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In­tro­duc­ing a Euro­pean con­tender with a fo­cus on qual­ity and reli­a­bil­ity to the Aus­tralian mar­ket

ABC (Australia) - - CONTENTS - WORDS & IM­AGES PAUL ALDRIDGE

Van Hool is a Bel­gium-based fam­ily-run bus, coach and com­mer­cial ve­hi­cle builder and a ma­jor man­u­fac­turer in the Europe mar­ket, pro­duc­ing about 1400 buses and coaches each year, with 80 per cent be­ing ex­ported world­wide.

Ini­tially founded by Bernard Van Hool, it commenced in the 1940s as a suc­cess­ful body builder, de­sign­ing in­di­vid­ual cre­ations of­ten in­spired by con­tem­po­rary de­signs of large Amer­i­can cars. In the ‘50s, the fam­ily name be­came the brand Van Hool, and 2017 marked the com­mence­ment of Van Hool bus and coaches be­ing mar­keted and pro­fes­sion­ally sold to the Aus­tralian mar­ket.

On the topic of com­pany his­tory, Van Hool Australia sales di­rec­tor Michael Robin­son says that, prior to this new ven­ture, com­pa­nies have pri­vately im­ported Van Hools into Australia and New Zealand as far back as the 1970s.

“Pykes in Syd­ney, which was even­tu­ally taken over by AAT Kings, suc­cess­fully ran Van Hools, and those early ve­hi­cles were re­ceived well and re­mem­bered very fondly as they were great heavy-duty iron coaches,” he says. “This move to mar­ket Van Hool in Australia has been a big step­ping stone, a huge in­vest­ment with lots of be­hind-the-scenes work that’s taken around two years to get us to this point. We have had the prod­uct made fit for pur­pose to run in Aus­tralian op­er­at­ing con­di­tions.”

This model was only in­tro­duced about two years ago in 2015 in Mace­do­nia.

Van Hool still had to make changes for the Aus­tralian en­vi­ron­ment, in­clud­ing dust man­age­ment, the air fil­tra­tion sys­tem for the en­gine – a big Don­ald­son, which is a much larger unit than other mar­kets – and it needed to have the abil­ity to cover larger kilo­me­tres.

“We built two new mod­els – one for the Amer­i­can mar­ket and one for the Euro­pean mar­ket. This model is also suit­able for the UK and Ire­land mar­ket as well, which is the right-hand drive model, so we have tapped into that model,” Robin­son says.

“Be­cause of the sim­i­lar­i­ties, we have been able to keep the cost down.

“Most mod­els in Europe are the 11-litre but we have gone for the big 13-litre plus the 12-speed au­to­mated man­ual here.

“We find that’s best for longevity of the ve­hi­cle and com­fort of op­er­a­tion – it’s what driv­ers pre­fer.

“A whole lot of things were adapted, they are off-shelf com­po­nents but they were put to­gether es­pe­cially for suit­abil­ity to the Aus­tralian mar­ket and con­di­tions.”

THE TEST DRIVE

For the test drive, we drove from Rock­lea – a sub­urb of Bris­bane – to Ip­swich along the Ip­swich Mo­tor­way. This coach was a plea­sure to drive and I got to have a re­ally good test over 30 kilo­me­tres.

From the mo­ment you lay eyes on the Van Hool EX 16H, you can see it is a spe­cial

ve­hi­cle. Be­fore the drive, Robin­son told me how he was im­pressed with how the Van Hools looked driv­ing down the mall in Lon­don when he was a younger man work­ing there, and it was an im­pres­sion that stayed with him.

I can un­der­stand his in­ter­est as this is cer­tainly one good-look­ing coach, fea­tur­ing: vis­ually beau­ti­ful body lines; large ex­panses of dou­ble-glazed glass (ex­cept front win­dow); in­ter­nally, prob­a­bly one of the widest aisles I have seen; and, even from the rear, the black pri­vacy glass and LED lights are im­pres­sive.

Safety and pas­sen­ger com­fort are well and truly cov­ered. The 340kW, or 460hp in the old money, DAF Pac­car MX13 Euro 6 is su­per quiet and, as ex­pected, su­per pow­er­ful.

How­ever, for me, the safety fea­tures are one of the main sell­ing points of EX 16H: • Elec­tronic sta­bil­ity con­trol (ESC): Au­to­mat­i­cally in­ter­venes in sit­u­a­tions where ve­hi­cle sta­bil­ity en­ters a crit­i­cal phase • Elec­tronic brak­ing sys­tem (EBS): Elec­tronic ac­ti­va­tion of all brak­ing sys­tem com­po­nents • Ad­vanced emer­gency brake sys­tem (AEBS): The ve­hi­cle will brake it­self with­out driver in­put, ap­plies par­tial brak­ing when sta­tion­ary ve­hi­cles are de­tected, helps pre­vent ac­ci­dent im­pact, con­trols over­steer­ing or un­der­steer­ing (This fea­ture is cur­rently await­ing ap­proval for Aus­tralian and New Zealand use) • Adap­tive cruise con­trol (ACC2): Al­lows the driver to set the speed and fol­low the dis­tance, con­trols en­gine and brakes, and in­cludes for­ward col­li­sion warn­ing • Lane de­par­ture warn­ing sys­tem: Warn­ing sys­tem for un­in­ten­tional lane de­par­ture, cam­era-based de­tec­tion for road mark­ings. The lane de­par­ture warn­ing sys­tem was prob­a­bly my favourite fea­ture. Yes, other ve­hi­cles have this fea­ture, but this one has a sys­tem that works very ef­fec­tively – though ini­tially it takes a bit of get­ting used to. It has a seat vi­bra­tion warn­ing sys­tem. You veer left and the seat vi­brates on your left butt cheek, and vice versa for the right side.

