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Now the first prototype of the new MOBIpeople executive coach has broken cover, Peter Jackson spoke to Mark Aspinall, Director at supplier BASE Coach Sales, to find out more

2020 has not been kind to the coach industry thus far. COVID-19 has, sadly, dealt a severe blow to what is an essential industry, with work all completely drying up. While at CBW we’ve been doing our best to bring you the latest on the pandemic, we’re also keener than ever to bring you positive news in what is an extremely tough time. So, when an email from BASE Director Mark Aspinall landed in my inbox earlier this month, showing off the first prototype of the eagerly anticipated new MOBIpeople coach, I thought it was only right we shone the spotlight on something a little more uplifting!

The Leyland-based dealership has been working with the Portuguese manufacturer on the new, as-yet-unnamed executive coach model for a little over 12 months, with the first prototype now having been completed ready for UK delivery. Anthony’s Travel of Runcorn is the lucky recipient; a long-term BASE customer, the operator has been involved in the project from the start along with a number of others.

CBW: How did the project come about? Did you go to MOBIpeople with the idea or was it something they were looking at doing anyway? [wlm_nonmember][…]

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MA: We wanted to develop a level of continuity from our previous Barbi products so that customers who had been buying from us didn’t feel the need to go elsewhere for their new vehicles. We had already developed the High Floor Explorer in 2019 at MOBIpeople, and thought there was an opportunity using the same R66 development to offer a completely different style that matched the expectations of our Barbi customer base.

CBW: Is it typical for you to involve operators so heavily in the development of a new vehicle?

MA: Yes, we have always welcomed customers’ input into our products and we wanted them to feel the highest level of involvement in the development of the style and specification of this new model.

The customers had a great deal of influence over the development of the vehicle. They were involved in factory visits to meet the design team and when the proposals came back from the design team, the alternatives were discussed with the customers. The consensus from those discussions resulted in the vehicle that MOBIpeople has built.

CBW: What sets this new model apart from the existing MOBIpeople range, and from its competitors? And what vehicles do you see as its main rivals?

MA: The new vehicle is a complete departure from the styling of our existing MOBIpeople product range; this was an area we focused on a great deal in the customer focus group.

We have also worked hard to leave a great deal of choice on the specification of the interior of the vehicle, so that a discerning customer really can feel that they have specified the vehicle to closely match their requirements.

We focus on our customer’s needs and expectations, not what everyone else is building. That’s not to say that we don’t see innovation in someone else’s offering and consider where improvements could be made in our own, but the real focus for us is what our customer wants.

If we manufacture what they say they want at an affordable price, then hopefully they will buy it from us.

CBW: Have you had much interest from other operators already, besides those involved in the development?

MA: Not yet. We have a vehicle on order for Holmeswood, but before the crisis hit we had already sold all our body slots until October.

We were planning a launch when the first vehicle for Anthony’s arrived in the UK, but obviously that has been delayed because of shipping difficulties from Portugal.

CBW: Do you have a rough timeline in mind for when the final version will go on sale, and also when the Scania version will become available?

MA: The ‘final version’ is on sale now and we have chassis at the factory to meet any new orders we receive. In terms of Scania, we would tend to build it on a 360 bhp chassis, not the standard 320 bhp that we use for the Explorer model, but even with the disruption everyone is suffering with shut-downs I would expect us to be able to build a Scania version before the end of the year if an order was placed.

CBW: Do you feel this is the start of a new kind of ‘design language’ for MOBIpeople – can we expect future models to share this kind of more ‘rounded’ design?

MA: This model is distinct from our other MOBIpeople model range. We may in the future develop a three axle version with this styling, but that depends upon how quickly the market recovers from the pandemic.

We were selling every body slot available to us before the crisis struck, so we didn’t see much need to further develop the product range beyond where we were. We are all in a very different place now though, so let’s see what happens.

CBW: Could you talk through some of the options that will be available on the coach?

MA: In terms of interior trim, operators can within reason make whatever choices they want, provided the materials that are chosen can be used in that application.

In terms of multimedia, the first two vehicles have been specified with Bosch SMART series equipment; we think it’s the best match for our customer’s requirements at present for this specification of vehicle.

CBW: The development time of 12 months is quite impressive for a new model – would you say this is down in part to the involvement of operators and their feedback making the process easier?

MA: The overall project took longer than 12 months as the R66 framework development was already in progress with the High Floor Explorer, but having customers involved in the process certainly focuses your attention on timescales.

There is an expectation that progress will be made in a timely manner when operators are involved in the process, it’s how we operate our coach business and it’s how we operate our dealership.

CBW:How did you select which operators to involve and how many/who were involved?

MA: They were all customers who had bought the Barbi product from us previously, whose opinion we respected, and who we hoped to carry with us into buying the new product.

CBW: Are you able to reveal pricing at this stage?

MA: There are so many different specifications to consider, but for example, the second vehicle in build for Holmeswood is being built to a PSVAR specification with six wheelchair spaces, a rear floor-mounted toilet and 55 Kiel Avance 1020 Top Flair spec seats and this would retail at approximately £270,000.

CBW: Is the vehicle due to receive a different name?

MA: We are still messing about with names at the moment. Internally we refer to it as the ‘Premium’ but that is only really because we haven’t made our mind up, and more important things like securing the future of the business with a successful Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CBILS) application have been taking priority.

CBW: I understand you’re still on course to deliver your 200th MOBIpeople vehicle to the UK this year? How has your relationship with MOBIpeople developed over the years?

MA: We have known many of the key stakeholders at MOBIpeople since we started importing Marcoplo products from Portugal in 2003. They are customer focused, extremely talented engineers, and quick to listen and improve upon our ideas. In real terms we are part of the same team, it’s just that some of us work in Portugal and some in UK. Our 200th vehicle since the launch of the Explorer and Midi Explorer at the NEC show in 2014 is a milestone, but more importantly, we believe with this new model we have completed our product line up and put ourselves in a strong position to meet our customer’s needs on an ongoing basis.