Finding new drivers, the changing Congress, and new vehicle technologies were the focus of this year’s UMA Expo, which was held in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
Helming his second Expo, UMA President/CEO Stacy Tetschner, along with Ken Presley, VP, legislative & regulatory affairs & industry relations/COO and the association’s lobbyist Becky Weber of Prime Policy, discussed how quiet the last two years have been in the industry as the Administration squashed several proposed regulations, including raising insurance premiums and mandatory obstructive sleep apnea testing.
They also discussed how the level of new entrants is again increasing after being down for several years. However, Presley and Weber warned that with one-third of the incoming Congress being new, the industry would again have to “play more defense” to stop new measures from becoming regulations, including mandatory speed limiters and picking up the fight to increase insurance minimums.
To discuss these issues, as well as the potential end of the gas tax exemption and more, the trio urged attendees to take part in this year’s Congressional Fly-In, which will take place April 2 to 3 in Washington, D.C. This year’s Fly-In is looking to be the largest Fly-In ever, and the first aimed at representing the motorcoach industry’s concerns as a whole.
While Expo focused on several issues, the one hot button issue facing the industry — the driver shortage — was discussed during a few lively sessions, including a group session lead by Chris Goebel and another session hosted by Norris Beren of Risk Reward Consulting, which was sponsored by National Interstate Insurance Co.
Of particular note for Beren was that operators have to do the work to make their business attractive to potential drivers during the recruitment process, while remaining nimble to adapt and change things that aren’t working to keep them on staff.
Beren suggested one way to know what’s not working at your operation is to develop a perception survey that enables drivers and staff to talk about what is and is not working, as well as present ideas that could improve processes at the operation.
Other takeaways from Beren’s session include creating a brand and using that brand to sell your operation both to customers and potential employees; speaking to prospective drivers and getting to know them during their initial contact with your company; developing a multi-level interview process that includes at least three meetings; and using a personality assessment. He also added that he believes sign-on bonuses actually encourage turnover rather than stimulate loyalty.
On the show floor there was a lot of room for optimism and innovation, with many of the industry’s leading vehicle suppliers bringing new vehicles to the market or unveiling plans to do so in the future.
In addition to new seat tracks and a second entry on the Volvo 9700 and new luxury seating on the H3-45, Prevost unveiled its Model Year 2020 X3-45 motorcoach, featuring a more aerodynamic redesign and refinements that will increase fuel economy significantly and further enhance the ultimate coach experience, according to Prevost’s VP/GM Francois Tremblay.
With fuel efficiency a number one concern the company heard from its operators, the standout changes made to the X3-45 started with reshaping the entire front fascia to improve airflow and visibility. Meanwhile, an added slant to the two-piece windshield and a flush windshield gasket are aerodynamic tweaks that enabled the dramatic improvement in fuel consumption, with revisions to the rear cap closely matching the front fascia with the addition of a peripheral upper lip.
Inspired by the H-Series, an additional exterior change to the front alleviated integrating the headlamps into the bumper. Prevost made this modification for ease of maintenance to allow technicians to quickly change out the headlamps.
Prevost is set to begin delivering the newly revamped X3-45 in the third quarter of 2019.
In what VP, Marketing and Product Planning, Brent Maitland called a first, MCI showcased all of its newest models on the market on one show floor, including its redesigned J4500 and the new 35-foot J3500 D45 CRT LE models.
MCI sees its new D45 CRT LE as a game-changer for its modern styling and the patented pending Low Entry (LE) Vestibule design and curb-level automatic ramp offering lower dwell times. In the design process for the D45 CRT LE the company received initial input from individuals from leading disability advocacy groups who endorsed the ramp system and easy access Low-Entry vestibule layout accommodating all wheelchair models and other accessibility devices.
With its initial vehicle planned for a tech company in the California Bay Area, MCI is also developing new high-floor D models with demos planned for 2019.
Sharing all the styling, performance, and maximum parts commonality as its predecessor, MCI also showcased the J3500, which seats up to 44 passengers with best-in-class interior, the largest baggage and payload capacity among all 35-foot vehicles, and top maneuverability. Maitland explained that the J3500 was launched at the request of its customers who wanted a 35-foot version of the popular J4500 they were already running.
During a press conference on the show floor, Maitland and other MCI and NFI Group Inc. officials, including Paul Soubry, Ian Smart, and Patrick Scully, said that electrification of its vehicles is a major goal, with the company planning to put into production electrified versions of all of its vehicles by 2020.
Scully, Soubry, and Smart all added that the company is being methodical in its progression toward electric, including developing realistic and tested ranges for the vehicles, as well as focusing on having the necessary charging infrastructure in place to keep the vehicles moving efficiently from city to city and state to state.
Electrification is also a major part of ABC’s future, with company officials telling METRO Magazine that an electric version of the Van Hool CX45E, in collaboration with Proterra, is expected to debut in the U.S. by the fourth quarter of 2019.
Powered by Proterra’s battery technology and standard J1772-CCS Type-1 charging, the CX45E all-electric prototype is currently undergoing rigorous field and bench testing to optimize performance and reliability.
ABC officials also discussed the launch of its new Express Inventory Program, which will offer operators stock inventory of its CX45 and CX35 coaches, equipped with some of the company’s most popular features, that can be delivered in a quicker timeframe. The company also announced that later in the year it will roll out a new telematics program — ABC Connect — which will offer users a robust solution that provides a wealth of data and information across multiple aspects of fleet operations.
Also on the show floor, TEMSA launched its TEMSA North America subsidiary, which will work directly with bus operators to furnish parts, service, and warranty support, as well as to connect them with new vehicles from the company’s innovative line of coaches.
To support its growth plan and its growing North American customer base, TEMSA opened a national service center in Orlando, Florida, and, in the first quarter, will open dedicated service centers in New Jersey, Illinois, Texas, and California. The company also plans on producing two electrified models and an autonomous bus by 2022.
Next year, UMA will hold Expo Jan. 19 to 23 in Nashville.