Motorcoach Expo Offers Glimpse of Industry’s Tech Future

Posted on March 7, 2017 by Alex Roman - Also by this author - About the author

New innovations on the show floor, engaging keynote addresses, and a new technology track and driver’s competition were just some of the highlights of this year’s UMA Expo, which was held in St. Louis the last week of February.

A major thread running throughout the show was the departure of UMA President/CEO Vic Parra, who was honored and acknowledged by friends and members, including at the Vision Awards where he said his official goodbye to the association.

Vic Parra
Vic Parra

“You don’t know if you’ve done anything of use or value until you walk away from it,” said Parra on the show floor. “I didn’t expect, in any way, all of the kindness and positive words that I received throughout the show and it has really meant a lot to me.”

Two notable keynote addresses during the show encouraged operators to embrace change in order to grow their businesses and be prepared for the future.

Tom Kraus, group director, heritage marketing, for Anheuser-Busch InBev, discussed the making of some of the company’s most iconic Super Bowl commercials as well as the thought process that goes into perpetuating the company’s brand.

Kraus also told the audience that it is imperative that as leaders of their operations they must encourage their team to dream big and to not be afraid to celebrate wins no matter how big or small. He also said it is imperative for motorcoach companies to anticipate change in the marketplace and to have a plan for five years out that remains fluid in case new changes should arise.

Tom Kraus
Tom Kraus

Tying back into his discussion about Anheuser-Busch’s commercials, Kraus also said it is important for leaders to know what their company’s values are and to effectively communicate that brand both internally and externally.

Meanwhile, Uber NYC’s Josh Mohrer gave an overview of how the ridesharing application works and how it has impacted the way people travel in cities throughout the nation. He also talked about how Uber is set to evolve in the future, which included looking to both expand its reach and the eventual growth of automated vehicles.

To help operators grow their businesses and be prepared for the way the market continues to change, Mohrer encouraged them to be where there customers are looking, whether that means on social media or in print; be ready when your customers are, particularly if you receive an opportunity on short notice; and when new business opportunities knock, be sure to “answer the door.”

During a lively Q&A session, Mohrer assured the crowd that Uber is not planning on competing with motorcoaches but noted the growing usage of technology similar to Uber’s already popping up in the industry.

Gene Wright with B&W Charters, Austin Arksey and Peter Rudnik with Trinity Transportation, and Jodi Merritt with H&L Charter Company discussed best practices for SEO, SEM and social media.
Gene Wright with B&W Charters, Austin Arksey and Peter Rudnik with Trinity Transportation, and Jodi Merritt with H&L Charter Company discussed best practices for SEO, SEM and social media.

New track, awards

To keep operators up-to-date with the changing landscape, this year’s Expo featured a new technology track, touching on topics such as how tech is influencing group travel choices and how to manage your current digital presence.

During the “What's in the New Technology Tactics Like, SEO, SEM, Analytics, and Social Media” session Gene Wright with B&W Charters, Austin Arksey and Peter Rudnik with Trinity Transportation, and Jodi Merritt with H&L Charter Co. gave attendees a best practices look at how to boost their online presence, as well as discussed ways to use analytics to understand where to find those potential customers online.

The session began with an overview on Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and Search Engine Marketing (SEM), breaking down the fact that SEO is essentially free, with a company’s ranking able to be boosted through having strong content on its website, which includes images and videos. On the other hand, while SEM does come with a cost, it can be attained at a relatively low price through services including Google AdWords and Google Analytics.

The session ended with a discussion on social media, including knowing what to post and where to post it, as well as a discussion on when to boost stories on Facebook and Twitter to increase the number of people who see key posts.

Also new to this year’s Expo was the International Driver Competition, which included 26 drivers from 16 operations competing for the privilege of being named Grand Champion.

“We had about 68 drivers apply for this year’s competition and whittled it down to 26 based on our criteria,” Parra said. “It was a very tough competition, a lot of good drivers out there, and the event went very well.”

