ABC took the latest Yutong minibus D7 on a test drive across the countryside to see how it held up
It’s no easy feat to confidently build and launch a vehicle in Australia’s minibus class. The sector has an established, long-running and loyal operator following, so any new entrants to the market will need to have a product that has features that will ensure it gets a look in. Yutong is confident the new D7 can compete against its rivals. In a tightly held market, there’s always room for a new player if it can bring the goods to the table.
Yutong brought the first D7 to Australia in 2014, and since then it’s been an evolving product. The initial D7s that came here had a different name to suit the Australian market, as did all the Yutongs. But they were all changed about three years ago when Lou Riccardi joined Vehicle Dealers International Pty Ltd (VDI), the national distributor for Yutong in Australia.
The D7 being tested today is a brand-new design in the range. It’s going to be released worldwide so it’s not only for the Australian market. Riccardi told ABC magazine that for the World Cup in Qatar there’s been nearly 1,000 units already delivered, which will be a great advertisement for this new Yutong D7 and will certainly get it out there and seen.
We asked Riccardi if the models differ between what’s released here and the overseas market.
“There’s many differences,” he says. “Each country has their own specifications and requirements that they’ve got to meet. So that while each D7 is made specifically for the market it is being sold in, generally the body shape and the drive line remains the same. Where Australia has the Euro 6 engine and Allison transmission, some other countries elect to fit the Euro 5, which meets their standards.”
SLICE OF THE PIE
When up against similar mini-buses, ABC asked Riccardi how the D7 will compete for its place.
“The aim at the end of the day is to take our slice,” says Riccardi.
“Other original equipment manufacturers have tried to come in and encroach in the market, but I know we’ve got a product that matches it. To exceed we’ve focused on standardising safety features and, even with those additional features, our pricing remains very competitive.
“The true value is in what you don’t have to add – all the features we fit as standard is where the true value lies. As an example, we’ve got an electronic 19-inch drop-down TV as standard in the vehicle and, if you want to add this in, it’s usually about another two to three thousand as an option. That’s just one of our value-added features,” explains Riccardi.
The D7 has only one bus and model in the range, but there are options with configurations to meet the needs of different applications.
There’s a 27-seater, which will fall under a light rigid (LR) license, and you can also have an optional extra seat fitted, which makes it a 28-seater that could also fall under an LR license. Yutong can also factory-fit
27 reclining seats instead of fixed seats, or the option of 23 reclining seats with additional legroom. A choice that makes it more attractive to the school market is the three by two configuration, which allows 41 child seats.
“We’ve designed this to encapsulate every market segment,” says Riccardi.
“We’ve made it so it could be easily made into a mine bus as we’ve already run the wiring for the beacons and school buses the same. The D7 is a versatile vehicle; it can be a daily school bus right up to a luxury vehicle with roomy reclining seating.”
SAFETY, SAFETY, SAFETY….
Riccardi is confident the D7 is a market-changer in the class. When ABC asked what he sees as the main reason behind this, he replied: “Safety, safety, safety is what we’ve gone for to stand apart.”
It’s a strong feature for a bus made predominantly for use by schools and community groups.
“The D7 has got an air-operated park brake, just like bigger buses have,” he says.
“We have got the TS155 new door system as a standard factory fitted feature for Australia, a 360-degree camera on board, ABS [anti-lock braking system], ASR [anti-slip regulation], ESC [electronic stability control] and full air disc EBS [electronic braking system] encapsulated in the vehicle. We’ve fitted Mobileye as standard, lane departure warning as standard and a rear camera and buzzer as standard.
“This new D7 has been two-and-a-half years in the making, and it’s gone backwards and forwards to the drawing board to get all those safety features locked in as standard to the build. The only additional safety feature available is a CCTV camera.”
For the Australian market, and depending on application, Yutong can fit a towbar, bullbar or stone shields. Riccardi tells ABC that all of those items are manufactured, supplied, and fitted by Australian companies to Australian standards.
IS THE FUTURE ELECTRIC?
With the big switch to electric buses happening in the industry and the inevitable future change to greener options, ABC asked Riccardi if Yutong would be taking the D7 down the electric path.
“Yes, it’s already on the drawing board and will be released,” he says. “With the stringent testing, Yutong does pre-release. It will probably be about 18 months to two-and-a-half years. The problem with the D7 is trying to maintain that vehicle under its current LR category. Adding the batteries, it’s a balancing act in what can be achieved.
“The most important thing we do at Yutong is that we don’t bring a vehicle to market for the sake of it. As an example, with this D7, we did nearly 12 months of stringent testing before releasing it here.”
QUICK ORDER TIME
An important question that can make the difference for operators is the order time.
“We’re holding D7 stock all the time, so three months is the maximum once the order is placed. With the stock
on hand, you don’t have to wait at all; there are some waiting that operators can have for immediate delivery,” says Riccardi.
Riccardi also noted that the bus comes with a five-year, 200,000 kilometres warranty.
“Another manufacturer went out there and said they’d got the best warranty. So Yutong said: ‘Well if you reckon that’s the best, we’ll match it,’” he says.
