Irizar Uk’s race meet

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In the shadow of the stands, the hybrid i4 speeds past on the track with the i6 integral in the foreground. GARETH EVANS

Gareth Evans reports on Irizar UK’s i-Drive event at Rockingham Motor Speedway, which also provided the first opportunity for many to see the firm’s i4H hybrid coach

The air was full of the distinctive and appetising smell of cooked bacon and good coffee – the presence of the butty van was a welcome addition to the impressive line-up of coaches large and small. Friends from across the coach industry caught up over refreshments as they waited for their fellow participants to sign on at Irizar UK’s i-Drive event on Wednesday (August 16) at Rockingham Motor Speedway, Corby. The Northamptonshire venue is well-known to motorsport enthusiasts – and it’s a memorable place to be even for ‘non-petrol head’ types.

The invitation-only i-Drive event offered guests the opportunity to bring their own cars for a track day, giving their machines a work-out on the complex inner circuit and up on to the banked bowl of the main circuit. Other attractions included the chance to drive high performance cars, a bike stunt show and go kart display.

The Irizar UK coach range was represented, including examples of the popular i6 and i4 and i8 Integrals.

A popular attraction was the presence of[wlm_nonmember][…]

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[/wlm_nonmember][wlm_ismember]The Kings Ferry’s new i8 tri-axle, which is to become Fulham’s team coach. The two members of staff who accompanied the vehicle appeared to be rightly proud of the new coach, which they said had only been picked up the previous Friday.

Among operators present was Robert Douglas from Leon’s of Stafford. Carrying his helmet, he told CBW: “I took the four series BMW for a spin. I let it go. It was superb. I went in a Renault too. It’s been a great day.

“You go that fast that you think you’re going to turn the car over. The instructor assured me they don’t roll – and that they’ve yet to have such an incident. It was like being on a rollercoaster.”

While i-Drive debuted in 2016, it has developed this year to become a sort of small trade event in itself. Out in force with no fewer than seven vehicles was minibus specialist EVM.

EVM’s Danny McGee enthused: “We’re displaying a range of vehicles from nine to 22-seaters. We share a lot of similar customers with Irizar. It’s a good event, with a great line-up of operators in a relaxed atmosphere. In the first hour alone, we were approached by three operators enquiring about buying a new minicoach. By contrast at the NEC, it can be something of a crowded madhouse.”

Among those present with a stand located undercover in what would normally be a garage workshop was Alcolock UK’s Richard Thomas. He told CBW: “We’re here because we’re the preferred supplier of vehicle ignition interlocks (Alcolocks) to Irizar UK, who we work closely with. As it happens, we’re also the preferred supplier to EVM.”

Irizar UK and EVM displayed a cross-section of vehicles – there was no shortage of coaches to look at. GARETH EVANS

Asked why Irizar UK decided to hold the event, Julie Hickin, Business Development Director, replied: “It came about last year through our directors Ian Hall and Steve O’Neill being motor enthusiasts. It was decided to do something motor sport-related which would be linked to a coach ride and drive event. Sometimes if it’s just about coaches, not many people will come. It was decided something extra special was required to attract attendees – a bit of fun, I suppose you could say.

“It’s definitely not a sales event. It’s a decidedly relaxed environment for our customers. Unless someone asks about a coach, we’re not going to try and sell them one.”

She added: “This year we wanted a different dimension – hence presence of EVM and DAF trucks. Having different types of vehicle here can add interest. EVM’s products are exceptional – we feel the brands complement each other. We also get on well together on a personal and professional level.

“As for DAF, our coaches are, of course, DAF-powered, so we work closely with them on parts. Giving participants the opportunity drive trucks is another attraction in itself.”

“We’ve got 200 people here today – of which 160 are operators, plus a few more who’ve turned up that we didn’t know about,” she quipped.

Hybrid i4H debut

The i-Drive event was the first chance for most people to see the latest addition to Irizar UK’s range – the i4H hybrid coach.

