VIDEO REVIEW: WRIGHTBUS STREETLITE WF 8.8M

By: Paul Aldridge, Photography by: Paul Aldridge, Video by: Lachlan Keevill


Wrightbus may not be a brand on everybody’s lips in Australasia just yet, but with its innovative and tidy-looking StreetLite midibus packing a big micro-hybrid punch it soon just might be. We took one for quick spin and came away well impressed.

VIDEO REVIEW: WRIGHTBUS STREETLITE WF 8.8M
Visually the Streetlite is distinctive from front to back.

It takes a few moments to fathom what great exports Northern Ireland has produced, but once the penny drops it’s a quality list of who’s who. There’s F1 ace Eddie ‘Irv the Swerve’ Irvine; pro golfer Rory McIlroy – who once formed a sporting power couple with tennis star Caroline Wozniacki; and who could forget the legendary Manchester United footballing icon George Best – who famously quipped, "I spent a lot of money on booze, birds and fast cars – the rest I just squandered."
With reputations for doing things that stand out like that, it’s no doubt Northern Ireland’s Wrightbus has high expectations to meet. And it does so with oodles of class and style.
In terms of buses, Wrightbus is best known for that updated version of the London Routemaster double-deck – or so-called ‘Boris Bus’ – but with units like its micro-hybrid Streetlite midibus on the market here now it’s well placed to make its equally indelible mark.
Recently, we were handed the keys to test drive a Streetlite WF 8.8m (Wheel Forward) and good impressions were instant. Visually the Streetlite is distinctive. The large, round-based front window goes extremely low. This definitely is a positive for driver visibility and gives the bus a modern, open appearance that makes this bus easily recognisable as a Wrightbus.
The internals echo the front round window shape with a curved roofline and rear window.
Overall internally, the curved roofline gives the appearance of more headroom and tall occupants should feel right at home here.
The Streetlite 8.8m as tested had a seating capacity of 33 and a maximum standing capacity of 39 passengers and is a wheel-forward model. What’s that, you may ask?
This allows for a flatter floor area that offers more flexibility with seating options. This option is great particularly in the smaller buses, as passenger capacity and comfort can be maximised.
One safety feature that we hadn’t seen before was the emergency exit door placed halfway back on the driver’s side. This could be used for front or side collisions if they impacted on the normal exits, or if quick evacuation of passengers was needed. It’s a feature you’d hope to never use, but would certainly be welcomed in emergency situations.
A comfort feature that was impressive is the padded backrest that is placed for use by wheelchair users. The area has a safety bar that can be placed in securely by the driver for extra protection and passenger stability. This padded backrest would be both a good comfort feature, as the back of the chair is placed against it. It would give passengers somewhere to rest their head and this would give extra protection in case of collision or harsh braking. Often wheelchair provisions are adequate and safe, but comfort isn’t a consideration.

LOOKS TO THRILL

Externally, the placement of the headlamps outside the impact zone, the one-piece bumper and top-mount wipers are all design features part of the Wrightbus ethos to achieve low lifetime operational costs. Nice one!
Driver daily checks are made simpler with the addition of service accessibility doors while the fuel tank access is height improved with a raised, simple-to-reach access point. Drivers that fuel up will understand why this feature is beneficial for what can often be an uncomfortable job. The driver’s area is what you would expect from a route bus – basic but comfortable and spacious enough for long legs.
We got the chance to have a substantial drive through suburban areas, just as this bus would be expected to do on routes.
The Daimler OM906LA Euro 6 engine is quite powerful for a four-cylinder at 208hp. Although unloaded, uphill there was plenty of torque and it was quiet zippy, so you could feel that the capacity was certainly there to have plenty of power when fully loaded. The Voith gearbox changes were seamless and smooth, no complaints here. Suburban Melbourne has many narrow laneways and so maneuvering was easy, the Streetlite certainly passing the suburban driving test with aplomb.
Overall, the Streetlite was definitely as expected and did not disappoint.

 Related article: Bus Travel NZ takes on three Euro 6 Streetlites
Related article: Bus Travel NZ takes on three Euro 6 Streetlites

LOCAL INPUT?

While we do like to see Australian-made components or features on a bus or coach and local knowledge and craftsmanship utilised, this British-built bus certainly is impressive by what it brings to our industry. When you drive some buses or coaches it is what you see that is impressive, but with the Streetlite the small details behind the economy of this vehicle show that Wrightbus thinks way beyond just the visual. Yes, it is an every-day route bus, it’s not built to be luxurious and impressive, but the impact of features to lifetime running costs and economy would certainly help operators looking at a vehicle in this class make a smart financial long-term choice.

WHO BRINGS IT IN?

Patico Automotive was founded in 2006. Originally named Irizar Oceania, it was founded with the distribution rights for its very first imported product, the luxury Spanish coach brand made in Brazil called Irizar.
Managing director of Patico Automotive Tony Fairweather said: "We introduced the first of these coaches in 2008 and from that initial product we have grown the business into a range of other luxury and niche-type bus products. When we started to take on other brands we had the name change to Patico."
Part of Patico’s philosophy is to represent high-quality, proven products that can be aimed at a mid-market price point. Fairweather said, "Our intention is to be able to introduce products to the Australian market that bring advanced safety features, total cost of ownership-type models. We like to bring styling and options not available on other Australian buses to the market; we are a niche importer and distributer – we like to offer a point of difference to operators."