Spare parts are all ready to go, and there are also parts in Cairns, Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne and Western Australia, having imported the parts before the vehicle.
“Tried, proven and tested, that’s what we bring to the market with the D7,” says Riccardi. “It’s truly all the bells and whistles without inflating the cost.”
“We know the D7 will make our competitors work harder to match our spec. Our competitors can put those options on, but it’s all about the bottom line and cost.”
The D7 has been tried and tested at the Yutong facility for several months, Riccardi said that he was confident it will succeed in the Australian market.
“A brand new one will be off to the Australasia Bus & Coach Expo at Homebush in October, so we’re excited to see how it’s received there,” he says.
LET’S GIVE IT A SPIN
In speaking with Riccardi about the D7, it was less of a salesman’s pitch and more of a “look what we’ve built” proud moment. ABC got to go and do the fun part and take the D7 for a drive and get a feel for the effort and consideration that has gone into its development.
Approaching the D7 for the first time it’s clear to see the coach-like exterior looks that Riccardi told ABC about. Chrome trim, day-time running lights – it really does look like a small coach and is very European in appearance. Jumping in the driver’s door of the 28- seat D7, we straight away noticed the darker dash colouring – it was a really sunny day and there was no dash glare at all. The driver’s seat and legroom was comfortable and ample and the controls are easy to familiarise yourself with. Everything is at your fingertips.
We especially love the driver’s electric blinds, which have an easy switch control to operate. The steering wheel has multiple positions, up down and in and out. It makes things comfortable for drivers that come in all builds and heights.
Visibility is really good, with two electric heated mirrors. These days heated mirrors are more of an essential safety feature for vision rather than a luxury add-on.
Impressive straight away, the bus feels like a coach to drive. ABC was an immediate fan of the 360-degree camera on the LCD screen, which provides fantastic all-round vision in combination with the blind spot monitoring. Yutong has said that ‘safety, safety, safety’ is the focus and this 360-degree camera vision is perfect peace of mind for the driver, especially when children or elderly passengers are nearby.
The camera is a great inclusion– safety-wise this would be a top pick. The visual display means at all times you have clear vision of all outside areas of your bus. It has really intelligent technology so when a child leaves the bus and is walking around the bus, not only do you have the visuals, but a red text box displays around the child or any moving object for that matter. This makes it clear for a driver to watch and ensure alighted passengers are in no danger before the driver leaves the curb.
Another safety feature the 360 camera gives is when you are in heavy traffic conditions as it gives an aerial view of the bus, making it easy to see your position in the lane and with surrounding traffic. As drivers we’ve all at some time in our careers been in tight situations to drive or park at shopping centres and schools. Having visuals of poles and objects in tight situations will certainly help eliminate driver accidents, damage to the vehicle and make parking and turning much safer.
Internal cabin noise is impressive. When the engine is mounted right beside the driver you’d expect the driver would experience noise or vibrations. A great job has been done on insulating the engine bay. The engine is easy to access from inside the cabin, just undo latches and raise the lid. Simple easy to access for daily checks. The exterior engine housing also can come off if needed for even greater engine access.
The engine is the very first Euro 6 Cummins to hit Australia, with four cylinders, providing turbocharged 140kW (190hp) @ 2,500 rpm and 700Nm of torque. Riccardi told ABC it has the highest horsepower for its class. Coupled with the integrated Allison transmission with full electronic keypad control it will be a combo that should be pretty popular with operators. Air disc brakes all round finish off the running gear.
For the test drive, we specifically chose some roads with some good inclines. We wanted to feel the power of the Cummins as the torque ratio at 700Nm is impressive. You don’t have to put your foot downhard to feel the torque, it just pushes you along. Cruising along at 90km an hour it’s really comfortable and quiet and very easy for a driver to sit behind the wheel. Even long-haul driving would be a breeze in the D7.
ABC gave the lane departure warning a test out on a country road. With this system you get a slight vibration through the steering column, which some may find preferable to an audible warning as it could be off-putting for nearby passengers to hear warning systems beeping. This system keeps the warnings between the driver and the vehicle.
There is a four-stage electric driveline mounted retarder that works really well, providing a gentle transition through the levels. In stage one it gently kicks in, then when going down a reasonable steep incline we went to two. We went back to one straight away and, in
most normal applications and driving conditions, stage one should work well. You might only need stage four if you needed to pull up fast.
Another point of difference feature is that the D7 is the only one in its class with a roof-mounted aircon pod – a position that removes it from the bottom of the vehicle and eliminates issues with dust and general dirt from the road. Yutong changed the aircon position after listening to operator feedback, with rooftop mounting the solution.
UP AGAINST THE BEST
Competition is what makes our industry stronger, has our vehicles on a continuous path of improvement and ultimately easier and safer driving. Yutong has set out to create a vehicle in a class that it knows already exists in Australia.
To compete, something special was needed. Yutong has focused on safety and it’s undeniable the D7 has impressive safety features that come as standard across the range. With the importance of safety on this point alone, the D7 has to be a consideration in its class.
Coupled with value for money, it will be interesting to watch and see what happens when, as Riccardi says: “The D7 goes out there and proves itself.”