Volvo Buses Mexico got its start 12 years ago, when Volvo Group, a leading global supplier of commercial transport solutions based in Sweden, took over Mexicana de Autobuses (MASA). At the time, MASA was manufacturing approximately half of the large buses produced in Mexico. After the acquisition, Volvo continued to produce popular MASA models.
Shortly after Volvo entered the Mexican market, it spotted a growing interest from customers in big, modern coaches built to European standards. This led to changes in the company’s manufacturing process, and soon it began producing new models such as the 7550 series tourist coaches. It received an order from IAMSA Group for 900 buses, followed by an order from the same company for 1,800 more buses.
These orders sparked an increase in production levels and also led to projects to expand and modernize the plant. During ensuing years, Volvo Buses Mexico continued to develop its product line and increase its production rates. Today the company is the leading manufacturer of coach buses in Mexico, producing an average of three units a day.
For coach buses, its product line includes the Volvo 8300 and the Volvo 9700, which was named “Coach of the Year” in 2008 by a jury of journalists from the European press. In addition, Volvo Buses Mexico produces four models for urban use: the Volvo 7300 articulated bus, the Volvo 7300 bi-articulated bus, Volvo Access, and Procity.
The company’s plant is located on a lot that spans 220,000 square meters. Operations are carried out in buildings that cover 50,000 square meters of the property. Volvo Buses Mexico employs more than 1,400 workers and is based in Tultitlán, an industrial suburb of Mexico City.
“While Volvo generally focuses on coach buses, we recently spotted a huge potential opportunity in the segment of urban buses,” says Jorge A. Suárez, the company’s urban units manager. Traditionally in Mexico, city bus systems have consisted of individual proprietors who own a single bus. This system is sometimes called the “man-bus” in Mexico, referring to the individual who purchases a bus, charges passengers as they board, and then drives the same route on a daily basis.
As Suárez points out, the system lacks consistency and organization. It is also harmful to the environment. Since one-man businesses generally cannot afford large fleets of quality buses, the streets are often laden with exhaust fumes from outdated, run-down vehicles.
This setup existed in nearly every metropolitan area of Mexico. “Before 2003, everything sold in the urban segment was of low quality,” notes Suarez. “There wasn’t a market for higher level buses. To change the system, the rules of the game first had to be changed.”
CHANGING TRANSPORTATION LANDSCAPE
The rules began changing in 2003, the year when the first Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system in Mexico opened in León. In the older system, the government assumed a passive role, only giving circulation permits. With the BRT system, the government becomes more active in bus system planning and regulation. Also in the BRT system, man-buses became organized into professional operating companies/consortiums. New rules also impacted fare management: Previously, drivers collected cash; the BRT system includes pre-paid cards and electronic money. Fares go into an escrow account that guarantees bus loans. Remuneration also changed: Previously it was determined by a per-passenger pick-up rate; now, it’s determined per kilometer run. Operating companies follow a service program, determined by authorities, and only operate an efficient number of kilometers. Also, each bus previously competed against one another. Now, as there is a single company operating each line, there no longer exists street competition for passengers. Finally, buses previously ran all day, regardless of variations in demand. Now, service supply matches demand (that is, more buses operate during peak hours, while less operate in valley hours).
León is a city with a population of approximately 1.4 million located in the western region of the country. “The BRT system runs with articulated buses that have doors on the left side. The bus stops at various stations along the route. Each station has a platform that is at the same level as the bus door.”
The BRT system in León is similar to a subway system that runs above ground. Passengers pay for their fares before entering the bus stop. Once they reach the station platform, they board the next available bus. This design provides better organization for public transportation, allows businesses to be established to operate the system, and brings quality low-emission buses into the picture.
Today Volvo articulated buses dominate León’s public transportation scene. The BRT system uses 84 buses – all of them made by Volvo. “The articulated bus is 18 meters long and has a capacity of 160 passengers,” describes Suárez.
Two years later, a BRT system – called the Metrobús – was set up in Mexico City. The first corridor opened in 2005. The system connected the city’s northern and southern zones. It spans 30 kilometers, making it the longest BRT system in the world.
“Due to the high demand that came from opening the first line of the Metrobús, we introduced bi-articulated buses to accommodate the passengers,” says Suárez.
These vehicles are 25 meters long and hold 240 passengers.
“It’s almost a train,” Suárez adds.
A second line on the Metrobús, running from east to west in Mexico City, opened in 2008. Plans are in place to continue expanding the BRT system so that it eventually covers 200 kilometers. Currently, Volvo provides 70 percent of the buses running on the Metrobús system.
“The success of the Metrobús in Mexico City led to the establishment of BRT systems in other cities,” Suárez indicates. In 2009, Guadalajara, Mexico’s second largest city, opened a system called Macrobús. It spans 16 kilometers and connects the northern zone of the city with the southern zone. It currently uses 41 buses, all made by Volvo. Plans are in place to expand the Macrobús line to reach 80 kilometers in all.
In addition to the BRT systems, Volvo offers options for medium-sized cities that want to renovate their current bus system. “Two years ago we introduced a low-entry bus in Mexico called Volvo Access,” says Suárez. These buses are 12 meters in length and have a 90-passenger capacity. “With the low-entry feature, passengers do not have to climb stairs to get to the interior lounge.”
The company is currently working on a project in Cancún that will use 70 Access buses in the hotel zone of the city. It also has projects involving Access underway in Monterrey, Saltillo, Mexicali and Acapulco.
Volvo produces a city model called Procity, which is similar to Access except that it does not have the low-entry feature. “This is a bus designed for regular urban service,” says Suárez. “It has the latest technology, security features, and is eco-friendly.”
In the area of coach buses, Volvo leads the way in Mexico with a 43-percent share of the market. Its model Volvo 9700, which was awarded with the title “Coach of the Year” in 2008, features the latest in innovation, comfort, performance, ease of operation, safety and design. It has electronic alert instruments that display information to continually update the driver and offer immediate warnings if a problem arises. The vehicle is 12.9 meters long, 2.6 meters wide and 3.75 meters tall.
The Volvo 8300 is a mid-range bus with a B9R chassis designed to offer efficiency, security and comfort. Its large yet simple design has allowed it to become one of the most popular buses in the world. The Volvo 8300 features electronic displays, ergonomic seating and added driver comfort.
One of the features that separate the company’s coaches from the rest is the “integral structure” concept. With this system, the platform, sides, roof and end sections are assembled into one single element. “This adds quality to the finished product,” notes Suárez.
In the beginning of 2010, Volvo Buses Mexico started exporting buses to the United States and Canada. The Volvo 9700 US/CAN is assembled at the Volvo plant in Mexico. From there the finished product is routed to locations north of the Mexican border.
In both the urban and coach segments, Volvo Buses Mexico has found ways to establish a reputation as an industry innovator. Impact has been enormous: Company efforts resulted in urban infrastructure development, green solutions for urban bus systems, and comfortable rides for passengers traveling across the country. With the projects it has underway in both the urban and coach segments, Volvo Buses Mexico is expected to maintain its leadership role in Mexico in the years to come.