Building for the future

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The new Yutong showroom and operations centre was nearing completion in early January in preparation for the official opening. ANDY IZATT

The team at Pelican Bus & Coach talks to Andy Izatt about the year ahead which is expected to be a particularly significant one for the business

2018 is an important one for Yutong-importer, Castleford-based Pelican Bus & Coach with several exciting developments scheduled. The first is on January 30 when Mr Jin Xu, Minister Councillor for Economic and Commercial Development at the Chinese Embassy in London, will officially open the new 10,000 sq ft showroom and operations centre that has been built on a 1.4-acre site just a short distance from Pelican’s head office in Altofts Lane, Castleford.

On October 30-31/November 1, a new high-floor Yutong coach will be launched at Euro Bus Expo 2018 and there are also debuts planned in the months ahead as Pelican rolls out its electric bus programme. The first 10.8m E10 bus built to Transport for London specification will make its first public appearance at the official opening on January 30 when there will also be an opportunity to ride and drive the 12m E12 that has been trialled around the country since early last year. A second E10 demonstrator is expected in the spring with an E18 fully electric 18m artic following before the turn of the year and a double-decker expected in 2019.[wlm_nonmember][…]

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“We’re delighted that as well as Mr Jin Xu, Mr Kent Chang, Vice President in charge of Overseas Sales for Yutong will be attending, as will be Kitty Hu, General Manager of Europe and North America Market,” explained Pelican UK Sales Manager, Bob Elliott. “In addition to being able to see round the premises and electric buses, guests will have an opportunity to take a closer look at our established nine-metre TC9 and 12m TC12 coaches. The CB12 12m diesel bus will also be on show and some of our suppliers will be exhibiting.”

Upgrading the offer

The new showroom and operations centre represents a £1.5m investment by Pelican. “The showroom could accommodate two TC12s and two TC9s, but the idea is that we will probably have just one of each on display at a time so there’s plenty of space to walk around them,” said Bob. “If a customer is collecting a vehicle, once the PDI (Pre Delivery Inspection) has been completed, that’s where it will be parked. There’s an adjacent handover/meeting room with its own refreshment serving area.

“The main part of the building is a four-bay workshop, which, depending on lengths, can accommodate up to six coaches and buses. We’ll be able to work on 15m vehicles and there will be space for an articulated bus. There’s a separate workshop refreshment serving area and an office. That’s where the two Yutong engineers we have from China will work alongside our own people. What we will call the workshop control centre will be fully computerised. Mark Chandler, previously with Minis to Midis and who has had a long bus and coach industry career, is our new Yutong Workshop Manager and will be based on-site.

“The only aspects of our Yutong business that won’t be in the new building will be sales and administration which will remain at head office nearby. Don’t forget, we also have four service vans now and there are around 20 subcontracted service agents across the British Isles. It’s a growing network.”

“One of the service vans is based in Oxford while another is in Manchester,” said Mark Chandler. “We want to add another to cover the south and we’ll also be looking to expand the subcontracted service network.

“We know there are quite a number of Yutongs that are coming out of two-year warranty. As well as undertaking warranty work, the new workshop will help us better meet the needs of the owners of those going forward. We’ll be looking to bring in as much retail work as we can, as well as delivering improved support to the sales department. As the workshop has its own facilities separate from the showroom, we’ll be able to look after each type of customer as appropriate.

“What’s more, we’ll be able to undertake more comprehensive vehicle handovers that will include driver training because the engineers will be on-site to do it. The Chinese engineers are delivering training on an ongoing basis to our two Yutong specialists and apprentice.

“The Yutong workshop will continue to have the backup of our main DAF workshop at head office where there’s a full MOT bay. There’s also a jig-equipped bodyshop there so we’ll be able to repair damaged vehicles as well. The Yutong workshop will have a charging point for the electric buses and there will be cleaning and washing bays. The site security gates are electrically operated and CCTV is installed inside and out so anyone leaving a vehicle knows that it will be secure.

“My own reason for joining Pelican is that I can see it becoming the biggest supplier of coaches and buses in the UK. There’s no reason why that couldn’t happen. There are 57,000 electric buses in service around the world and I’ve just been with a potential customer which thought our E12 was amazing. On their work it runs all day on one charge while the electric buses they already have don’t. I was very pleasantly surprised by the build quality of the Yutong product when I first joined Pelican. It really is exceptionally good. As this business develops and we sell a lot more vehicles, so there’s a big opportunity for everyone involved.”

“We built the new centre for Yutong because we wanted to have a bigger footprint when it came to working on coaches and buses,” said Pelican Bus & Coach Managing Director, Richard Crump. “We also wanted to make a clear statement about separating Yutong from our truck business by making what we do for it standalone.

“Because the new facility is dedicated to bus and coach, as Mark has said we’ll be looking for more third party service and repair work, particularly if it’s DAF or Cummins-powered because we have that expertise. We know it will probably be underutilised in the first year, but as a business we’ve always built capacity into our new facilities and then grown into them.”

