DRAGON’S FLAIR

Known as the Yu­tong C122 here but T12 glob­ally, the enig­matic Chi­nese “su­per coach” boasts a Euro­pean blood­line and heart, in terms of mo­tive power and strik­ing styling cues. ABC mag­a­zine ex­clu­sively gets be­hind the wheel and takes one for a spin.

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

Straight from The Ori­ent, but with Ger­man run­ning gear, the Yu­tong C122 – or T12 as glob­ally known – has won hearts and minds and split opin­ion equally so. Sounds like it’s nail­ing it then. Paul Aldridge re­ports.

CHINS were wag­ging and cu­ri­ous eyes ogled in­tensely as the beau­teous new 12m Yu­tong T12 coach made its de­but at the 2017 Aus­trala­sia Bus & Coach Expo held at the Gold Coast Con­ven­tion and Ex­hi­bi­tion Cen­tre late Septem­ber.

To many, there was some­thing dif­fer­ent about this ‘Chi­nese’ coach – and there was. The 12-me­tre high-end tourism prod­uct was tai­lor-made for the Euro­pean mar­ket, ac­cord­ing to Yu­tong. Key com­po­nents were all from world-renowned brands and the seats de­signed with er­gonomics based on the fig­ures (waist­lines?) of Euro­pean peo­ple, it was claimed at the time, thus fully meet­ing the road-traf­fic con­di­tions in Europe and high-end travel needs of pas­sen­gers, the com­pany stated.

With this ‘Aussie’ ve­hi­cle adopt­ing the same plat­form as the high-end tourism coach de­vel­oped for the Euro­pean mar­ket, and given on­line con­jec­ture and an­tic­i­pa­tion in the pro­ceed­ing time un­til now, a long-awaited test drive was def­i­nitely on the cards.

Thanks to Queens­land-based dis­trib­u­tor Bus Stop Sales & Ser­vice, in Archer­field, we were soon be­hind the wheel of one. A game-changer? Let’s find out.

THE DRIVE

Ex­ter­nally, the 53-seat ‘su­per coach’ is cer­tainly one good-look­ing unit, with LED light­ing and chrome side strips and a hand­some curved front that def­i­nitely screams Euro­pean lux­ury. It gives you the im­pres­sion that what’s in­side should be im­pres­sive, and it is. From out­side as a punter if you had to guess, you def­i­nitely would pick it as Euro­pean in de­sign.

We did about a half-hour free­way drive – not steep hills, but long con­stant in­clines – and it just zooms up to 100km/h, sits easy and the torque level is per­fect for a coach of this size. With 350hp on tap and 1,850Nm @ 1,100rpm, any driver will be more than happy.

As Yu­tong says, this is the first time for the com­pany it is us­ing a Mercedes-Benz en­gine and ZF trans­mis­sion in the Aus­tralian mar­ket.

A com­fort fea­ture for the driver is an elec­tric win­dow, which would come in handy on hot days to get air­flow and clear out hot air in our Aussie sum­mers. On the dash is a driver’s aid that as­sists them to con­serve fuel and also lets the driver know how they are driv­ing. Al­ways handy.

The driver’s seat and driver’s cabin are both com­fort­able and roomy, no com­plaints here. The all-dig­i­tal dash is another pos­i­tive; ev­ery­thing is at your fin­ger­tips with no un­com­fort­able or awk­ward move­ments needed.

Driver vis­i­bil­ity is per­fect, there’s am­ple mir­ror vi­sion – again no com­plaints. Lux­ury fea­tures that make the driver’s job eas­ier are a push-but­ton start and key­less en­try; we love that stuff.

We spent some time as a pas­sen­ger on the drive. The seats are com­fort­able, pas­sen­ger legroom is am­ple, pas­sen­ger vis­i­bil­ity ex­cel­lent, and the aisle is roomy. We found the Spheros air-con­di­tion­ing works well and is su­per quiet; no is­sues.

Another fea­ture we re­ally like on this model is the USB ports in the back of the seats for pas­sen­gers. On long trips we all can’t sur­vive without our tech­nol­ogy and be­ing able to charge up while tour­ing is a great bonus.

The T12 has a sur­pris­ingly good turn­ing cir­cle, very im­pres­sive. In­ter­nally, the noise lev­els are su­per quiet, with ben­e­fits to both driver and pas­sen­ger.

BUS STOP SALES & SER­VICE

Dur­ing our test we got the chance to have a good chat with Bus Stop Sales & Ser­vice dealer prin­ci­pal Pete White and sales en­gi­neer IAME (HVD) Dick White. The fa­ther and son team is a big part of the rea­son be­hind the com­pany’s suc­cess. So, how did it all start?

