NASHVILLE, Tenn. — MCI President Ian Smart showed off what he described as the “rollout our biggest year of product launches in nearly nine decades” at the recent United Motorcoach Association’s annual tradeshow held at the Music City Hall.
The brand-new coaches on display included its first battery-electric models. The all-new J4500 model was displayed in both the standard charter version as well as a special Livery Edition dressed up to meet the demands of luxury required by limo operators. This version includes black paint, black leather seating, and lighting systems that complement the fleets operated by the livery industry. Vehicles can be ordered to customer specifications or stock versions.
“MCI is entering a time of extraordinary innovation that supports new markets in over-the-road transportation, and everything we’re designing and building today is intended to help operators support their customer base and expand into new markets,” said Smart during a press conference at the show.
Patrick Scully, MCI executive vice president of sales, marketing, and customer service, shared growth plans that include investing in additional customer service centers to their existing network, expanding hours of operation, and delivering technical field solutions quickly and efficiently.
The battery-electric J4500e addresses a long-standing dilemma for operators forced to comply with no-idle zones. With the engine off, the coaches can be kept cool or warm using battery power for up to three hours, eliminating passenger complaints about the temperature after a long stop. These new electric models are designed for operators with routes over 200 miles.
While the J4500e is ideal for the employee and commuter shuttle market, the MCI D45 CRTe LE offers zero-emissions capability and unprecedented accessibility including a mid-coach Low-Entry vestibule with seating and retractable ramp access that allows faster boarding for disabled passengers.
The new J-Series coaches designed specifically for livery operations include extra legroom and luggage capacity for large groups. A smaller version is available with its J3500 coach.
Telematics is included as standard equipment on some 2020 MCI J4500 models. MCI Connect Telematics help support improved uptime by predicting failures based on coach data transmitted to MCI, updating systems remotely and collecting important operating data to share with bus owners. Using telematics will improve responsiveness and diagnostics of vehicle issues.
MCI’s million-mile testing of coaches with telematics have shown by using telematics, the J4500 Cummins X12 engine, and the new eFan system, fuel economy has improved by 10%.
MCI’s Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) includes a collision-avoidance system. The optional Bendix Fusion option integrates camera technology that will detect and stop the coach to avoid stationary objects, recognize traffic signs, and offer warnings on unsafe lane changes. A state-of-the-art 360-degree camera is also available as an option to provide a bird’s eye view around the coach for better maneuvering at low speeds.
The new MCI Operators App offers instant access to driver's guides, instructional videos, and more, as well as connecting them with emergency roadside assistance and rapid response from MCI on all service issues. The app is available to drivers on the Google Play and Apple App store and can be downloaded to the driver’s smartphone. Scully added the price of the technology will be coming down as the technology is developed.
Training & Recruitment
Smart also recognized the shortage of qualified drivers and says they are addressing that issue by helping with recruitment and a formal training program for coach operators. MCI Academy provides the industry’s only ASE accredited training program and the only Motor Coach Technician Apprenticeship Program registered with the U.S. Department of Labor. MCI Academy helps operators preserve their equipment investments while providing training and assisting with attracting and recruiting technicians.
Changes in the Industry
Scully shared information about how the industry is changing with more limousine operators entering the coach business and a large uptick in operators engaging in shuttle service. In particular, Scully noted an exceptional rise in sales in the San Francisco Bay area, while acknowledging West Coast operators have many different problems and concerns compared to those of East Coast operators. He said MCI is committed to understanding and reacting to those unique issues. Scully also shared that Greyhound is for sale and Coach USA has recently been sold. Both companies are major players in the industry and their positions reflect the change.
While the implementation of cleaner vehicles has arrived, Scully acknowledged a need to develop the charging network to take advantage of these battery-powered vehicles.