Volvo Buses shifts into top gear
At 13.78 metres, the 9400 6×2 coach built on a B9R chassis allows for a maximum of 53 passenger seats, or two additional rows, compared to the 12m 4×2 version on the B7R chassis. “This will make very good sense for operators. The eight additional seats will take care of all the operator’s fuel costs on that route,” Passey told journalists invited to Volvo’s bodybuilding plant at Hoskote, near Bangalore, the following week. A significant benefit considering that fuel accounts for a good 40 percent of the operating costs. “The market needs products like this that are suited for the Mumbai–Bangalore route, covering more than 1,000km a day,” he said, adding that the company had already received positive feedback from all three operators: “Those who flew in for the handover all drove back personally in their respective buses!”
Engineered for a gross weight of 19 tonnes, the B9R chassis has an unsteered I-beam axle (otherwise identical to the front axle) placed just ahead of the driven rear axle. This pusher axle configuration was specially developed for India, according to Peter Andersson, head of product development. “We wanted to keep it cost-effective and as simple as possible so the operators have absolutely no problems with reliability,” he explained to this correspondent.
The claimed turning radius of 10.5m is only marginally more than the 10.25m for the 9400 B7R and the coach is remarkably easy to manoeuvre, as this correspondent and Autocar Professional photographer Ashley Baxter verified on a couple of trial laps around the Volvo test track. An optimised bogie distribution, plus a dump function activated from the dashboard that exhausts the air from the air bellows on the pusher axle, reduce the wear on the tyres on tight turns.
The rear-mounted 9360cc D9B engine with electronically controlled unit injectors and four valves per cylinder puts out 340 hp at 1600–1900rpm and its massive maximum torque of 1632 Nm all the way from 1200rpm. Given that the operating conditions and vehicle configurations that obtain in India require drivers to make “too many gearchanges”, the high torque will reduce the need to frequently shift gears, a feature Passey pointed out would be “very good for the bus business”.
Other features include a powerful Voith hydrodynamic retarder with an automatic function that activates the retarder when the driver lifts his foot from the accelerator, and an electronically controlled air suspension that allows the ride height to be increased while the coach is in motion on rough roads up to a maximum speed of 20kph. In addition a number of Europe-spec safety features come as standard, such as Volvo’s FUPS front underrun protection system and complete rollover safety compliance, plus EBS5 electronic brake assistance from Knorr-Bremse, which controls the ABS and ASR (acceleration slip regulation) functions.
The coach costs Rs 85 lakh on-road, and Passey is confident the Rs 13 lakh difference over the 9400 B7R can be recovered “within two years”. However, he pointed out, the really significant advantage of the product is that it has been designed to run in the market for 12–15 years, whereas the private operators presently run their coaches for an average of three years and the state transport undertakings for five years.
“Customers are beginning to move from their obsession with initial cost and look at lifecycle costing, and from that perspective our coach offers a lot more value than they have been used to expecting,” Passey said. Accordingly, he revealed he expects to sell between 150 and 200 of this model in the next two years.
The intercity bus transport industry is becoming more corporate in nature, and Volvo justifiably sees itself as having played an important role. “Volvo has given private operators respect in society,” Passey pointed out. “Starting from one or two buses, some have built up fleets of 50–300 Volvos each. At the same time we increasingly see fleets consolidating, leaving fewer, larger operators.”
All the main state transport undertakings across the country today run Volvo fleets, some of them with up to 300 buses. Some have even built good brands around their Volvo services, such as Airavat by KSRTC, Garuda by APSRTC, or Shivneri by MSRTC.
“From the first true coach chassis to the latest version of the 8400 city bus, we have always taken pride in bringing in new things,” Passey declared. Which begs the obvious question, what’s next? “We’ll announce that when the time is right.”
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