A ma­jor ben­e­fit of this is the im­me­di­ate ac­knowl­edge­ment by the driver, while the sys­tem has no bells or warn­ing that may alarm pas­sen­gers. Very clever!

Fur­ther­more, the driver’s cabin is de­signed and de­vel­oped for driver com­fort, not adapted and built up or down to suit a chas­sis. It’s made so all com­po­nents work to­gether. It is de­signed to have no glare and re­flec­tions on the dash, and the de­sign is specif­i­cally is done for the driver to have clear vis­i­bil­ity of all the gauges.

The mir­rors are ad­justable and set up so there are no blind spots; the dash is cut off so there is plenty of legroom for the driver un­der­neath; there are top-of-the-range ISRI seats; and the driver’s mi­cro­phone is mounted with the seats so, as you ad­just the seat, it goes with you.

Ev­ery­thing is fully driver ad­justable and an­gled so it is within an arm’s sweep – no reach­ing and back bend­ing.

“Ev­ery­thing falls to hand. I have seen many demon­stra­tions and test drives with many dif­fer­ent driver body types and never one complaint about driver com­fort,” Robin­son says.

CUS­TOMER AD­VAN­TAGE

The com­pany has a prod­uct which is sim­ple in its con­cept us­ing all high-grade fit­tings, high-grade stain­less steel frames which will con­trib­ute greatly to the fu­ture sav­ings of main­te­nance and re­pair work.

“Van Hool brings what we grew up with and what we truly think you should rely on: good, sim­ple, hon­est en­gi­neer­ing,” Robin­son says.

“I’ve seen frames and floors that needed to be re­placed on buses only after sev­eral years of hard use. Van Hool has a dis­tinct ad­van­tage be­cause oth­ers do of­fer the stain­less steel frames but they come with a huge price tag, but we of­fer many things as stan­dard that are op­tional ex­tras with other man­u­fac­tur­ers.”

Robin­son says he’s proud of ev­ery as­pect of this coach, call­ing it both func­tional and sim­ple but at the same time el­e­gant and su­perbly made.

“It’s a work of art – a beau­ti­ful ma­chine but a work­horse at the same time, it’s just built so right. Oper­a­tionally su­pe­rior, it gives you 26 litres per hun­dred, heaps of grunt, and we’ve put all the best gear avail­able into it.

“If you walk around the en­gine bay, all the clamps and hoses are sil­i­con, the clamps are all set, we’ve used the Ger­man Eberspacher Su­trak AC dual zone with full cli­mate con­trol.

“Again, we’ve put in all the best gear avail­able – it’s all the real deal.

“Be­ing an in­te­gral chas­sis, you save weight, at least half a tonne; this also elim­i­nates pos­si­ble con­flicts with en­gi­neer­ing de­signs be­tween chas­sis and body builder.

“It’s all de­signed as one unit from day one. We are start­ing off in Australia with the three-axle but in around 12 months have planned the re­lease here of the two-axle.

“We plan to grow the busi­ness here by start­ing con­ser­va­tively and grow­ing as our rep­u­ta­tion and cus­tomer base grows.”

“From all the fun­da­men­tals, Van Hool gets it right, doesn’t skimp on any­thing, and em­braces all the lat­est tech­nolo­gies.”

BE­HIND THE SCENES

Van Hool presently has eight em­ploy­ees in Australia but, as an im­porter, its main fo­cus is on its con­trac­tors.

“As an ex­am­ple, we are in Bris­bane cur­rently, and Coach Works is our ap­pointed dealer and rep­re­sen­ta­tive.

“We have other ap­pointed deal­ers and we train them to be up to speed with ev­ery­thing about the prod­uct on both the me­chan­i­cal and body side of things.

It’s a work of art – a beau­ti­ful ma­chine but a work­horse at the same time

AC­CO­LADE WOR­THY

I was hard pressed to find any neg­a­tives about the Van Hool. Maybe the only down­side is that there is cur­rently a seven-month wait to get your hands on one of these fine ma­chines – but I cer­tainly think the wait would be worth it.

Of all the coaches I have had the plea­sure to drive this year, when you con­sider all the fac­tors in­clud­ing looks, fea­tures and the EX 16H’s mid-range price point, the Van Hool cer­tainly would be my choice as the best coach for 2017.

I think only time will tell how the Aus­tralian mar­ket will re­ceive it, but it is very hard not to be im­pressed. I cer­tainly would love to own one.

Van Hool has al­ways kept abreast of new tech­nolo­gies and changed and adapted

Be­low: Look­ing at home on Australia’s roads

Top and right: Fu­tur­is­ti­clook­ing but also func­tional and com­fort­able for the pas­sen­ger; The driver has plenty of room and nu­mer­ous safet fea­tures to boot

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