“It’s a very exciting product for the right application,” Julie stressed. “We’re not really selling it at the moment as it’s about to embark on a series of trials. It will go to Prospect of Lye Cross on September 1 for a week and a half, where it will be used on the firm’s Bromsgrove to Stourbridge College run. After a break for the Coach & Bus UK show, the coach will move to Coventry-based Travel de Courcey (TDC), where it will be used on a third party works contract. From there, we intend to build up a demo schedule with operators.

“For both Prospects and TDC, the key is they will be using it on duties that involve travelling over varied terrain – rather than long stretches of motorway or dual carriage

Also present was this Irizar i8 integral for National Express-owned The Kings Ferry. The impressive vehicle is Fulham’s new team coach. GARETH EVANS

way running. That is required toenable the battery to be recharged and to achieve optimum fuel economy.”

The Irizar i4H hybrid coach uses a parallel hybrid drivetrain, which combines a tried and tested Cummins ISBe 6.7-litre 300hp diesel engine with an advanced Eaton PHP hybrid transmission, incorporating an electric inverter and traction motor-generator, together with a conventional six-speed automated manual gearbox.

Irizar claims that combined electrical and internal combustion power, together with energy recovered using the electric motor/generator as a retarder, helps to reduce fuel consumption by over 20% in mixed ‘real-life’ conditions, where relatively high-speed running on major roads is interspersed with stop-start urban traffic. An automated stop-start system also shuts down the diesel engine (if temperatures and battery condition allows) when the parking brake is applied, further reducing unnecessary exhaust emissions. The engine restarts automatically when the brake is released.

On a 13-metre length, the Irizar i4H can typically seat 57 people, or 53 with additional spaces for a wheelchair user and luggage stowage. At low speeds, the Irizar i4H is propelled by electricity only – although the diesel engine still idles to power auxiliary systems such as air-conditioning – taking advantage of the low-speed torque provided by the three-phase 346V motor/generator.

If the coach is accelerating or cruising, then the diesel engine revs up to combine with the electric motor to provide the optimum blend of power for the conditions. When the Irizar i4H slows, the diesel engine disengages and returns to idle, while the vehicle’s momentum turns the motor/generator to replenish the batteries. An added bonus is reduced load on the coach’s foundation brakes, which aids safety, reduces wear, and cuts particulate emissions as the motor/generator acts as a retarder.

Irizar says that unlike some hybrids, care has been taken to make the i4H as safe and simple to work on as possible – there are only five cables carrying high-voltage current, and they are all within the engine bay. The engine bay itself is the same size as that of a conventional coach, and full luggage capacity is retained.

Inside The Kings Ferry’s Irizar i8 integral, the high specification reflects its role as Fulham’s new team coach. GARETH EVANS

An advanced temperature-management system segregates air-conditioning, and engine and battery cooling functions, with separate radiators independently cooled by dedicated electric fans which only operate as required. The fans can reverse to remove air-borne debris that might otherwise clog the system. Drive for the saloon air-conditioning system is taken directly from the diesel engine: utilising the power take-off that would normally drive the engine cooling fan; reducing parasitic losses.

According to Irizar, the Cummins ISBe 6.7-litre engine has genuine multi-fuel capability. It can run, without modification, on the renewable synthetic diesel fuel HVO, which is made from bio-waste, conventional diesel, or any blend of the two fuels. Use of pure HVO will reduce engine CO2 output by up to 90%, it is claimed.

On that note, with urban air quality and diesel emissions coming under increasing scrutiny, Irizar believes its i4H offers operators a ‘green’ card to play when it comes to maintaining unfettered access to sensitive city centres.

While Irizar is confident that coaches with conventional diesel drivelines will continue to dominate the long-haul and touring markets for many years to come, it also believes that operators of suburban to city-centre commuter services and inter-urban routes will increasingly demand innovative solutions to concerns raised over fossil-fuel consumption and air quality. The i4H gives these operators a means to offer clients and passengers a clean, safe and green travel experience.