SMART MOVER

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

With I-Bus Aus­tralia dis­tribut­ing and build­ing buses us­ing the same chas­sis and driv­e­trains as Isuzu trucks, we test the lat­est Se­ries 2 NQR 26-32. Paul Aldridge re­ports.

Isuzu is syn­ony­mous with trucks and a rep­u­ta­tion built on strength, de­pend­abil­ity and just be­ing tough. The de­ci­sion for I-Bus Aus­tralia to dis­trib­ute and build buses us­ing the same chas­sis and driv­e­trains was thus a very smart move, in­deed. Here we test its lat­est Se­ries 2 NQR 26-32.

With all that Aus­tralian roads and weather con­di­tions can throw at our ve­hi­cles, I-Bus’s ad­van­tage is its ex­ist­ing rep­u­ta­tion of an in­dus­try stayer and suc­cess story when cus­tomers are look­ing for a tough bus or coach built to per­form and last.

Just over a year ago we had our very first drive of an I-Bus 500 Se­ries and we’ve been in­vited back to the I-Bus head­quar­ters at Burpen­gary, Queens­land, for the re­lease of a new model – the I-Bus Se­ries 2 NQR 26-32 – which had just landed. We heard it was just as tough but smarter and cheaper all around, so it was time to check it out.

Built on the Isuzu NQR 87-190 cab chas­sis (8,700kg GVM 190hp [142kW]), the I-Bus Se­ries 2 NQR 26-32 will de­liver a ve­hi­cle with new fea­tures and changes made based on cus­tomer feed­back and the big pic­ture of whole-of-life cost of own­er­ship, the com­pany states.

We asked sales con­sul­tant Craig Mar­shall what was be­hind the drive to de­velop a new model in such a short pe­riod of time.

“We made the de­ci­sion as an organisati­on to bring out an im­proved, more user friendly ve­hi­cle. I-Bus had iden­ti­fied is­sues and fea­tures since we took over as dis­trib­u­tors that we knew we could im­prove on,” Mar­shall ex­plained.

“We’ve gone, ‘we can do this bet­ter’ and also lis­ten­ing to cus­tomer feed­back; when they say ‘have you ever thought of do­ing this’, so we did.”

“So the owner of Bris­bane Isuzu, the gen­eral man­ager of I-Bus Aus­tralia, and my­self flew to Malaysia to get in­volved with the builders – even down to the pro­fil­ing of the roof and the fact it’s now got flared guards in­stead of a piece of rub­ber over the wheels.

“All of that sort of stuff is… Well, we’re very ex­cited in the way this prod­uct’s come out be­cause ob­vi­ously we haven’t seen it since we were over there and we’re happy to have it ar­rive,” he said.

IM­PRES­SIVE OR­DER TIME

The body work is done in Malaysia by Qual­ity Bus and Coach. Mar­shall ex­plains that I-Bus Aus­tralia con­tin­ues to use their ex­ist­ing builder, but had worked hard to strengthen the re­la­tion­ship.

“What we’ve done is we’re us­ing the same peo­ple, but we’ve spent a lot of time build­ing a much closer re­la­tion­ship with them than our pre­vi­ous dis­trib­u­tors did,” he said.

“We’ve told them this is what we want to see and the ve­hi­cle to­day is the re­sult.

“They have even moved to larger premises to be able to meet our de­mands and get them out pretty quickly for us,” he added.

The new larger premises for Qual­ity Bus and Coach means I-Bus can of­fer a pretty im­pres­sive or­der time.

“We be­lieve that from the day of or­der – if we haven’t got one al­ready on the floor – we’re at some­where be­tween three and four months from go to whoa. So its two weeks in Aus­tralia, two weeks on a ship, four to six weeks over in Malaysia, two weeks back and then the Aus­tralian fit-out and pre-de­liv­ery done by Coach Works at Aca­dia Ridge to re­fine the spec to what­ever the clients re­quires,” Mar­shall stated.

PARTS – CHEAP AS CHIPS

A rare but al­ways wel­comed fea­ture of this new of­fer­ing is a price re­duc­tion. When asked how this was achieved it seems that some smart moves by I-Bus means long-term

When you take into ac­count your ser­vic­ing costs, your trad­ing costs, etc., gen­er­ally they work out cheaper than any­thing else.

ben­e­fits and sav­ings for op­er­a­tors.

“Ba­si­cally, we no longer widen the cabin and they will all have two front doors. By do­ing that we save quite a lot on labour costs,” Mar­shall said.

“It also means that we can use more fac­tory parts like wind­screens. So to buy a wind­screen for one of th­ese is around $300, a bus wind­screen any­where in Aus­tralia is nor­mally way more than that.

“Any of the 60 Isuzu deal­ers in Aus­tralia, or Wind­screens O’Brien – or for that fact most wind­screen sup­pli­ers – will have th­ese wind­screens in stock and can fit them.”

So the price point has changed, but by just how much?

