Daimler OF1723 bus chassis seen at SABOA 2017

Daimler OF1723 bus chassis sourced from India

Daimler Trucks & Buses South Africa (DTBSA) had a ‘soft’ launch of the Daimler OF1723 bus chassis at SABOA 2017.

The chassis is brought into South Africa fully built up (FBU), from the Daimler India Commercial Vehicle (DICV) plant in Chennai, India.

While the chassis is based on the same technology used by Mercedes-Benz in the rest of the OF range, the OF1723 will accommodate reduced horsepower.

As such, the OF1723 will handle 230hp, compared to current OF products which produce either 260hp or 300hp.

This is because the chassis is designed for use on flatter terrains. Mercedes-Benz says this approach also realises reduced fuel consumption.

The Daimler OF1723 is a standard commuter bus, with maximum seating for 65 passengers, and can be used for scholar transport or the transport of employees to their work sites.

It can also cope with a little bit of off-road driving, so rural, gravel roads shouldn’t present a problem.

Customers will include both government and private bus operators, although the OF1723 cannot be used for Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) systems, as it is a front-engined bus with a raised floor.

BRT buses are traditionally rear-engined and have three doors, instead of one. A six-speed manual gearbox (Mercedes-Benz’s own G85 unit) is mated to the OF17230s Euro 3 diesel engine.

“We don’t have ‘clean’ fuel throughout the country and operators require 50ppm diesel for anything above Euro 3,” rationalises Shane Henry, head of Mercedes-Benz Bus & Coach at DTBSA.

Euro 5 demands 50ppm fuel, which is readily available in Gauteng. But, this is not the case in rural areas, where only 500ppm is available.

“For BRT this is not an issue because dedicated 50ppm fuel stations are provided for it,” Henry adds.

The chassis has minimum electronics and uses fewer complicated technologies. “This is what our customers are demanding from us in these applications. The chassis comes standard with ABS, but we haven’t gone big in terms of the electronics.

“Our customers want a vehicle they can fix quickly (even roadside). So it’s built for Africa. Higher-end vehicles with complex systems require authorised dealerships to service them as the tooling is not available at the customer level.

“Our customers are a bit resistant to go the hi-tech route, especially with rural bus applications. Dealerships may be many, many kilometres away and the cost of downtime would be too great. Passengers don’t want to be left waiting,” he says.

When driving off-road, bus operators are more vulnerable to issues like water and dust ingress.

Harsh vibrations can negatively impact sensitive electronics and sensors.

“No modifications need to be made to the chassis because it is a tried and tested product already used in South Africa today,” Henry assures.

The OF17230’s body will be designed specifically for the chassis, together with Mercedes-Benz’s local partners, who will be chosen after the mandatory homologation process has been performed.

The body spec will be standard commuter fare, with the seating able to be configured differently should this be required. Henry says customers demand a standard specification with maximum seating and standing possibilities.

“It’s a competitive business and bus operators want to sell as many tickets as possible. Some customers may request more space for standing passengers, but it’s very rare.”

He believes the bus market in South Africa, after the first four months of the year, is underperforming.

“We can see a significant decrease and that is mainly due to the lack of tenders. There are no government tenders out at the moment, which is normally high volume, comprising about 25 – 30% of the SA bus market. That is now gone.

“It’s not good at the moment and we don’t expect it to recover to 2016 levels. “We are expecting a recovery in 2018 and hope to see some tenders coming out later this year. But overall, the SA bus market is definitely down year-on-year,” he says

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