Amongst the operators that have trialled the E12 electric bus is Tower Transit-owned Go Whippet based in Cambridgeshire. DAVID BELL

Electric future

“We have no immediate plans to offer an electric coach although if potential customers say differently we’re ready to respond, but we’re totally committed to offering a full range of electric buses and my assessment of the market is that it’s wide open,” Richard continued. “BYD/ADL (Alexander Dennis) is an accepted choice now, but no market tolerates having just one player.

“Our E12 is currently demonstrating to First York on the Park & Ride. It’s delivered 100% reliability on all its demonstrations so far. In heavy use in Liverpool it achieved 1kWh/km while in service across relatively flat Cambridgeshire, it was 0.8kWh/km. What’s more, like all Yutong electrics, it’s 100% electric including powering the heater.

“We know that the market for a 12m electric bus is small. That said there has been a lot of interest from airports and from companies that you wouldn’t necessarily associate with operating a bus. Then it’s not necessarily an issue as to how much it costs because primarily what they’re looking for is a green solution. We’re already talking to one airport about the E18 artic, but it’s the double-decker that could be the game changer. The market for that could be 700 units a year.

“The new E10 will be over a tonne lighter than the E12 so consumption should be even less and that’s why we’ve invested in two demonstrators. Operators are now ringing us and saying they want to talk to us and try the vehicle. Enquires are coming from all over the country. We’ve probably had one now from the predominant operator in all the major cities. Ian Downie is our new Head of Yutong Bus UK and has been tasked with targeting likely customers. He draws on considerable experience and clearly his primary focus will initially be on London.

“We’re confident in our electric product, but we’re under no illusions how important it is to get into the market this year – to have a reference customer. Take up of electric buses is limited by the availability of funding and we know that buying them is essentially a political decision, but Yutong in China appreciates the progress that has been made and we believe, if need be, the support will be there.”

Added Bob: “We know our electric technology is proven, but it’s the British way that people like to try what’s new themselves first. There have been a few operators now who have tried the E12. The feedback we’ve received is there has not been an issue and operators talk to operators.”

Core successes

“We’ve had another good year for coach sales,” said Bob. “We’ll put around 80 on the road – a mix of TC9s and TC12s. That’s as many as we expected and we’re doing better now in Scotland. Bay Travel of Cowdenbeath has just had a new TC9 while a used one has gone to BJ’s Contracts & Taxi Hire of Sanquhar.

“There are eight TC9s in stock at the moment and a couple of TC12s. Another 20 TC9s are due in February and a dozen of those are already sold. There’s also half a dozen TC12s coming and two of those are sold as well.”

Said Richard: “We’ve not decided yet what the new high-floor coach will be called. We’ve previously referred to it as the HTC and the one that were exhibited at Busworld Europe, Kortrijk was badged as a GT12H.

“Yutong designed it with the intention of launching it in Europe, Australia and Israel first. There will be a price increase over the TC12, but I think it will be one that customers will be happy to live with because this is a vehicle that was created to appeal to European tastes. It will enable us to push ahead into the marketplace. We’ll be looking to deliver first orders in the first quarter of 2019 and that’s when we expect to have stock availability.”

Said Bob: “The length is not confirmed yet, but I think the first will be a two-axle around 12.3m that seats 53 with a toilet. It would be 57 without. We’ve already had expressions of interest from more than two dozen existing Yutong customers about buying one.”

‘I think our TC9 has expanded the market for midi coaches,’ said Richard Crump. “It’s a sector that appears to continue to hold up.’ DAVID BELL

“When it comes to developing new product, we have to be clear what we’re asking the factory for,” said Richard. “We know the high-floor coach is going to sell and that it will open the door to new opportunities. We have been selling around 20-22 TC12s retail a year, but I think it will take our overall coach sales towards 150 annually. Because of the way the gross vehicle weight regulations have been changed, I think most manufacturers will offer one model in the two-axle segment with a tri-axle meeting all the requirements for higher capacity. I don’t think the decline in new three-axle coaches that some were predicting is going to happen.

“Yutong has a new low-height coach as well that we would also like to offer because it would be something totally new, but we may well keep the TC12 as a best value low-height variant with a revised specification enabling us to reduce the price slightly. In the meantime we think that the TC12 will continue to be the best value 12m Euro 6 coach available. With the clean air zones that are now being proposed around the country, Euro 6 is part of the solution.

I think our TC9 has expanded the market for midi coaches. It’s a sector that appears to continue to hold up and what’s happening now is we’re getting the repeat business. Customers swapping two and three year old ones for new and we’re happy with the residual values they’re attracting in what is a difficult market.

“We’re in no doubt that Yutong is here to stay. Five years ago Pelican was new to coaching and there were some concerns expressed about that, but we’ve moved from being a local truck dealer to a coach and bus importer that has national coverage. We’re proud of what people say about us as a business, particularly the backup we provide.

“People who work at Pelican are well motivated and we’re refining our offering all the time. We’re also now in a position to recruit experienced specialists like Ian Downie and Mark Chandler.

“Working with Yutong has been the most interesting period in my working life. The brand is set to have a much bigger part to play in the UK bus and coach market. What’s important is that we remain focused.”[/wlm_ismember]