“We’ve brought them down some­where in the re­gion of about 7.5 – 8 per cent. Ob­vi­ously, there’s a re­tail price and the gov­ern­ment price, but we have man­aged to get the pric­ing to come down and we’ve now got higher Aus­tralian con­tent, which did raise some of our labour costs, which has off­set the over­all sav­ings we made.

“But we’ve made them a lot more user friendly for me­chan­ics, as well as the op­er­a­tors, and we’ve gone to more

fac­tory-stan­dard parts, which we didn’t have in the past,” he ex­plained.

NEW LOOK

So is this new look and ap­proach the fu­ture for I-Bus and will it flow on through the other mod­els in the fleet?

“Well, we’re go­ing to clear all of our Se­ries I stock and we are cur­rently de­sign­ing how the new ones will look. They will be a big­ger ver­sion of what we’ve got here, right up to a 75-seater with a 2/3 con­fig­u­ra­tion.

“They are all 260hp [194kW] with the big­gest one 300hp [224kW].”

The Se­ries 2 has a six-speed man­ual gear­box that has been au­to­mated, so there is no clutch pedal in the ve­hi­cle. As Mar­shall ex­plained of the ben­e­fits: “As far as driver er­ror goes, you can’t ride the clutch. You can’t change into the wrong gear – if you’re in sixth gear, you’re do­ing 120km on the high­way, which th­ese cant be­cause they are speed limited, but if you were in the truck ver­sion do­ing 120 and you tried to tap it into fifth gear – if it’s out­side of the al­low­able rev range for that gear – the gear­box goes beep, beep, beep and doesn’t change. So you can’t change into the wrong gear, you can’t over-rev it and you can’t ride the clutch.”

COME IN­SIDE

The in­te­rior trim lev­els, in­stead of hav­ing ba­sic fi­bre­glass air­con­di­tion­ing vents, for ex­am­ple, are now all vinyl trimmed. So all of that re­duces the noise, makes it ac­tu­ally look nicer and then in the front above the cabin there’s an over­head panel de­signed to con­tain school bus light­ing, or an LED des­ti­na­tion light.

This Se­ries 2 could be used in lot of dif­fer­ent ap­pli­ca­tions, but we asked for whom this ve­hi­cle had been de­signed for as the tar­get mar­ket: “This par­tic­u­lar bus be­ing 26 to pos­si­bly 32 seats will be de­signed di­rectly [as a] two-wheel drive for schools, espe­cially if we can get to 32 seats – then ba­si­cally you’re look­ing at a class of 25 or 26 a driver, teacher and a teacher’s aide all in one ve­hi­cle,” he said.

“At the mo­ment a lot of other brands in the mar­ket of the smaller sizes can’t get to those sorts of num­bers be­cause of the GVMs, which means that they’re send­ing out a bus and maybe a mini­van or two other ve­hi­cles.

“The whole idea is that you can

just all hop into one ve­hi­cle, the whole class is in there, off they go.

“We’re just look­ing at con­tin­u­ally im­prov­ing the prod­uct. The TVs have been up­graded, so they now ac­tu­ally have HDMI com­pat­i­bil­ity. In­stead of hav­ing a PA sys­tem that is op­er­ated off a driver stalk next to the driver’s ear, we’re go­ing [with] wire­less mi­cro­phones – so that if you have just the driver us­ing it, he can just put it on his ear and he’s away.

“If you have a tour guide we ac­tu­ally have th­ese de­signed now for a rear­wards fac­ing seat. All of the min­ing site ve­hi­cles have a rear­ward seat fit­ted for the trainer that have a HDMI plug next to the seat and a wire­less mi­cro­phone.

“So the trainer sits be­tween the driver and the front pas­sen­ger look­ing down the aisle, and that’s some­thing that can be put into any ve­hi­cle.

”What we like is that the whole qual­ity level is just steps above what we had be­fore be­cause we’ve asked for it. We’ve spec­i­fied this is what we want and we are so proud of the fin­ished prod­uct,” he ex­plained.

THE TEST DRIVE

Prob­a­bly the smartest move by I-Bus with this model is the re­turn to the orig­i­nal cab and chas­sis, elim­i­nat­ing any costly parts or de­lays with cus­tom parts.

All parts are stock avail­able at 60 deal­ers coun­try-wide and the wind­screen-re­place­ment price and ease of avail­abil­ity from stan­dard sup­pli­ers will mean re­duced time off road and re­duced costs to op­er­a­tors.

Go­ing through a round­about, the gear changes are re­ally good. When a bit of an in­cline there were no is­sues with the au­to­mated man­ual trans­mis­sion (AMT).

Through the gears, first and sec­ond gear are a bit louder, but once you get through the gears driv­ing is very smooth and cabin noise re­duces sig­nif­i­cantly.

We did both free­way and coun­try roads, plus did a se­ries of bends, and it sits re­ally flat when cor­ner­ing. Power and torque per­formed well un­der all con­di­tions.

This bus has the po­ten­tial for 32 pas­sen­gers, but it doesn’t feel big to drive. Driv­ing is easy; you might ex­pect with be­ing a truck chas­sis and drive-train that driv­ing and han­dling might be more truck than bus-like, but this is good driv­ing, seem­ingly no ef­fort re­quired.

