Best of Breed – Mercedes Buses & Coaches

The market for coaches in South Africa is not large – for 2012 some 50-60 units— but this is an important market segment for Mercedes-Benz South Africa, said Dirk Ansorge, Brand Manager Bus and Coach at the company, in conversation with Tattler Editor Marjorie Dean.

“The market,” says Dirk Ansorge “has still not quite recovered from the huge increase in the number of new coaches and buses occasioned by the 2010 Soccer World Cup. In that year 460 new Mercedes-Benz units were added to the national fleet.  However we expect that in a ‘normal’ year, demand would be for about 100 units. “

Mercedes has a strong position in South Africa in this vehicle segment, and one reason may be that the company goes to great lengths to understand the industry in which these vehicles operate.  After many years in South Africa, their products have a long pedigree.  They are very aware of the importance of quality and the fact that if a vehicle is off the road, it is not earning for the company that owns it. So they work hard to ensure less ‘dwell time’.

“The market is relatively small, especially for coaches, “says Dirk, “So in many ways, we are almost a family. We have been in the business for decades, and get to know our customers well, and so can work towards providing them with exactly what they need.

The coach market in South Africa buys “custom- built” coaches.  The coach is ordered from a Mercedes-Benz dealer, and the chassis is imported from Brazil, as a CKD (completely-knocked down kit), assembled at the Mercedes-Benz plant in East London.  However, the body of the coach is put together by one of a number of South African body suppliers to meet the customer’s specifications, such as livery, degree of luxury, “extras” such as on board toilet and kitchen, sound system and so on.  That way the client has a fully hands-on approach to his vehicle and can customise it to his liking. Not every tour operator has the same needs.

Mercedes-Benz uses well established body-builders ensuring that a quality body is fitted to the basic high quality OH2436RF coach. These bodies are well respected and widely accepted in the marketplace. Mercedes-Benz inspects and signs off on all bodies before the vehicle is delivered to the client.

Says Dirk, “Our customer base is wide, most tour operators of any size will have Mercedes coaches in their fleet.  One of the reasons for this is that we have one of the largest dealer networks, more than 40, and these are located around the country. So this gives the customer peace of mind when the vehicle is out on the road, as our dealers are easily able to support them with parts and service.”

Most Mercedes-Benz coach owners choose to take advantage of the CharterWay service,  very flexible maintenance contracts offered by the company, with guaranteed workmanship and genuine parts,  ensuring that their vehicles area at all times in tip-top condition. As an added value, the company offers training for coach drivers.

“The driver of a coach is a very important person. By giving him/her the right training, fuel consumption can be reduced by up to 30 per cent, and wear and tear on the engine and chassis is much reduced, thus minimising ‘dwell time’ ”, says Dirk. “Our coaches are technologically advanced, and their fuel consumption is a benchmark in the industry, so it makes sense to optimise that by careful driving.

Another value chain service available relates to finance. Again, because they know the industry, Mercedes-Benz Financial Services can offer competitive finance to prospective coach buyers, which are sold through their dedicated bus dealer network. The company has financed over 2000 buses since 1997.

A new service, just introduced, is TRUCKSTORE. Not quite what it might sound, because it was first applied to trucks, TRUCKSTORE enables trade-ins to be offered for both sellers and buyers of commercial vehicles. All vehicles are graded according to age, mileage and condition among other factors, and the vehicles are inspected and serviced.  South Africa is the first country outside Europe to have this service.  So even if you are not able to afford a brand –new Mercedes-Benz coach, you are offered the very best deal on a pre-owned product depending on availability.

For the future Mercedes-Benz foresees a slow recovery in the market. “Vehicles age, even with the best care, and there comes a time when a replacement has to be bought.  The tourism industry is now in recovery mode, after a couple of lean years, and we believe that in time, the market will be needing around 150 new units per year.”, says Dirk “Because of the sustainable relationships we have built up with our clients, and the total value chain we offer, we are confident that future years will see many more Mercedes coaches carrying visitors to South Africa.”

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