One of the first bus and coach manufacturers venturing out to display new vehicles and meet customers after the worst of the Covid disruption and lockdowns was Volvo Buses. According to Diarmaid Thompson, Volvo Buses’ Irish based Sales Manager (Volvo UK & Ireland), the late Summer was the right time to call to see customers, particularly with something new to show, such as the Volvo B11R 9700 PSVAR. With a totally new design, featuring styling similar to the award-winning 9900, and coming with a 3-year bumper-to-bumper warranty of up to 600,000 km, Volvo Buses has a winner here.
Fleet Bus & Coach took the opportunity to drive the new coach during the brand’s Road Show around Ireland. On a bright warm and sunny morning, the new coach was taken from Dennison’s Volvo Dealership in Ballyclare to Irish Commercials at Santry in Dublin.
Driving a Volvo brings some expectations, the base line in terms of drivability, comfort and design always being high. In the first few miles it was looking like previous expectations would be easily exceeded. Leaving Ballyclare, despite the first part of the journey taking place on a narrow roads, the coach enabled the driver to easily have everything under safe control. From the driver’s seat there is a lot of familiarity here from the brand’s other products, from the market leading I-Shift transmission to the dynamic steering, plus the new design and layout of the drivers’ area.
Two secure lockers positioned overhead and within easy reach provide practical storage space for the driver. A nice feature of the driver’s seat is the ‘revolving’ function, for convenient exiting, or for the driver to re-position when greeting passengers as they enter and exit the coach. The fully adjustable steering wheel is available in two sizes, 450mm or 500mm. Two large mirrors are complemented by a lower mirror on the driver’s side, and the overall vision is good, thanks to the well designed narrow A pillars which reduce blind spots, while the windscreen is angled and swept back a little. On the test vehicle there was also a ‘peage’ toll booth paying window. One distinguishing feature of all Volvo coaches is the way the engine and transmission are matched. The new 9700 is no different, providing seamless automated gear changes with none of the heavy thump that sometimes occurs with other coaches. The positioning of the auxiliary brake makes it easy to use and while some drivers are not as enthusiastic as others about using it, it’s best to leave it in the first position which gives some retardation when decelerating. Again, this is a method that some drivers favour, and is made easy with the Volvo 9700.
Fitted with the Volvo D11K 10.8-litre (430hp) with I-Shift and an integrated retarder, other options in engine displacement are available. This 430hp engine can also run on bio-diesel. In the engine bay there is a fire suppression system fitted. Access to the engine area is good and some additional panels can be removed easily to improve the speed and ease of more involved servicing and repair. Volvo Buses claims that diesel consumption from this driveline has been reduced by 4%, which is primarily down to the new design.
For the driver routine toilet maintenance is simple when this type of service needs to be done on the road. Luggage space underfloor varies from 9.7 to 11.4 cu.m, depending on the specification such as the toilet fitting or wheelchair lift.
At 13.1m in length and with a 6.7m wheelbase, the seating layout can accommodate from 47 to 55 seats, depending on the seat type selected, toilet fittings and provision of wheelchair space. From a passenger’s point of view it is easy to move around the coach, with plenty of handles around the wide entrance area which speeds up passenger entry and egress. Recline angle on the seats varies from 10 to 25 degrees. Volvo designs and builds its own high quality seats, with various trim levels, depending on the type of service in operation. Luggage space in the overhead racks is measured at 2 cu.m and is easy to access for passengers. Supplied as an integrated Volvo product, all dealers are able to supply and service both body and chassis parts.
Public Service Vehicle Accessibility Regulations (PSVAR)
PSVAR is a core consideration for all bus and coach manufacturers and operators. While legal requirements have not been issued here yet, wheelchair accessibility legislation is coming. Volvo Buses already has a fleet of 9700s with this specification in stock, with more becoming available for delivery in the Irish market during 2022. As a further commitment to the Irish market and the bus and coach industry in general, new Volvo coaches will be located at strategic locations throughout Ireland from the beginning of 2022. All coaches currently in stock are fully PSVAR compliant while some are pre-prepared to have the lifting equipment fitted later. In general, all that is outstanding is the lift and the destination display equipment, which can be fitted in due course.
Scope for accessibility is part of the specification for UK & Ireland destined 9700s, with other options available that are built to order.
Manually operated parallel-lift luggage locker doors are also part of the standard specification, although they can be powered on custom-built 9700s. The underfloor area gives 8.65m3 of storage. Operating the lift equipment is simple and requires limited instruction to allow drivers operate the system confidently.
In Ireland, Volvo Buses is represented by Diarmaid Thompson. Having being in the automotive business most of his working life, he has been with Volvo Buses for over three years. Diarmaid was pleased with the overall response and reaction to the new 9700 during the Road Show. “Customers, while possibly not just ready to order new equipment, are showing a lot of enthusiasm for the early recovery of the sector,” he said.
“Volvo Buses is very strong brand in Ireland, highly respected and trusted, with reliable and proven products and a strong dealer network. In spite of reduced business activity during Covid, the Volvo Buses dealers and service agents were always available, for maintenance, repairs or advise.”
“We are very proud of the 9700 and having met customers and some potential customers we are now confident that this coach will be a popular choice,” he added.
Volvo Buses UK & Ireland will have coaches available from stock during December in order to be ready when the demand returns. Diarmaid concluded by saying: “Our bumper to bumper warranty package (up to 600,000km) is something that got everybody’s attention during the road trip around the country. As one operator said: ‘I will only have to insure it, put diesel and tyres on it, and pay the driver’. Got it in one!”