The Isuzu mir­rors give great vi­sion top to bot­tom of the bus.

This bus has the po­ten­tial for 32 pas­sen­gers, but it doesn’t feel big to drive.

The in­ter­nal mir­ror is larger than the pre­vi­ous model, for much im­proved in­ter­nal vi­sion.

The blind spot mir­rors work well. Com­ing into a corner, we had to veer to the left and the last three cars were eas­ily vis­i­ble. They huge mir­rors are as stan­dard, so no com­plaints there.

TACTILE TREASURE

A wel­come up­date in­ter­nally that will make for a more com­fort­able pas­sen­ger ex­pe­ri­ence and more lux­u­ri­ous look is the upgrade from plas­tic and fiber­glass in­ter­nal fit­tings to soft-touch vinyls.

The vinyls used are also meant to add to the noise re­duc­tion in­ter­nally; again a pos­i­tive change. It’s the col­lec­tive im­prove­ments and up­grades that add up to a big dif­fer­ence in fin­ish and re­fine­ment.

What’s re­ally im­pres­sive is the sound qual­ity of this new bus – not that the Se­ries 1 was loud, but this new model is def­i­nitely qui­eter – a big bonus for driver and pas­sen­gers.

The elim­i­na­tion of the cab widen­ing process has meant that all the sound dead­en­ing is in­tact and the up­grades to the in­te­rior in com­bi­na­tion give a much qui­eter drive.

An­other big change on the new model is that it no longer has an out­ward-open­ing air-op­er­ated door. It’s now an in-swing­ing elec­tric door, which should cause far fewer prob­lems be­cause it re­duces all the pos­si­bil­i­ties of failure with air leaks and com­pres­sor is­sues, I-Bus says. We’re as­sum­ing the out­ward door also had lim­i­ta­tions with space and hit­ting ob­sta­cles or the gut­ter, so this stream­lined sys­tem is much safer.

An­other like­able fea­ture are the changes made to the ease of daily checks; they’ve now got one panel on the driver’s side and you’ve got your coolant and fuel fil­ters right next to the air cleaner – daily checks all in one spot. The air-con and diesel tank are also in this area, so it couldn’t be sim­pler.

As for the en­gine hatch, now you just have to pop two clips for ac­cess to the en­gine and oil dip­stick whereas be­fore you had to undo screws – a huge im­prove­ment.

The rear lug­gage com­part­ment door has also had an upgrade to a new hinged sys­tem for a weath­er­tight seal, said to elim­i­nate pinch­ing of the seals and en­sure no dust or wa­ter can en­ter. It just feels stronger to open and close.

The new model has dual doors; we like the driver’s side en­try door, which makes for easy en­try and exit. It will also as­sist all age groups of driv­ers as you no longer have to climb over the en­gine com­part­ment to en­ter the driver’s cabin area. This also would be of ben­e­fit as a safety bonus in times of emer­gency for ease of exit. Nice one!

LIT­TLE THINGS, BIG DIFFERENCE­S

Some of the high-fives about this new I-Bus are not about the drive so much, but the thought process that has gone into its re­de­vel­op­ment. Small things have been looked at, changed, up­graded and tweaked to give a fin­ished prod­uct that – al­though ef­fec­tively in a lot of ways is so sim­i­lar to its pre­de­ces­sor – in many oth­ers is so much more.

Mar­shall had proudly stated ear­lier that one in ev­ery four trucks on the road is Isuzu and last year the com­pany cel­e­brated 30 years of out­selling ev­ery other truck in Aus­tralia. So, with those brag­ging rights for Isuzu trucks, it’s easy to see the logic be­hind I-Bus us­ing the chas­sis.

“They are not the cheap­est truck on the mar­ket, which means that the buses aren’t go­ing to be the cheap­est ve­hi­cle on the mar­ket. But at the end of the life of a ve­hi­cle, when you take into ac­count your ser­vic­ing costs, your trad­ing costs, etc., gen­er­ally they work out cheaper than any­thing else.

“And that’s one of the rea­sons [why] you’ll pay a lit­tle more to buy one to­day, but in five years’ time or seven years’ time, when you go to up­date it you’ll ac­tu­ally make your money back,” he ex­plained.

We’re very ex­cited in the way this prod­uct’s come out.

Above: This par­tic­u­lar bus be­ing 26 to pos­si­bly 32 seats will be de­signed di­rectly as a twowheel drive for schools.

Op­po­site, above: Var­i­ous tweaks have al­lowed Isuzu to re­duce the cost of this new bus by 7.5–8 per cent.

Below: Isuzu says that the I-Bus has been de­signed to be more user friendly for me­chan­ics.

Top: The body work is done in Malaysia by Qual­ity Bus and Coach.

Top: An­other change is the move to a an in-swing­ing elec­tric pas­sen­ger door.

Below: The rear lug­gage com­part­ment door has also had an upgrade to a new hinged sys­tem for a weath­er­tight seal.

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