May when many of the coach operators were fully occupied at the start of the summer season and could not take time out to come to Madrid.

Doug Jack is with Transport Resources in the United Kingdom.