National Bus Trader magazine’s “Annual Coach Trends Survey” of North America’s bus industry indicates that bus production – including new shells for motorhome conversions or for executive and entertainer coaches – has slipped for the fourth year in a row.
Total 2010 sales amounted to 1,276 coaches, down 378 — or 22.9% — from 2009, which is still 144 coaches higher than the bus arena’s lowest recorded annual number of 1,132 in 1991.
This is attributable to lower converted bus shell sales – down to 71 in 2010 — as well as reduced public and private sector sales.
The survey, covering MCI Prevost Car, Van Hool, Setra and Trident coaches – and the defunct Eagle, Neoplan and LAG brands – identifies “a new era of fuel conservation and energy awareness” among some manufacturers. It also speaks to an era in which refurbishing older units has taken a higher priority as bus builders push vehicles into the multi-million-mile range.
“Decades ago our industry was more involved with pre-owned coaches,” says National Bus Trader. “New companies usually started with pre-owned coaches and many established companies kept older coaches in their fleet so they could offer economical charter rates when called for.
“Much of this changed in the 1990s when our industry began moving toward the new 45-foot coaches length,” the survey report continued. “Since there were no pre-owned 45-foot coaches on the market, any operator who wished to move up to the new length was forced to purchase new coaches. This is a major reason why the industry hit a record high with new coach sales in 1998.
“Today, this trend is reversing and some bus operators are moving away from purchasing new coaches and toward pre-owned and refurbishing. There are several reasons for this including the economy, integral coach construction and a move to new technology.
“With the tight economy, many operators are looking for ways to save money on equipment. Being pre-owned or having coaches refurbished keeps equipment costs down while still being able to maintain or increase fleet size.”
The report also points to the following conclusions:
- Almost all of the coaches in this survey (96.6%) were 102 inches wide.
- While a coach length of 45 feet continues to be the preferred size with a market share of 96.6%, the number of 35- and 40-foot coaches increased in both sales and market share from 2009 to 2010.
- Imported coaches grew in market share to 26.1% in 2010.
- The number of automatic stick-shift coaches declined to 10.6% of the market.
- Although up in recent months, sales into Canada declined back to a more traditional level of 9.6% of the market in 2010.
The sale of high-end buses converted into motorhomes dropped to 195 units in 2008 compared to 309 in 2007, a 37% decline, caused in part by high fuel prices that peaked mid-year, according to National Bus Trader magazine.
”When diesel fuel approached $5 per gallon, the cost of moving a converted coach around starts getting expensive,” the trade magazine noted. ”Possibly too expensive for some people.”
National Bus Trader reported that conversions also lost share in the overall bus market which itself declined in 2008 to 2,017 from 2,173 in 2007 – a drop of 7%. Conversions in 2008 accounted for 9.7% of the total bus market, down from 14.2% in 2007, representing their lowest share since 1997.
On the other hand, National Bus Trader noted that the 2008 total bus sales weren’t far off of the 20-year average of 2,249. “When you consider that this includes a few years of record-breaking sales … 2008 does not seem that far out of the ordinary,” the magazine said.