EXCLUSIVE: End in sight for manual muscle


There’s a bus delivery statistic that never goes away – the continued desire from a handful of operators to buy manual transmission buses – but the days of the trusted stick shift could soon be numbered

EXCLUSIVE: End in sight for manual muscle
<b><font color=red>EXCLUSIVE:</b></font> End in sight for manual muscle

December 10, 2010

Deliveries appear to be getting back to where they were 12 months ago, with some major OEMs holding ground while others keep sliding.

The size of the pie between November last year and now seems to be about the same, with 162 units delivered 12 months ago compared with 155 in the month just passed.

But how the pie is being carved up has changed significantly in that time with our deliveries league table changing in that period.

This time last year Scania was well out in front with 47 units delivered, followed by MAN and Mercedes-Benz. The leading supplier for 2010, Volvo, was trailing those three at that stage, but steadily gained ground throughout the year. Close behind the big four last November and gaining plenty of attention was BCI. All looked good for the Asian importer, and by March they were leading the table at a time when business was brisk for everyone, but sales appear to have slipped away dramatically since then with just two units delivered last month.

So where are we now? Despite their best efforts, Scania have dropped to second and appear to compete with Mercedes-Benz and MAN for business which equates to between 15 and 20 units for each OEM month by month, with Hino – a supplier to the school market with a suite of auto and manual transmission vehicles not far behind. As for the ‘league table’ the Volvo-Volgren partnership appears to have been reignited recently, strengthening their place at the top.

As for those manual transmissions, there’s a curious statistic that blips away under the surface of the bus delivery data. It seems that the manual gear box has never quite faded away, and in fact appears to show signs of continuing demand.

In November 2009 there were 11 manual units delivered out of the total 162 deliveries for that month. A year later and we have 17 manual units from 155.

And its not just one supplier exclusively dominating, as in Hino with sizeable manual transmission sales, but some of the bigger names are supplying stick shifts attached to big HP units over the 350hp mark, and an Iveco unit at 450hp running on a manual transmission.

Iveco, Scania and Mercedes-Benz each supplied operators with manual gear boxes in November. Of Iveco’s five clients supplied with new buses and coaches last month, two of their customers received manual-only.

Iveco Bus and Coach General Manager Steve Heanes says the manual option depends on what the manufacturer is prepared to supply, and not based on customer demand.

"When you go to some of the front engine vehicles you haven’t got much of a choice but to go with manual," Heanes says.

"We are seeing a steady demand for front engine vehicles now from 12 tonnes through to 16 tonnes, and up to about four months ago we were only able to offer manuals."

He says some operators working in dusty environments prefer a front engine.

"The engine isn’t running in dust when it’s up the front, and some people like to have more clearance at the back, again in rural operations."

Many years ago the price difference between the cheaper manual option and the automatic version could be as much as $14,000, says Heanes.

"But it’s not that big a gap now, and with a retarder for braking and brake life, the benefits of automatic transmissions far outweigh any price variance."

Heanes says that while the baseline sales of manual vehicles appear to have been steady over the past 12 months, many manual options are gradually being cleared as run-out stock. As an example, Iveco’s 450hp Eurorider will soon be all automatic.

"The manuals we have supplied are from residual stock at the start of the year, and there was a run out in Europe so it was good for us to pick them up."

Heanes says there is still some demand for manuals in school buses, and operators – particularly in Queensland – are looking for every advantage to stay under a price ceiling.

This is where, Heanes believes, European-derived manuals have some advantage over cheaper Chinese imports.

"But sooner or later it’s got to be a cost issue to the manufacturer, whether they keep a product there for just two or three vehicles, or selling 10 vehicles a year, it just doesn’t become viable."

The November 2010 bus delivery data is available here.



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