The Russian bus market revisited

By Doug Jack

One of these newly re-styled PAZ -3204 city midibuses may run on gasoline, which happen to be more tolerant of cold winter conditions.

Since reporting on the Comtrans exhibition in Russia last September, I recently attended Busworld Russia in Nizhny Novgorod (formerly the closed city of Gorky) located about 300 miles east of Moscow.

Economists frequently talk about Brazil, Russia, India and China, familiarly called the BRIC countries, as the engines for future financial growth.

Like so many other countries, the global financial crisis has affected Russia principally because of less demand for its oil, gas and minerals. The country has since made a strong recovery, resulting in high demand for new buses for the city fleets.

Moscow has a superb metro system in which a complement of trams, trolleybuses and buses often provide connecting services. In many cities minibuses and midibuses run parallel services on fixed routes and a slight premium fare.

With Moscow heavily congested with cars for much of the day, the city is seeing an increasing number of bus lanes.

A new low floor trolleybus in Moscow.

Last year, according to official statistics, Russia registered more than 57,000 buses and coaches of all sizes. Factory shipments of 15,382 vehicles over eight tons gross went largely to the domestic market. Around 5,000 imports, mainly interurban vehicles and coaches, came in from Korea and China along with a small number of highly specified Western European coaches at the top end of the market.

Registrations rose by 84 percent in the first quarter of 2012 compared to 2011. Mosgortrans, the municipal operator in Moscow, is currently taking delivery of more than 2,000 LiAZ full low-floor city buses from the Likino Bus Factory. This is a subsidiary of the GAZ Group, which also owns another three bus brands.

While visiting Russia over the years I have noticed a distinct improvement in product quality and protection of structures against corrosion. The larger fleets are thinking in terms of whole life operating costs, therefore the Moscow buses have MAN Euro 5 engines, with axles and fully automatic gearboxes from ZF of Germany.

Increasing demand has encouraged the manufacturing industry to invest in the development of new models. At Busworld Russia there were two new 40-foot all-electric buses, both with full-length low floors.

LiAZ launched its 6274 with MOBEL electrical equipment, a Moscow specialist. Electrical energy is stored in lithium-ion batteries mounted at roof level. Much of the other electrical equipment fits into a full-height compartment behind the third door. The bus is fitted with an independent oil-fired heating system to conserve electrical energy during the winter.

The engineering team enthusiastically answered my questions, saying they expected a range of around 125 miles on a full charge for the prototype, with extensive overhead wiring for trolleybuses in most cities that should be relatively easy to install.

TrolZA, the principal manufacturer of trolleybuses in Russia, showed the second all-electric bus. The company showed a 52501 city bus with lithium-ion batteries on the roof connected to accumulators — an interesting combination. The accumulators provide the energy to move the vehicle away from a stop and up to a speed of around 20 mph. Both buses also have regenerative braking system, which help to extend their range.

The authorities are encouraging the purchase of accessible low-floor buses. As the infrastructure in Russia is not always suitable for those models, at least three vehicles in Busworld Russia featured wheelchair lifts located at a second doorway.

The largest bus factory is the Pavlovo Plant, producer of the PAZ brand. This subsidiary of GAZ builds around 10,000 vehicles per year, all around 25 to 26 feet long and nearly all with higher floors. Surprisingly for this day and age, around half still run on gasoline engines but evidently happen to be more tolerant of the very harsh and cold winter conditions.

PAZ showed a city midibus with a front mounted Cummins engine and an Allison fully-automatic gearbox. The second exhibit was an interurban midicoach, also with a Cummins engine but with an ordinary manual gearbox.

TrolZA showed this prototype all-electric low-floor bus.

It is not easy to understand how the Russian purchasing system for city buses actually works. In addition to the Central Government, there are strong regional governments with devolved powers. Politicians are keen to keep workers fully employed, and that is a major factor when the large public sector fleets place their orders.

MAZ, the Minsk Auto Factory from neighbouring Belarus, is the strongest importer in the city bus sector. It started building buses 20 years ago to German Neoplan designs, but has since developed its own models. MAZ showed a new interurban coach and an attractive midicoach. Outside, I saw large numbers of MAZ low-entry city buses running on the streets of Nizhny Novgorod.

For my return from Nizhny Novgorod to Moscow I chose to ride a new, very reasonably priced high-speed train service running new German stock from Siemens. Announcements on board were in Russian and English and the friendly crew, all smartly dressed young women, spoke good English. The service was superb and the train pulled into Moscow right on time — all so far removed from the popular concept of Russia. BR

Doug Jack is with Transport Resources in the United Kingdom.