Stormy skies over turbulent bus and coach sector

Registration data from the SMMT show big buses fell 26% in August and 52% over three months to August.  Over the same periods big coaches were up 100% and down 0.8% respectively and registrations have stabilised, but “at a very low level.”  By contrast, 3.5 to 5 tonne minibuses are “an oasis of growth” up 22% over the year to date.  Paul Everitt, the SMMT’s chief executive  expects that public spending cuts will depress bus demand “significantly”.  Longer lead times between orders, sales and registrations in the bus and coach sector meant that the tough economic climate gripped it later and recovery is likely to be slow.  With caution on spending by consumers and business expected in 2011, the outlook for home demand will be weak.
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Duck or grouse

As expected, the news that the EU may seek a four metre height limit in its European Whole Vehicle Type Approval parameters proves very unwelcome for some.  “We’ve had calls and e-mails from worried operators and talked with the FTA, RHA and others,” said Robin Dickeson, manager commercial vehicle affairs at the SMMT.  There is clearly widespread concern that the move may hike running costs for operators and damage business prospects for UK trailer makers   “We’ll work with other trade associations on this one, but we think it will be an uphill job.”  Most other states in the EU have four metre height limits and few are likely to worry about what they may see as a small change to tie up a loose end.  Watch this space.
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Duck or grouse, German style

In talking to people about height limits we’re told that many German hauliers want the country’s four metre height limit relaxed, by 10cm.  The reason is that most of their Mega trailers tend to work at 4.08m.  This eight centimetre discrepancy leaves them open to “difficulties” with the local police, so operators want that 4.10m height limit.  That would give them a small but vital tolerance, enough to keep the fuzz of their backs.  But, and there always is one, the German authorities worry about large numbers of vulnerable bridges that are spot on 4.10m.  That gives a tight but acceptable safety margin with 4.0m trailers.  Allowing trucks to run at the same height will prove difficult to justify.  Watch that space too.
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Duck or grouse – some good news

The trailer height issue also prompted several queries about possible changes to weight and dimension rules across the EU.  An ever-helpful colleague at the VDA, Germany’s auto industry association, sent us a chart from the IRU in Switzerland.  Its seven pages give individual European truck height and weight limits, state by state.  The IRU tells us that the data is available free, as a service to transport operators.  You’ll find it at  Web visitors must register on the IRU website first; the registration process is mandatory but quick and simple.  “Once you’ve registered, you’ll get your login details.  This will give access all IRU services, including the information centre,” says Juliette Ebélé, head of communications.  There, you can search for information by country, date and keywords, including weights and dimensions.”
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When is an ambulance not an ambulance?

The SMMT’s technical team says that this October representatives of the EU Member States will vote on changes to type approval rules for ambulances.  One of the likely changes is to clarify the definition of an ambulance.  If this goes through, it will mean that before a vehicle can be approved as an ambulance it must meet virtually all the requirements of European Union standard CEN 1789:2007.  Specifically it means that the vehicle must be able to carry a patient on a stretcher.  One result is that some Passenger Transport Service ‘ambulances’ will need to be approved as minibuses or cars or redesigned to qualify as an ambulance.
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EU wants more duty on Chinese aluminum wheels

The European Commission plans to hike import duties on aluminium wheels from China to 22.3% from the present 20.6%.  It thinks that Chinese wheel prices may be 38% lower than their European competitors and introduced the provisional 20.6% duty in May.  EU national governments have until 11 November to decide if they will impose a definitive five-year levy.  Industry is opposed to these duties, and believes that the imposition of anti-dumping duties is not in the interest of the EU as a whole since it would saddle European automobile manufacturers with higher costs and put them at a competitive disadvantage.
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LCV 2010 shows UK low carbon future

Following the success of its Low Carbon Vehicle event last year, organiser Cenex says this year’s event, will attract even more visitors and exhibitors.  LCV 2010 is at the Millbrook Proving Ground in Bedfordshire on 15 and 16 September.  Cenex says it is the largest low carbon vehicle event in the UK calendar and “provides an unique platform for the rapidly expanding technology sector.”  With the help of the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, the Technology Strategy Board and UK Trade and Investment, LCV 2010 includes a large range of displays and opportunities to drive the latest low carbon vehicles.
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Low carbon vehicle seminar programme

This year’s low carbon vehicle event, LCV 2010, includes a wide seminar programme with more than 40 presentations and speakers across the two days.  Key industry figures, such as Philip Hammond, secretary of state for transport, Paul Everitt, SMMT chief executive, and Michael Hurwitz, director of the office for low emission vehicles will speak about the progress within their fields and discuss the opportunities that ultra-low carbon transport offers.
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Optare to add CNG

Optare says it may add Compressed Natural Gas engines to its EcoDrive range of low carbon power options.  The firm says this is a direct result of its new strategic partnership with Ashok Leyland.  “This option could be attractive in European markets where there is a good supply of CNG.”  Ashok Leyland has already delivered some 6,000 CNG powered buses to Indian operators as part of its development work on alternative fuels.  The firm’s 5.7 litre turbochargecooled 180 hp natural gas engine has similar emissions to the best Euro 5 EEV diesel units, but with 26% less carbon.
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SMMT launches Automotive Innovation Award

The SMMT has launched the ‘2010 Automotive Innovation Award’ to encourage new ideas for the UK auto industry.  Sponsored by GKN Driveline and The Mail on Sunday’s Live Magazine, the first award will also “recognise ideas that have already contributed to excellence in the UK’s automotive sector.”  A panel of automotive industry experts will judge the entries and announce the winner at the SMMT’s Annual Dinner on 23 November 2010 at the London Hilton Hotel, Park Lane.  “The opportunities and challenges faced by the motor industry make it one of the most exciting places to make your career,” said Paul Everitt, SMMT chief executive.  The deadline for submissions is 23 October 2010
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