If you want to find the manufacturer with the most ambitious product design, development, and testing agenda in the motorcoach industry, look no further than MCI. The motorcoach leader has a timetable of innovations outpacing most others, according to the company.
One part of the story has to do with parent company, NFI Group’s 2015 acquisition and aggressive investment plan for the North American brand. The rest, MCI says, is about keeping ahead of demographic changes and a new class of public and private operators who are re-inventing employee, corporate, and tourism transportation.
“We’re at a unique point in mass transportation,” explains Patrick Scully, MCI executive VP, sales, marketing, and customer service. “You have citizens, employers, and government leaders rethinking the automobile for sustainability from a household cost and environmental standpoint. Affordability, sustainability, and scalability — motorcoach transportation meets all these objectives. With motorcoaches, commuter routes can be quickly established, especially at time when city centers and corporate campuses are growing with workers still traveling longer distances. And MCI is ready with product innovations to address these recent trends.”
Over its 85-year history, MCI has delivered many firsts. In the 1980s, it was the breakthrough MC 9 model that quickly found its way into transit fleets across the country, followed by the 102 DL 3 that evolved into today’s MCI Commuter Coach.
In the late 1990s, the all-luxury E-Series debuted, and by early 2000, transitioned into the luxurious J4500, offering best-in-class legroom, interior and advanced safety features, and lowest-cost-of-operation, aided by a new swing-out cooling module e-Fan system in model year 2019 and the longest warranty in the industry.
The company recently introduced a 35-foot J coach with the same luxury appeal of its best-selling J4500 coach. “Our customers have been asking for a 35-foot J model, and its development had been a part of our long-range strategy with the NFI Group, says Scully. “Our 35-foot coach carries over all of the best-in-class features on the current J4500, including its high-definition driver dash and optional Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS).”
The J3500 provides an economic alternative for existing J4500 owners in near-complete parts commonality and warranty, and offers a tighter turning radius (32 feet by 10 inches) for more maneuverability in traffic and urban settings. On its J-Series, MCI offers next-generation Bendix Fusion, a collision-mitigation system and ADAS safety suite that adds a forward-facing camera and object recognition software to further identify moving and stationary objects, lane markings, road signs, and more.
■ MCI calls the MCI D45 CRT LE with “revolutionary accessibility” among the most significant model launches in its history. This next-generation MCI Commuter Coach was unveiled at the 2017 APTA Expo in Atlanta. Co-designed with longtime partners Designworks, a BMW group company, the MCI D45 CRT LE included a one-of-a-kind evaluation process from accessibility advocacy organizations that endorsed its unique mid-coach, low- entry vestibule design. This patented second entry welcomes and seats all passengers comfortably, including those using wheelchairs and other mobility devices via an automatic curb-level ramp.
After its debut, MCI offered several D45 CRT LE demos for passenger testing with major transit systems and private operators, earning high passenger approval ratings. Performance tests have been equally impressive with the MCI D45 CRT LE passing the industry-standard, 10-month Altoona test for reliability over a 12-year, 500,000-mile service life, according to company officials.
“This Commuter Coach model represents a major breakthrough in MCI passenger experience and offers significantly lower dwell times,” says Brent Maitland, MCI VP, marketing and product planning. “We wanted to create a landmark in accessibility with a design that excelled in curb appeal for the agencies operating it to send a progressive image that brands their service and attracts a new generation of riders.” It’s hit the mark with 83 North American deliveries scheduled so far in 2019, and a battery-electric model debuting in 2020.
■ MCI has adopted a single manufacturing line system to assemble the J-Series and D-Series to speed production and cross-train assembly workers in real time as new design and product features are added.
The company sees this streamlining as key for MCI’s move into battery-electric in 2020 with the MCI J4500e and MCI D45 CRTe LE CHARGE models — the new, single-line approach will allow flexible production of the fast-moving propulsion technologies in the future.
MCI, which pioneered CNG and diesel-electric propulsion systems at customers' request at the start of the new millennium, is working fast to adapt New Flyer’s half-century of electric propulsion knowledge. New Flyer’s Xcelsior CHARGE™ low-floor, battery-electric transit model electric continues to win fans. MCI will adopt the CHARGE moniker in its branding of its electric models.
Designed for impressive power with plenty of torque for steep road grades, the J4500e and D45 CRTe LE models will share a similar battery-electric powertrain platform as it begins to serve the North American market, according to the company.
Such developments occupy the time of Michael McDonald and MCI engineers. McDonald, MCI’s sustainable transportation specialist, joined the company in 2017.
“Regulations and large public transit operations are driving the move to battery-electric today, but as battery technology improves more communities will want the technology,” says McDonald. “We also see power companies with a vested stake in this now. MCI is investing significant resources in this area, and what puts us ahead is our well-built product, our top-tier suppliers, and getting the best out of energy technology available today.”
And again, MCI product testing is showing good results. In early 2018, MCI’s first all-electric J4500e prototype’s performance exceeded MCI engineers’ expectations at both low and high speeds up to a sustained 70 miles per hour on the highway.
Phase two testing took place with passengers in Northern California where the model’s battery packs strategic placement created a comfortable, quite ride and smooth handling. After that, MCI moved the process to Navistar Proving Grounds in New Carlisle, Indiana, with simulated miles testing for durability, along with fine-tuning regenerative braking and HVAC cooling and heating systems. At year-end, the model was going through cold weather and electronic stability control tests at the Keweenaw Research Center in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.
Once all this measurement is done, MCI plans to put its D45 CRTe LE electric model through Altoona testing and have a J4500e and a D45 CRTe LE production demo ready for passenger service testing by mid-year 2019.
Vehicle Innovation Center
■ MCI and New Flyer have put their entire thought process on battery-electric and future technologies on display in Anniston, Alabama at the new Vehicle Innovation Center, known as the VIC. Part training center, part technology exhibition venue, the VIC is the first lab in North America dedicated to the exploration and advancement of bus and coach technology. MCI is using it as learning center for customers that want to keep up-to-speed on battery-electric, ADAS and telematic technology coming to its models.
The company believes that before you sell operators on what’s new and different, you need to show them. “So many things are changing about MCI in regard to innovation, but we are proud of this investment and want to make it face-to-face with our customers," says Maitland.
“With the broad range of product and product improvements, we also have to keep focus on delivering best-in-class parts, service, support, and training,” he adds. “We’ve been enhancing our Service Centers, expanding parts availability and technical training, and showcasing our offerings at major trade shows and operator events this year. It is all a part of innovation at MCI.”