GETTING IT WRIGHT

Wrightbus, explains Fairweather, is primarily a UK company founded in Northern Ireland by Robert Wright in 1946. It’s a 100 per cent family-owned business with a very unique culture for a business of its size. Initially locally produced, it now has major manufacturing facilities in south-east Asia, so it is building lots of double-deckers for Hong Kong and Singapore.
Eventually it will supply product out of its Malaysian facility to Australia and New Zealand, though it still has a big plant in Ireland.
"As well as their product being progressive and market leading, they are a very ethical and moral company. They invest a lot back into the local communities; uniquely they have a church on site, which is their church and one of the Wrights is the minister of the church – a very unique business for modern times and they aren’t just in business to make money. They want to make a difference to the world through their products and profits.
"We focus on the specific criteria of safety features and total cost of ownership. For the Wrightbus products, they are world leaders in this category.
"The UK manufacturers in both route bus and city bus arguably are, too – they all make integrated CBU products that focus on lowering costs of manufacturing and have low operational costs for the life of vehicle. So the total cost of ownership, life of products, cost for the UK models are – arguably on a per passenger transfer basis – significantly cheaper than the standard models used in Australia," Fairweather explained.
"What these products offer operators is size flexibility. The CBU products (Completely Built Up) mean you can build at eight-, nine-, or 10-metre and … can adapt your fleet to suit your route requirements opposed to a ‘one product fits all’.
"To use an analogy, you don’t see Qantas running 747s between Sydney to Melbourne, they have smaller, more-economical planes to do these routes. Arguably, operators globally need that flexibility in terms of fleet, and UK manufacturers offer that flexibility," he continued.

TECHNOLOGY VERSUS COSTS

Fairweather explains why Wrightbus fills the price gap for operators while current technologies are developing.
"In particular they have a proprietary driveline technology that is extremely unique. They have recognised that electrics and hydrogen, of which they do produce technologies, are still currently expensive and when you look at the total cost of ownership model they have developed micro-hybrid technology, which is still using the highly efficient diesel engine (Euro 6 Daimler).
"They have taken it to a form of electrification, which is not a battery-style electrification; it is an ancillary electrification, which means that by fitting extra alternators the electricity is being generated by the diesel engine."
He continued: "They have also electrified key components that are typically operated off the diesel engine – to me one of the most impressive examples is the power-steering pump. In a rear-engines bus, like we are driving today, you fundamentally have the power steering being powered from down the back by the diesel engine and the hydraulics having to run all that distance and back again.
"On a typical diesel engine it’s using diesel fuel to run the engine to be able to run the hydraulics, where as in the case of an electrification process the power steering is actually electrified and operated [from] the alternator and only being used when power steering is needed when you turn a corner.
"Subsequently, it’s using a lot less energy – in this case of the diesel engine, diesel fuel for operation."
"Wrightbus are getting with their proprietary micro-hybrid technology an extra 18 per cent fuel efficiency over the standard diesel engine," Fairweather said.
"Another benefit is it’s not substantially more expensive to fit this technology in comparison to a full hybrid.
"In terms of total cost of ownership of a bus, at the moment the micro hybrid is world class. It’s cheaper than electric. We do have electric trucks and I believe that electric is the future in buses, but it is still a few years away for the economics of it to stack up. That’s why we have chosen Wrightbus," said Fairweather.
This makes understandable financial sense, as with all new technologies they often are not initially cost effective, but time and volume of sales usually change that.

GREEN MACHINE

When he was asked about the green technologies being used by Wrightbus, Fairweather explained: "Of all the manufacturers in green technologies, they [Wrightbus] have options in everything, and I mean everything. They have two different types of hybrid – parallel and series, they have electric and hydrogen options – alternative fuels are their thing! But they and the operators keep coming back to the micro hybrid at the moment for lifetime costs of ownership, it’s what stacks up. They are developing all these other technologies and as they transition – and it will, 100 per cent electric will become viable – they have it ready, proven and tested.
"They have a big order going into Scotland at the moment for electrics, but they are fully government subsidised so financially they stack up."
This interim technology is adopted because the Streetlite model we are test driving would currently be close to double the purchase cost if fully electric.

PREMISES AND SUPPORT

"For smaller volume orders they are fully built in Northern Ireland, but for larger orders they will be fulfilled by the Malaysian facilities.
"All Australian orders are currently from Ireland. Malaysia is their other primary manufacturing facility and in future this will have the added cost savings of duty-free arrangements we have here with Malaysia," Fairweather explained.
"Ordering time is four-five months from initial order – that can be from one to 30, even up to 50 units all have the same order time".
Asked whether the Streetlite had any Australian made componentry or features he said, "It comes fundamentally ready to roll, just small components like CCTV cameras can be added, but Wrightbus do offer many variations and optional extras so they come ready to operate.
"The intention with Wrightbus is to deploy in volume. Where we deploy volume we will have mobile technicians established. We have this same commitment in New Zealand; there currently are 14 going into Wellington and we will have a mobile technician there. We have one in Auckland as well," said Fairweather.

Specs

DISTRIBUTOR: Patico Automotive
MAKE: Wrightbus
MODEL: Streetlite WF 8.8m
ENGINE: Daimler four-cylinder OM934 Euro 6
POWER: 208hp/155kW
TRANSMISSION: Voith 824.6 four-speed fully automatic

 

 

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