The fear of infection while traveling or in local public transport is causing the demand for buses to wane. As a countermeasure, the manufacturer Daimler supports its customers with financing offers, for example.
Dhe bus manufacturers are particularly groaning under the Corona crisis. “Coach traffic was hit hardest,” says Till Oberwörder, Head of Daimler Buses in Stuttgart, the smallest unit of Daimler AG. Because their total sales collapsed 63 percent in the second quarter, they are one of the biggest concerns for the group. There was practically no coach market. “Now we are thinking with the customer about when is the right time to take over a vehicle. We sometimes also support our buyers with financing solutions. “
The coach market in Europe is characterized by many medium-sized companies. And because people only slowly dare to travel by bus again, the industry has its back against the wall. Some will not survive the crisis. From mid-March to the end of May, bus travel was completely banned in Germany. Many companies had deregistered their vehicles. But the holding costs have remained. The federal government granted 170 million euros in emergency aid.
Take the fear away from passengers
However, in the opinion of the industry, that is by no means sufficient. Oberwörder says: “Our job as a manufacturer, together with the coach company, is to relieve customers of their fear of taking a bus ride. This is the only way to get business going again. ”The uncertainty must be addressed. Daimler is equipping the air conditioning systems in the new vehicles with high-performance particle filters. These are provided with an antiviral functional layer. With their help, the aerosols that the viruses transmit could be filtered out. Many customers also wanted to have their vehicles retrofitted.
The bus manufacturer is also equipping its vehicles with disinfectant dispensers and installing protective windows for the drivers. It is currently being checked whether surfaces can be coated with an antiviral coating. Daimler’s competitor, MAN Truck & Bus SE, is also concerned with similar issues. The manager responsible for the buses, Rudi Kuchta, emphasizes: “The air conditioning issue in particular is currently attracting increased public attention.” He illustrates the problems in the industry with the following example: The European bus market normally records around 34,000 new registrations for all models annually . “Now we estimate the volume at around 25,000 units.” The decline is distributed very differently across the individual segments: MAN expects a drop of around 60 to 70 percent for coaches and 10 to 20 percent for intercity buses. “It is currently difficult to assess the development of coaches in particular, but we are also assuming a considerable decline in 2021.”
According to MAN and Daimler, the city bus business continues relatively normally. Daimler manager Oberwörder says: “The public service bus is an essential part of inner-city transport. In addition, in many cities in Europe there is also a need to renew the fleet. ”The division therefore ensures a certain basic turnover in the bus business.
Got in late
The group entered the electric bus business relatively late. With the eCitaro, the first electric city bus has been around for some time. In the first full fiscal year 2019, a few hundred were sold. Now there is an articulated bus variant. Oberwörder also says that he expects a continuous ramp-up of electric bus production. But he does not want to make precise forecasts yet. Cities like Hamburg have only been buying electric buses since 2020.
According to the Association of German Transport Companies, there are currently around 450 e-buses on the roads. By the end of the year there should be around 1,000 buses. “The delivery times are of course difficult to estimate at the moment, but we are assuming a delivery time of around one year for an electric bus; for a new diesel bus, this is much faster,” says a VDV spokesman.
And Oberwörder adds that in the initial phase, due to the technology used, the electric bus is significantly more expensive than a classic diesel-powered bus. To support the conversion of the city bus fleets, subsidies are available in Germany and in many European countries; in Germany there has been a total of 650 million euros since 2018. The program was increased at the beginning of the year. The money is intended to support the purchase of local buses and the construction of charging points.