Zhengzhou-bound

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Among the vehicles under production during CBW’s visit was this electric E8, similar to the longer E9 offered in the UK by Pelican. ADRIAN MORTON

Adrian Morton was invited on an interesting and enthralling trip to China to see Yutong’s immense factory; in the first of two instalments, he begins his trip and sees some other famous sights

In late April I was very kindly invited by Pelican Bus & Coach to join a customer visit to China to view Yutong’s extensive manufacturing facilities in Zhengzhou, along with a number of well-known UK operators. Those joining me on the trip were Pelican’s Area Sales Managers Amelia Crump and Lee McMahon, Ross Maloney from Aureus (a broker and payment services specialist), Jamie Ndlovu and his wife Joanne from TJ’s Travel, Philip Hitchen from Belle Vue Coaches, Jonathan Hunt from Roberts Travel Group, Andy Leyland from Johnsons of Henley-in-Arden and Danny Matthews and Akhtar Ali of LandFlight in Birmingham.

The hospitality afforded to us by Pelican and Yutong was second to none, with Mercedes-Benz chauffeur-driven cars collecting us from our individual homes in the UK ready for our business class flights with Emirates to the Chinese capital, Beijing. On arrival at the airport we were met by Clelia Jin, Head of the China Office at Pelican, and transferred by a local coach operator in one of its Yutong TC9s to the Regent Hotel in the city for our one night stay.

Our flight landed around an hour late with immigration taking two hours to accomplish, which meant a very quick freshen up before a short walk to the Beijing Da Dong for supper. Awarded a Michelin star, the restaurant has been touted one of the city’s finest and is frequented by such personalities as Bill Clinton and Elon Musk.

The meticulously prepared Beijing Duck, as is traditional, was carved in front of us with the delicately crisp skin recommended to be dipped in sugar. Both skin and meat melted effortless in the mouth and when combined with the spring onion, cucumber, customary melon and sweet bean sauce, culminated in what only be described an experience to behold!

A long day

After some drinks in the lavish hotel bar it was soon touching midnight in the Asian capital thus time to retire to our comfortable rooms. Following a satisfying breakfast we re-boarded our Yutong TC9 for a trip to Mutianyu and a visit to the Great Wall of China, about an hour’s drive from Beijing. This was a truly awe inspiring experience, essentially built as a series of fortifications. With construction beginning in 220BC, and spanning over 21,000km, it’s easy to understand why the wall is one of the most impressive architectural feats in history. I can now lay claim to having visited three of the Seven Wonders of the World, and on reflection I don’t consider I’ll ever see the remainder!

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A cable car affording some stunning views took us from the coach up to the wall, where we then commenced a rather intense but enjoyable walk. There are then a number of options available to get you down, our hosts having kindly pre-booked for our decent to be by toboggan. This was both exhilarating and highly enjoyable, although I have to admit that having watched some of my travelling companions, I was slightly concerned by how some of those operators possessing PCV driving licenses get on at home, either keeping to time or ensuring their vehicle comes back in one piece!

Yutong was founded in the early 1960s and has grown exponentially since. YUTONG

High-speed travel

After a quick Subway for lunch it was back on the coach which was to return us into Beijing and to the city’s main railway station. Here we boarded one of the famous Chinese ‘Bullet Trains’ for our near 700km journey to Zhengzhou in Hanan Province, the seventh largest city in China and home

to Yutong Bus & Coach.

Our rather luxurious train was to complete the journey in under two and a half hours, reaching speeds of up to 217mph (350kph). I have to admit I do suffer a little from motion sickness so it wasn’t something I was looking forward to, but on the other hand was a phenomenon I knew I would like to say I’ve done.

Well, I needn’t have worried. Unbeknown to me the trains are fitted with some form of unique glass that gives the impression you are travelling much slower than you actually are, for the purpose of mitigating nausea for travellers, and the railway lines are also consummately straight and the ride quality was particularly smooth.

Luxury transport

We were soon at our destination and after one final scan of our passports we exited the station to the delights of some lovely warm sunshine and our Yutong-owned luxury mini-coach, or T7 high-end business bus as they prefer it to be called, which would stay with us for the next couple of days.

