LONG LIVE THE KING

King Long has been work­ing hard to make top-of-the-line Chi­nese buses and coaches that meet the high stan­dards and tough work­ing con­di­tions of the Aus­tralian mar­ket. ABC mag­a­zine took the com­pany’s 6130 coach for an im­pres­sively com­fort­able test drive.

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

We headed to Lo­gan Coaches to test drive one of King Long’s most im­por­tant ve­hi­cles for this mar­ket – and came away pretty im­pressed. Paul Aldridge re­ports.

Based in Xi­a­men, China, King Long is one of the world’s su­per­power bus and coach builders that’s been shak­ing up the Aus­tralian bus in­dus­try. The re­al­ity is com­pe­ti­tion is a good thing, as it gives us ac­cess to the best prod­ucts for the best price. To­day, our in­dus­try has a choice of the world’s best tech­nolo­gies and ad­vance­ments com­bined with our trusted lo­cal man­u­fac­tur­ers and builders ex­per­tise. We re­ally have be­come spoilt for choice.

King Long recog­nises that the Aus­tralian mar­ket not only has unique op­er­at­ing con­di­tions and reg­u­la­tory re­quire­ments, but also has amongst the high­est safety and qual­ity stan­dards in the global bus and coach in­dus­try.

Stephen Long, re­gional sales man­ager for King Long, said: “So they’re not just a stan­dard bus that comes off the pro­duc­tion line; there’s a lot of time and re­search that goes into try­ing to make sure that the ve­hi­cles are go­ing to suc­cess­fully op­er­ate in our busy towns, but also suit the re­quire­ments of the coun­try re­gions.

“I guess we work very closely with King Long [China], with re­gards to de­vel­op­ing our prod­ucts. It’s a con­tin­ual process to get bet­ter and bet­ter in re­gards to the Aus­tralian con­di­tions.

“It’s all about try­ing to meet the Aus­tralian stan­dards, as well. I guess King long uses our re­quire­ments … as a bit of a role model for the other mar­kets and, ul­ti­mately, they sell to over 130 coun­tries – so they take all that on board to try and get their prod­uct bet­ter and bet­ter. It’s an im­por­tant process. I guess you can look at the Ja­panese prod­uct 50

years ago; it was all cheap Ja­panese stuff – it is now top-of-the-line mo­tor ve­hi­cles and China is hard on their tail, es­pe­cially in the bus in­dus­try,” he ex­plained.

THE DRIVE

We test drove the King Long 6130. It’s a 13-me­tre coach and comes in a 12.3 vari­ant – so it’s just that 700 ‘mills’ dif­fer­ence, but this al­lows an ex­tra seat, so that means the 6120 seats 57 and a 6130, like this one, has 61 seats.

“This par­tic­u­lar body shape has been out since Cav bought it in 2013. There have been no changes other than the odd up­date with trans­mis­sion and bits and pieces; it is essen­tially the same ve­hi­cle prior to this model here,” ex­plained Long.

Per­son­ally, driv­ing the 6130 was my very first drive of a King Long. Straight out of the de­pot through a round­about and the turn­ing cir­cle is im­pres­sive. The ZF Steer­ing with ZF front in­de­pen­dent axle and ZF rear axle make turn­ing easy, per­fect for city driv­ing – es­pe­cially as these buses are used for school char­ters in sub­ur­ban ar­eas. You know the mo­ment you start driv­ing how a ve­hi­cle is go­ing to feel, and this 6130 feels good.

The bus was wait­ing in the sun all day while we did the in­ter­views and the Thermo King air-con cuts in re­ally fast. The coach has the ad­di­tion of pri­vacy glass that has an ex­tra dark tint, which comes stan­dard. There are also elec­tronic screens for the driver (a nec­es­sary lux­ury in our harsh cli­mate). Un­less you have driven for hours in a coach it’s hard to imag­ine the sun that the driver gets ex­posed to, so an im­por­tant part of driver com­fort is sun pro­tec­tion.