This year’s Grand Champion was Stephen Davis of AT&T Charters of Louisburg, N.C., while Tim Brown of Festus, Mo.’s Huskey Trailways won the maintenance competition.

METRO's Motorcoach Operators of the Year Michael and Tom Giddens.
METRO's Motorcoach Operators of the Year Michael and Tom Giddens.

During the show, METRO Magazine named Garden Grove, Calif.-based Pacific Coachways Charter Services Inc.’s Tom and Michael Giddens as its 2017 Motorcoach Operator of the Year. METRO has presented this award, which honors operators for their exemplary service as well as contributions to the industry, at Expo for more than 20 years.

Other big winners included Bozeman, Mont.’s Karst Stage (UMA Green Highway Award, sponsored by MCI); Ames, Iowa’s CIT Signature Transportation (UMA Vision Award, Small Fleet Operator); and Wichita, Kan.’s Village Tours (UMA Vision Award, Large Fleet Operator).

MCI's Brent Maitland, Patrick Scully, Ian Smart and Paul Soubry.
MCI's Brent Maitland, Patrick Scully, Ian Smart and Paul Soubry.
Show floor

During a press briefing in the MCI booth, President/CEO Paul Soubry explained that the company’s first year under the New Flyer umbrella was a success, with the pair selling 3,600 total buses last year, while also increasing employment and beginning to make significant investments in facilities.

Also on hand was Ian Smart, who was recently named president, motorcoach business, MCI, who discussed the company’s three top priorities: continuing to improve responsiveness, rolling out new product updates, and focusing on IT and other tech improvements.

From the product update standpoint, MCI recently announced its intention to bring both battery-electric and 35-foot coaches, based on the J4500 model, to the motorcoach market, with MCI officials looking to launch those new products around 2018. The company also recently launched its updated online parts store, which includes a series of enhancements for a better customer service experience, including superior inventory searches, on-point suggestions, and sharper photos of each individual part.

On the Expo show floor, MCI featured the latest generation of the EPA 2017 Cummins ISX12 and Detroit DD13 engines on its 2017 J4500 model, which also includes options such as advanced driver assistance through the Bendix Wingman Advanced system, a 360-degree camera system, and Amaya GT and Kiel 2050 seats. Also featured was a 2017 Setra S 417, featuring a redesigned front fascia and improved rear styling.

ABC Companies held several press events throughout the show, but a big focus in their booth was the unveiling of their Van Hool NextGen FX prototype coach.

ABC's NextGen vehicle
ABC's NextGen vehicle

“Riders’ expectations are changing, we wanted to create a prototype of what a passenger motorcoach could look like to adapt to those changes,” said Jay Oakman, ABC’s VP/commercial operations.

The multi-zoned tour of the two-door Van TX45, included an advanced technology driver area, featuring a cloud-based navigation system, predictive intelligent systems, advanced driver assistance, and a host of telematics solutions. Other features of the coach included Kiel passenger seating with large-monitor Bosch infotainment; touch screen computers with multi-network connectivity to support Wi-Fi, streaming media, and real-time CCTV applications; a rear conference room/lounge with an Xbox One advanced multi-player gaming system and an electrochromatic dimmable privacy window feature; and a virtual reality center.

What motorcoaches could look like in the future.
What motorcoaches could look like in the future.

Oakman and the ABC team explained, while some of the NextGen FX features are still in the prototype phase, many of the features on the coach at Expo are currently available as upgrade options on Van Hool equipment.

In addition to celebrating the delivery of the 1,000th Van Hool CX model sold in North America with Carroll, Iowa’s Windstar Lines, ABC also discussed the recent restructuring of the company, which included Roman Cornell being named as its new chief commercial officer, and the future opening of a new 30,000 square-foot service facility in Newark, Calif. that will also include two acres of parking for motorcoach companies providing services in the fast-growing metro areas between San Jose and San Francisco.

Next year, UMA Expo will be held in San Antonio, Texas from Jan. 6 to 10.

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