“Es­sen­tially, my dad Dick White is an in­dus­try vet­eran with 40-some­thing years in the game and one of a hand­ful of blokes na­tion­wide that have spe­cialised their whole life in bus sales,” said Pete.

“In the ’70s and ’80s he was a sales man­ager at Den­ning. He then started a com­pany called Mo­tor Coach Aus­tralia, which was a pre­dom­i­nant bus man­u­fac­turer; it was branch out from Den­ning and he since has been in­volved in sell­ing a num­ber of dif­fer­ent bus brands. I have been at bus shows since I was four or five years old.

“Dick’s suc­cess is due to his time in the in­dus­try and his pas­sion for af­ter-sales ser­vice and parts sup­port,” said Pete. So why Yu­tong?

“Neil Wang from Yu­tong ap­proached dad as he was a very suc­cess­ful Queens­land-based sales­man ask­ing if he would be in­ter­ested in rep­re­sent­ing a Chi­nese prod­uct. Ini­tially he was very re­luc­tant. At the time there were five brands in the Chi­nese cat­e­gory that he would es­sen­tially have to com­pete with.

“Dad, at the time, felt the Chi­nese buses weren’t some­thing he wanted to put his name to; they didn’t reach his ex­pec­ta­tions in qual­ity for a long-term life. Twelve months passed and Wang called again ask­ing for dad to rep­re­sent the com­pany and be a part­ner. Dad in­sisted on see­ing the fac­tory and man­u­fac­tur­ing process and see the prod­uct.

“I come from a sales and mar­ket­ing back­ground hav­ing worked for Vir­gin Aus­tralia at the time of their merger from Vir­gin Blue to Vir­gin Aus­tralia. I had been with them for 12 years and had the op­tion with my role to move to Syd­ney. I was un­de­cided,” said Pete.

“I hap­pened to be with dad in the of­fice one day when he was meet­ing with Wang, so I de­cided to sit in on the meet­ing and that day the de­ci­sion was made that dad and I would go see what Yu­tong was about,” Pete said.

Some of the fig­ures Yu­tong have achieved are very im­pres­sive, Pete said. “The Yu­tong com­pany was founded over 50 years ago and to­day are the world’s largest bus man­u­fac­turer pro­duc­ing an as­tound­ing fig­ure of over 77,000 ve­hi­cles every year – over 300 ve­hi­cles a day!”

“Every Yu­tong prod­uct is built solely around an ethos of qual­ity and sup­port, dis­patch in China doesn’t hap­pen un­til all test­ing is com­plete. It’s all done by the com­pany, so all is per­fect for the cus­tomer.

“Be­fore Yu­tong re­lease a prod­uct they have de­vel­oped, they do around a mil­lion kilo­me­tres of test­ing – this could be at their test track in­clud­ing rain and wa­ter test­ing, on a shaker unit, and un­der body test­ing.”

So what are the fun­da­men­tal dif­fer­ences with other brands?

“Other Chi­nese com­pa­nies might be able to cus­tomise to suit clients’ needs, but Yu­tong will not quickly build to a cus­tomer’s spec­i­fi­ca­tions; all is fully tried and tested be­fore they com­mit. It means all of their prod­ucts are fully road ready and not just put to mar­ket for the cus­tomer to test the prod­uct,” ex­plained Pete.

He con­tin­ued: “That is the fun­da­men­tal dif­fer­ence be­tween Yu­tong and all other com­pa­nies. Yu­tong can build it, but they put it into the pipe­line and prob­a­bly af­ter 36 in­ten­sive months you will see a bus. Yu­tong make 77,000 buses a year – some of their com­peti­tors are mak­ing less than a thou­sand per year, so that gives you an idea of the scale of the build process. It’s very dis­tinct, it’s very dif­fer­ent to

…a hand­some curved front that def­i­nitely screams Euro­pean lux­ury.

other fac­to­ries and pro­cesses that I have seen and ex­pe­ri­enced. Their com­mit­ment to the qual­ity when a prod­uct leaves the fac­tory is stand alone, not only within Asia, but also in the world­wide mar­ket.”

“From what we saw, Dick and I de­cided we would start a new com­pany, Bus Stop Sales, in 2013. We are a team of 14 to­tally ded­i­cated to the Yu­tong brand.