For the op­po­site weather con­di­tions there is a driver’s in-built demis­ter and the mir­rors are also elec­tri­cally ad­justed and heated, so the wet or cold con­di­tions are cov­ered as well.

The Cum­mins ISL 8.9-litre Euro 5 en­gine pump­ing out 320hp gives you plenty of power on tap and quite a good bit of torque cou­pled with the ZF six-speed Eco­l­ife trans­mis­sion with in­te­grated re­tarder.

Straight away you feel ‘at one’ with the bus; it’s su­per re­spon­sive, very easy driv­ing. Some­times it takes a bit to get the feel for the bus, but this is re­ally a plea­sur­able drive.

The King Long is run­ning a Wabco in­de­pen­dent sys­tem, front and rear disc brakes with an anti-lock­ing break sys­tem and elec­tronic break­ing front and rear, and airbag sus­pen­sion with ‘raise and lower’ (ECAS) as stan­dard. Do­ing some tight turns and pas­sen­ger com­fort would be per­fect – lit­tle move­ment.

In do­ing some re­vers­ing – and although there is a re­vers­ing cam­era – we went ‘old school’ and re­lied on

Straight away you feel ‘at one’ with the bus; it’s su­per re­spon­sive, very easy driv­ing

the mir­rors, which worked per­fectly. Yes the cam­era is fool­proof and ideal for safety around both adults and chil­dren, but the point was that mir­ror vi­sion was good. The cam­era comes with re­vers­ing radar dis­tance sen­sors to make re­vers­ing fault-free.

Up in­clines it reaches speed well. The road was quite un­even, but the drive was smooth. We got to go through some un­ex­pected road works, where we had to ma­noeu­vre around witches’ hats ran­domly, but the King Long han­dled these per­fectly; the steer­ing is light but pre­cise.

The re­tarder sys­tem also works well. We had it on a stage three do­ing about 60km/h ap­proach­ing a stop; you back off smooth and we hadn’t needed to use the full sys­tem. Nice one.

In the driver’s cab, one mi­nor change we would have pre­ferred is the cruise con­trol to be on a stalk in­stead of dash mounted. This is very mi­nor and prob­a­bly based on per­sonal pref­er­ence of us­ing a stalk set-up, which can be done with mi­nor hand move­ments. All other con­trols are re­ally eas­ily op­er­ated. The driver’s elec­tric win­dow is per­fect, driver air com­fort is spot-on.

Im­pres­sively, with the com­bi­na­tion of the Chi­nese build with the Euro­pean per­for­mance at a com­pet­i­tive pric­ing, few driv­ers wouldn’t en­joy be­ing be­hind the wheel of the 6130.

It’s cer­tainly one for the ‘must check it out’ list. A nice driv­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, in­deed.

LO­GAN’S HEROES

Pur­chased in 2001, Lo­gan Coaches and Beaudesert Bus Ser­vice were pur­chased by the Cavbus Group. From there they grew to pur­chase Glass House Coun­try Coaches in 2007. Since the start, Pete Ca­vanagh has been the man­ager.

As Cav (as he likes to be called) ex­plained: “Cur­rently, Lo­gan Coaches have 130 staff and 110 ve­hi­cles com­pany-wide. We pur­chased some King Longs in NSW prior to the sale of our com­pany in NSW and, to date over­all, we have pur­chased about 30 King Long ve­hi­cles. Pre­dom­i­nantly, we do school ser­vices, like gov­ern­ment con­tract school ser­vices, and also gen­eral char­ter. Gen­eral char­ter cov­ers quite a range; we also do work for the cruise ships and also the rail re­place­ment.”

WHY CHOOSE KING LONG?

“We ac­tu­ally bought our first one back in 2013 from the Mel­bourne bus show, and out of all the Chi­nese stuff, it was the only one that had ZF right ‘round. We al­ready had some Chi­nese prod­uct and we knew that they were hav­ing diff prob­lems and

stuff like that, so com­po­nen­try was an im­por­tant as­pect of the de­ci­sion. We took a team of four me­chan­ics with us to the bus show, so it was a thor­ough look­ing over be­fore we made that first pur­chase.