With our luggage safely stowed we were whisked through the streets to enjoy dinner at another tantalising restaurant. In true Chinese style there was a large revolving table on which an array of fine local dishes were placed, entertaining our tastebuds until we were all literally ready to explode.

Zhengzhou is now a major transportation hub in the centre of the country and is a rapidly growing city; eighteen months ago the population was estimated to be 12.8 million. It sits where the middle and lower reaches of the Yellow River divide and remained an unimportant backwater until selected by the Chinese government for development in the early 1950s.

We rejoined our coach for a short trip around the city and then on to our hotel. The contrast to Beijing was highly apparent, with a very modern feel and notably less traffic congestion. The streets and highways were extremely clean and lined with processions of pink rose flowers which became a talking point for those in our group.

We were again treated to an extremely luxurious hotel and, not knowing any successful coach operator or manager who doesn’t like an occasional drink, it was unsurprising that we all headed for the bar until the early hours of the morning. This was helped by a somewhat extensive wine list, with a couple of our party quite the connoisseurs – well that’s what they wanted us to believe anyway!

The scale of the factory is immense. YUTONG

The factory beckons

After haggling for a later start we all enjoyed a hearty breakfast, blessed with a fine selection of food from around the world, before being collected for an hour’s transfer to the suburbs of Zhengzhou for the main reason we were all here, the Yutong factory.

One of the first areas we saw whilst still aboard the coach was what can only be described as huge coach park with an extensive selection of glistening Yutong coaches. We were advised that this was an area for today’s deliveries. We all looked at each thinking the same: ‘did we hear that right?’. But Clelia confirmed that this was indeed correct, with production currently at around a staggering 400 units per day leaving the factory.

We soon arrived at the Yutong Marketing Centre which incorporates the company’s own Ptossom Hotel and is located on the factory site. This four star hotel has a multitude of uses including marketing, offices, accommodation – mainly for drivers collecting new vehicles and also a visitor centre.

History, facts and figures

Yutong can trace its history back over 60 years to 1963 when the Zhengzhou Bus Repair Facility was established and successfully trial-manufactured the first JT660 long distance coach. This achievement not only filled a gap in the production of long-distance coaches but also symbolised the entry of Chinese buses and coaches onto the global stage.

With a market-orientated and customer demand-centred approach, Yutong has consistently prioritised technological, system, product and service innovation and has evolved from being a bus and coach manufacturer to an international power in new energy commercial vehicles. In 2010 Yutong took the lead by surpassing annual production of over 40,000 buses and coaches, securing its position as the worldwide leader in global sales volume. 2012 saw the completion of the New Energy Bus Production Base adjacent to the previous facility. Covering an area totalling a staggering 134 hectares, it is currently the world’s largest production site for new energy buses and coaches, boasting cutting edge manufacturing processes in the commercial vehicle industry.

The VIP trip took the party of UK operators to see the Great Wall before heading to the Yutong factory. ADRIAN MORTON

Four factories

Yutong owns four vehicle factories. Shibalihe focuses on new energy, heavy industry and special vehicles, boasting an annual production capacity exceeding 150,000 units. The company prides itself on its implementation of what it calls lean, intelligent and digital manufacturing.

The company has established an efficient IT-based operational model for managing the entire supply chain order. It was the first in the industry to implement whole process automatic robot spraying, in which the application of laser cutting ensures a 0.2mm margin of error. Yutong has a highly skilled, precise and sophisticated research and development team employing over 3,000 people, and with 7% of its operating revenue invested in the department. Over 300,000km of road spectrum data is collected from various scenarios around the world before a new model is fully released to market.

Yutong’s after-sales service network overseas currently covers 112 countries with eight overseas central parts warehouses, Pelican Bus & Coach in Castleford being our UK dealer and contact for product support.

Adrian continues his tour of Yutong’s gigantic bus production facility next week

One of Yutong’s more distinctive models for its home market has some Neoplan Cityliner influences. ADRIAN MORTON
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