“We work along­side body builder Coach Works and, be­tween us, we cus­tomise and retro­fit the Yu­tongs to give cus­tomers dif­fer­ent op­tions and so­lu­tions.

“We aim to be the most pro­fes­sional bus sales com­pany in the Aus­tralian bus in­dus­try,” said Pete. “We have a num­ber of guys in our ser­vice team that are just purely fo­cused on cus­tomer re­la­tion­ships.

“We have in­vested heav­ily … with over AUD$400K in parts here purely be­cause we want to make sure we can of­fer full af­ter-sales sup­port. This, we be­lieve, is part of the suc­cess fac­tor of what we do; it’s been a win­ner for us!” ex­plained Pete.

DE­VEL­OPED FOR AUS­TRALIA

“We got the best ZF trans­mis­sions and ZF axles, we part­nered with Spheros for world-class air- con­di­tion­ing prod­ucts. With Spheros we de­signed a sep­a­rate air-con­di­tion­ing sys­tem for the driver; this fea­ture is cur­rently pop­u­lar in Euro­pean buses.

“Op­er­a­tors asked for a sep­a­rate driver’s fridge; driv­ers’ com­fort rated high on the feed­back and I guess that’s a re­flec­tion of the huge dis­tances Aus­tralian driv­ers can cover,” said White.

“Yu­tong do have their own air-con­di­tion­ing prod­ucts that they pro­duce over 70,000 of per year, so it was a huge de­ci­sion to move away to, but was es­sen­tial to have a com­plete re­design of the T12.”

Other changes? “We have a 410-litre tank be­cause many of the out­back Queens­land and re­gional area op­er­a­tors need that ex­tra ca­pac­ity. Op­er­a­tors asked for fea­tures like su­pe­rior bin space. Yu­tong de­signed new seats and they fea­ture in the T12; stan­dard they come with in-seat USB power.

“We have a full dig­i­tal dash. We liken this ve­hi­cle more to a Euro­pean car than a bus made in China. This is the se­cond pro­to­type re­leased; the first was at the last [Gold Coast] bus show,” he said.

POINT OF DIF­FER­ENCE

“Yu­tong are dif­fer­ent to the other sup­pli­ers as they have left where they are in China and have come to Aus­tralia and ap­pointed a Yu­tong

Yu­tong prod­uct is built solely around an ethos of qual­ity.

fac­tory dis­trib­u­tor, which is what Neil Wang leads here in Aus­tralia,” said White.

“There is very clear dis­tinc­tion that needs to be made, where they are here and we are a dealer off from them.

“There are many ben­e­fits to this be­cause we have a di­rect line into the fac­tory where the other Chi­nese brands that are here have come about by dis­trib­u­tors ap­proach­ing them and get­ting rights to dis­trib­ute here, they pur­chase the ve­hi­cles and im­port them­selves.

“Yu­tong have their own sales and spare parts fa­cil­ity in Syd­ney, they don’t sell di­rect to the mar­ket. They do that through the dealer net­work. We have a lot of our own parts here, but we have their ad­di­tional back-up.

“This is a fun­da­men­tal dif­fer­ence be­tween Yu­tong in Aus­tralia in com­par­i­son to other com­pa­nies,” Pete said proudly.

“The big point with this bus is that we aren’t com­pet­ing against the other Asian-made buses.

“It’s a Yu­tong, which is a Chi­nese name, but that is where it stops. We have made the stand to say this prod­uct is built to a global stan­dard. We can’t of­fer the full cus­tomi­sa­tion that you can get with a fully Aus­tralian-built bus, but we are cer­tainly com­pe­ti­tion for the Euro­pean com­peti­tors,” said Pete.

“Price-wise this bus is far su­pe­rior, a much bet­ter value bus – bet­ter qual­ity with as good or bet­ter sup­port. It be­comes a no-brainer for op­er­a­tors,” said Pete, con­fi­dently.

CON­CLU­SION

It will be in­ter­est­ing to see if this Chi­nese im­port can have a huge im­pact on the Aus­tralian bus in­dus­try. What did im­press with the Yu­tong is a good price point in com­bi­na­tion with a com­pany that takes it time in de­vel­op­ing and test­ing its prod­ucts be­fore putting it to mar­ket.

Top: The all-dig­i­tal dash with ev­ery­thing at your fin­ger­tips.

Above Right:The sporty­look­ing seats are com­fort­able, of­fer am­ple legroom, and there’s ad­e­quate aisle space.

The C122 uses a Mercedes-Benz en­gine.Be­low:

Top: Open up and say ‘ah’! Stor­age space aplenty.

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