“I also had five trips to China to look at buses – and I mean all sorts of buses – so we re­searched the prod­uct very well. Well, I think prob­a­bly an im­por­tant part of the whole con­cept that we’re look­ing at is we have seen a few bus-build­ing com­pa­nies come and go, so we wanted to pick some­body that was se­cure and that had the man­age­ment that we knew we’re go­ing to keep them go­ing,” ex­plained Cav.

“We have a very good re­la­tion­ship with all King Long staff from the sales team right through to the se­nior man­age­ment.

“From that very first ve­hi­cle we didn’t have a lot of is­sues, so ob­vi­ously the King Long pro­ce­dures and put­ting to­gether of the body work was very good. So, from there we have slowly bought more and grown with the King Long fam­ily,” he added.

As ex­pected, when a large and suc­cess­ful bus com­pany pur­chases its very first bus or coach from a new man­u­fac­turer it would be hoped that it could be­come a con­tin­u­ing re­la­tion­ship that fi­nan­cially ben­e­fits both par­ties. Ar­guably, Lo­gan Coaches buy­ing 30 King Long coaches in five years alone speaks for the trust and re­la­tion­ship built be­tween these two com­pa­nies.

LEAV­ING AN IM­PRES­SION

In the Aus­tralasian bus in­dus­try, the big pink peanut-eat­ing ele­phant in the room is there are still a lot of haters and crit­ics out there for Chi­nese bus prod­uct tra­di­tion­ally. A lot of peo­ple have had is­sues in the past – and fair play to those per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ences – but the re­al­ity is ar­guably over the past few years much of the Chi­nese prod­uct has be­come very good. For King Long and its mar­ket­ing phrase “Leave an Im­pres­sion”, it’s about “try­ing to make sure that when the ve­hi­cles are out on the road with the busi­ness’ name on it you want peo­ple to say, “‘that’s the bus that I want to go on’,” said Long.

Long ex­plained: “The core val­ues of King Long are all fo­cused around con­stant im­prove­ment. From their en­try into the bus-build­ing mar­ket they have be­lieved in in­vest­ing into new tech­nol­ogy, re­search and de­vel­op­ment. We build 25,000 [to] 28,000 buses a year and those go to a wide va­ri­ety of des­ti­na­tions. In the early days, we used to build with a stain­less

An ad­van­tage is that we can be flex­i­ble, as we can bring buses without seats and use lo­cal, Aus­tralian seats.

steel frame and that was our agent for mar­ket­place King Long. Then we in­vested into elec­trophore­sis dip­ping back in 2012, and we took that on board and all of our ve­hi­cles now are dipped be­cause, although the tech­nol­ogy is not new, it’s very new for buses and for large ve­hi­cles – it is pretty rare.”

He con­tin­ued: “This process is about try­ing to pre­vent the rust is­sue, es­pe­cially if you’re op­er­at­ing in coastal ar­eas, as is very com­mon­place for our coun­try. It’s an 18-stage process where the frame and the com­po­nents are taken through a mas­sive dip­ping bath and, with strate­gic drill points, you can coat the in­side and ex­te­rior of the met­al­work, as well. Cov­er­age is pretty much 100 per cent. Very im­pres­sive.”

ALL ‘ROUND SENSE

These days you can’t have down­time be­cause you can’t af­ford to keep a whole lot of spare ve­hi­cles to cover work­shop is­sues, so the least amount of time a ve­hi­cle can have off the road the bet­ter for the com­pany.

As Long ex­plained: “It gets to a stage where it’s not just about sell­ing the bus, it’s about sup­port­ing the bus. So, ul­ti­mately, it’s a tool for the busi­ness, but it needs to be on the road. This means that if there’s an is­sue that does arise it needs to be ad­dressed pretty quickly.”

