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Carvers Coaches has taken Scania coaches for a number of years, and has just added three more to its fleet. Peter Jackson learns why the Swedish manufacturer is its first choice

Located in the industrial town of Ellesmere Port, Cheshire, Carvers Coaches is a family-run firm with a history dating back to 1968. Handling pretty much the entire spectrum of coaching work, the company’s 15 vehicles range from 18 to 70 seats and can be found on everything from school services to international tours.

With such a broad spectrum of work to take care of, having the right vehicles is of course critical; as a CBW reader you’ll surely know how costly vehicle breakdowns and downtime can be to an operator’s image – and bottom line.

For owner Mark Carver, Scania has emerged as the manufacturer of choice in recent years. According to him, the quality of its products in combination with the level of aftercare and parts availability results in a winning combination – so much so that he’s just added three more to his company’s fleet.

Lee Wale, UK Retail Sales Manager at Scania Bus and Coach (left), with Mark Carver

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Power trio

Beginning with the smallest in terms of length, the first of Carvers’ trio of new Scanias is a 12.1m 4×2 Scania Touring based on the Scania K 360 IB chassis. It has 51 passenger seats with leather headpads, piping, three-point seatbelts and seat back tables. It also has a centre sunken toilet, a Frenzel drinks unit, DVD player with two monitors, climate control air-conditioning, and Alcoa Dura-Bright alloy wheels.

The second is another Scania Touring, this time a 13.9m 6×2 variant based on the K 410 EB chassis. Its spec is shared with the 12.1m example, though it seats 59 (and of course has an extra axle!).

Last but by no means least is a 12.8m 4×2 Scania Interlink, also built on the K 410 EB chassis. Its 53 passenger seats are trimmed in half leather with piping and, like the previous two vehicles, feature three-point seatbelts and seat back tables. The Interlink also sports a centre sunken toilet, a hot drinks unit, a DVD player with two monitors, climate control air-conditioning and Alcoa Dura-Bright alloy wheels.

Flexibility and peace of mind

As lavishly-optioned as the new vehicles are, what’s particularly worth noting with Carvers’ latest order is the way they were purchased. First off, Scania has supplied the vehicles with PSVAR (Public Service Vehicle Accessibility Regulations) conversions to be carried out at a later date, built into the purchase price. By taking this approach, Mark and his team have greater flexibility in terms of how the vehicles can be used. For example, they could be operated in their current state for a number of years – taking advantage of the increased luggage capacity resulting from not having a wheelchair lift fitted – on long-distance tour work, and then converted to PSVAR-spec later in life to tackle rail replacement work.

Crucially though, the order has been supported by the Government’s Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CBILS), with funding provided by accredited CBILS lender, Scania Financial Services. Contributing further to the fixed, known costs for Carvers Coaches is a two-year repair and maintenance contract, which is included with all new Scania coaches.

“Despite the ongoing effects of coronavirus, we believe it is essential to continue investing in quality vehicles to protect our brand image and the future of the business,” Mark commented. “We have taken advantage of CBILS, as this allows us to defer our loan repayments for 12 months when hopefully operating conditions will be returning to normal.

“Two years’ repair and maintenance to be carried out by Scania Ellesmere Port, where Mark Urmston and his team have always given us excellent levels of service, was also included in the deal. This, together with the fact that Scania were able to include future PSVAR conversions in the upfront purchase price, was a deal clincher.”

Lee Wale, UK Retail Sales Manager for Scania Bus and Coach, added: “We are delighted to have been able to assist Carvers Coaches, which has been a loyal and valued Scania customer since 2003.”

“We provide a wide range of services and these vehicles give us the flexibility we need,” continued Mark. “In addition to schools contracts – which all our vehicles are involved in – the two Tourings are all-rounders, with the 4×2 being able to access places which would be too tight for the 6×2. The high-specification Scania Interlink will focus primarily on our private hire, long distance work and touring activities.”

Business and friendship

It’s often said that the coach industry is a ‘people’ industry, and if you’re reading this magazine you’ll know just how true that sentiment is. In keeping with that notion, Mark explained to me that it’s the people at Scania who make the company such an attractive proposition – not just its products. “The team at Scania have been helpful ever since I started dealing with them, whether buying new or second-hand,” he said. “They’ve always been accommodating.

“We’ve all become friends as well, not just business acquaintances. I do socialise with Lee Wale and his wife Sarah, as well as Used Vehicle Manager of the Bus and Coach team Steve Lambert and his wife Heather; they’re just genuinely nice people and we all get on – we’re usually on the same wavelength. I’ve been out to Irizar in San Sebastian several times and I’ve been to Sweden three times, absolutely love it. Every trip is different.

“I keep myself up-to-date with the latest products and vehicles,” Mark continued, “something I pride myself on. But the Scania route is what suits me. They seem to hold their value better than a lot of other coaches; you’re not paying the earth for them in the first place either, they’re not the most expensive product on the market.”

The side profile of the Interlink

Taking the pressure off

You can have the fanciest, most luxurious coach in the world, but it’s no use if you can’t get hold of parts or get it serviced – frustrations many operators will have shared over the years. Mark is no exception, having had his fair share of headaches trying to get vehicles repaired and parts sourced on a tight timeframe. According to him though, his experience with Scania has been very different: “With Scania, if I phone them up with an urgent problem, they fit me in straight away. We have a good working relationship with them.

“They’re just really helpful. The parts people are phenomenal too. And that’s the other thing about Scania – when they put investment into a product, they go all out. Sometimes with other manufacturers, you can be passed from pillar to post trying to get problems fixed. With Scania, everything has a part number. If I phone up the local dealer for a piece of glass, trim or whatever, it’s on the system. It’s so easy it’s unbelievable! Even things as obscure as a net on the back of a seat, you can get hold of.

“Things are normally in stock too, but the Scania parts system is really clever; if in a particular area there’s a problem which keeps repeating – say the school kids keep breaking the nets on the back of the seats – the system will pick up on the fact that people are ordering more of them than other parts and will send stock to the local dealer. Either way, even if the local dealer doesn’t have something in stock you can usually get it sent overnight to arrive by 0600hrs the next morning. I can’t ask any more from a company than that.

“With the two-year repair and maintenance contract, it means we don’t have to touch the vehicles in that time, which takes the pressure off our workshop. The vehicles go to Scania every six weeks for a check-up, and they’re put on the r2c system. This is a web-based maintenance system which allows us to access the vehicle’s records and see what work has been carried out, which is very useful for resale too. It saves sending out paperwork, and allows us to keep a digital record of the vehicles’ history.”

Mark outlined another perk of the repair and maintenance scheme: “If the vehicle breaks down during those first two years and they can’t fix it at the roadside within an hour, Scania pays for a replacement vehicle to be sent out to you for onward travel. I think this really shows their confidence in the product as well; touch wood, we’ve never had to use it! Nothing has ever stopped the vehicles from going out.

“The truck and bus relationship has improved lately when it comes to part compatibility,” continued Mark. “Discs and pads for example are now the same as the truck parts, which is useful. Also, the rear lights used on Scania Tourings are now the same as on the Interlink, which makes it much simpler to order parts and know you’re going to get the right ones.

“It’s an all-round great setup really. I feel Scania are perhaps under-rated a bit – the overall package they offer is phenomenal.”