Cav added: “We also get good fuel economy, which is very im­por­tant, and they are re­li­able, the qual­ity is good. They are ver­sa­tile; they are per­fect for the school ser­vices but they are also good enough for the char­ter side of the busi­ness and peo­ple just like them.

“The ver­sa­til­ity means you can do the school run in the morn­ing and then pick up a bunch of ladies and take them out for the day. We can use them for 99 per cent of our work and the groups are al­ways happy. The driv­ers are happy, so if you give them some­thing else they say ‘where is our bus?’ – they all know what they want”.

He added: “The me­chan­ics have got no is­sue with the Cum­mins prod­uct and they’ve got no is­sue with the ZF prod­ucts. Any me­chanic these days, if they aren’t up to speed on those two com­po­nents they shouldn’t be a me­chanic ba­si­cally, so it’s some­thing that they’ve all been taught and shown. It’s just sec­ond na­ture to them.

“Spare parts are read­ily avail­able for us. You can carry a few con­sum­ables, but you don’t re­ally have to carry too much else be­cause it’s all read­ily and quickly avail­able if you need them.”

MEET­ING CUS­TOMER NEEDS

So can King Longs be cus­tomised to suit cus­tomer needs, or do they just come as ba­si­cally stock prod­uct?

“These days buses look more and more alike, they are all tak­ing on a lot more of the Euro­pean look with

‘grasshop­per’ mir­rors as op­posed to the drop-down mir­rors, but we can – depend­ing on your pref­er­ence – struc­ture a ve­hi­cle to suit dif­fer­ent cus­tomer needs,” said Long.

“An ad­van­tage is that we can be flex­i­ble, as we can bring buses without seats and use lo­cal, Aus­tralian seats. We can also do drop-down mir­rors; we can change the look of the bus, within rea­son. Essen­tially be­cause of the man­u­fac­tur­ing process … the bus ex­ter­nals are fixed, the look on the buses is fixed, but we can cer­tainly per­son­alise to a cus­tomer’s re­quire­ments.

“A while ago I sold a bus to a tour guide guy in Tas­ma­nia and it was one of our 10-me­tres. He wanted it for tourist jobs, so he was very spe­cific (this was an­other bus show or­der). He wanted toi­lets in it. Or­di­nar­ily you can sit 41 seats, [but] he wanted only 36 seats, so a lot of legroom and he wanted them painted sil­ver. So, it’s all about try­ing to get the prod­uct that the op­er­a­tor needs, what’s best for their busi­ness,” Long said.

A PROUD ACHIEVE­MENT

A ma­jor achieve­ment for King Long in Aus­tralia has been their ac­cep­tance as a prod­uct on the NSW Bus Pro­cure­ment Panel, not once but twice.

“I think for a Chi­nese com­pany, that shows that King Long have been very ac­tive in mak­ing sure that they have got the qual­ity and the stan­dards needed to be an ac­cepted ve­hi­cle. Oth­ers want to be on this panel, but King Long have achieved this im­por­tant ac­com­plish­ment,” Cav ex­plained.

Long proudly added: “We were the only Chi­nese prod­uct on the NSW Pro­cure­ment Panel, which in a sense as a [NSW] school con­tract op­er­a­tor … you can only buy off a se­lected list of buses. So we had to jump a lot of hur­dles and go through a lot of hoops. It all comes back to feed­back from our cus­tomers as to be­ing happy with the prod­uct, not just the prod­uct line, but also the af­ter-sales ser­vice. Since then that panel has been re-en­listed, we’ve got back on again as well.”

Top: The ZF steer­ing with ZF front in­de­pen­dent axle and ZF rear axle make turn­ing easy.Above Right:Few driv­ers wouldn’t en­joy be­ing be­hind the wheel of the 6130.Be­low Right:The 6130 can seat 61 pas­sen­gers.

Top: The Cum­mins ISL 8.9-litre Euro 5 en­gine pump­ing out 320hp gives you plenty of power.Above Right:Lo­gan Coaches pre­domi­nently do school ser­vices, so the rear cam­era is ideal for safety.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.