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JUNE | 2014

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BUSRide Road Test: The 2015

MCI J4500

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BUSRide Road Test:

The 2015 MCI J4500 New brake, axle and suspension systems reflect MCI’s attention to technical and mechanical detail By David Hubbard

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he strategic effort by Motor Coach Industries (MCI), Des Plaines, IL, to bring its J4500 and D-model coaches closer together has been a work in progress since 2008. According to the company, its mission has been to unify the componentry and systems in terms of manufacturing and maintenance. mprovements and new features of the MCI J and D models reflect MCI’s attention to technical and mechanical detail. Unlike the recent restyling of the J4500 model, these updates are not about curb appeal.

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BUSRIDE | JUNE.2014

Driver Dave Zibro transported the Columbia High School Choir on a six-day trip from Kansas City, MO, to Nashville, TN, which he says presented a tremendous opportunity to test the new J4500.

“We are out to improve both functionality and performance in both models,” says Brent Maitland, vice president, MCI Marketing and Product Planning. “By increasing the commonality of these key systems, we create efficiency in engineering, improve our manufacturing, and make parts that service easier for our customers, with the overall result being improved reliability of our product.” The move to ZF axle and suspension The central focus to this significant upgrade has involved the incorporation of ZF axle and independent suspension system that promises to significantly reduce the turning radius and smooth out the ride. ZF manufactures these products in Gainesville, GA. ZF notes the key features of the ZF RL 80 E Independent Front Suspension:

“They pounded the coach over cobblestones, chatter bumps and other features designed to stress the system,” Maitland says. “They beat it up pretty good. Also a testament to the design of our J is that we’ve used the same coach through multiple durability tests and it just kept ticking for more than one million miles of real world equivalent testing.” With these technologies already proven in other heavy-duty commercial vehicles, MCI has built 12 pilot J4500 coaches featuring the ZF and Bendix systems, nine of which are in service with MCI operators across the country for independent field testing in everyday highway conditions and normal operations. “We are doing thorough testing and we look forward to getting detailed feedback from these companies,” he says. “For instance, a maintenance tech may notice some minor difficulty in reaching a new part or fitting that we can still address.”

• 55 degree wheelcut for MCI Arrow Stage Lines • The manner in which the suspension upright separates the steering Arrow Stage Lines, a longstanding MCI customer headquartered in forces from the axle road forces allows a quicker response of the Omaha, NB, with operations in 11 locations, is one such company to suspension and more precise steering. test drive the new J4500. BUSRide called on Arrow Stage Lines, Kansas • The double–wishbone design with maintenance-free rubber-metal City, MO, for a report of its early experiences. bearings at the mounting points and wheel ends with unitized Dave Zibro, a seasoned driver of nearly every sort of commercial bearings reduce maintenance costs. vehicle for most of his life, was the first of four Arrow Stage drivers to • The systems are lightweight and maneuverable.The ZF system take the J out on the road for charter service. takes the MCI models from solid beam He transported the Columbia High School to independent suspension. MCI says it out to improve both functionality Choir on a six-day trip from Kansas City, MO, “Efficiency, emissions reduction, and and performance in its new models. to Nashville, TN, which he says presented growing comfort requirements are key a tremendous opportunity to experience criteria for public transportation providers,” handling and maneuverability in assorted says Rolf Lutz, member of the Board weather from clear skies to wind and rain. of Management of ZF Friedrichshafen “I noticed a difference on the very first AG responsible for Commercial Vehicle turn out of our yard,” Zibro says. “At that Technology. “This is why coach and bus point I was not aware of the steer tag axle, operators worldwide are modernizing their but I felt the difference immediately in that vehicles and are drawing on ZF’s expertise quicker turn with less tail swing. For the rest more and more often. The fact that we of the trip I couldn’t ask for the steering and have now received orders from MCI is a handling to be any better. It’s a wonderful resounding success and testimony to our ride.” established international presence garnered Recognizing this is a new model J, Zibro on the basis of advanced technology.” says he is anxious to see how its holds Bendix Air Disc Brake up after 40,000 miles. Considering its performance on the Bosch test track, he The new coaches offer the proven Bendix Air Disc Brake (ADB) 22 X brake system, made in the U.S. since 2005, should have no complaints. “I especially like how the front seems to turn shorter than previous which will also offer the additional safety of adaptive cruise control. MCIs I have driven,” he says. “With the rear axle steer providing Maitland says this undertaking is more than just plugging the new greater maneuverability, I was able to get into so many places that systems into the MCI platform. “This type of project requires engineering and testing as there would be much more difficult without the steer tag.” MCI says the tighter turning capability with the help of the rear steer are modifications to integrate the systems into the coach,” he feature should reduce tire wear. says. “This is where the design and testing comes into play. We During one of the choir performances, Zibro conducted his own need to thoroughly understand how the changes affect the coach informal test in the parking lot to get a better sense of the tighter performance and ride dynamics.” “The advantages of an independent suspension system are no secret turning radius. “I simply lined the coach up with the painted lines and made a sharp to the industry,” Maitland adds. “In our application, it offers significant improvement in terms of ride quality and feel, as well as a much tighter left U-turn,” he says. “I didn’t take any accurate measure, but the radius was considerably less than anything I had experienced in our turning radius.” According to MCI, the current standard turning radius on the J4500 other coaches. Maneuvering in traffic around town and in parking lots model is roughly 47 feet; 45 feet with optional rear-steering. The new J4500 was a pleasure because it was so easy. I was very glad to have this coach in Nashville for the week.” with ZF is 40 feet, 11 inches. One of Zibro’s additional responsibilities is to test-drive various “While the ZF axle system makes the coach significantly more maneuverable, it may require some additional training for drivers,” coaches in the Arrow Stage fleet and keep copious notes on what he finds needing attention. Maitland says. “But ultimately, they will enjoy many major advantages.” “I have found nothing to make note of,” he says. “This coach is a To help prove the reliability of the systems, MCI sent the J coach to the arduous Bosch Durability Testing Facility, New Carlisle, IN, where techs dream to drive.” While charter customers may not be cognizant of the technology put it through the equivalent of one-million miles of wear, tear and abuse and componentry responsible for the easier handling and smoother over 10,000 miles of actual track mileage. busride.com | BUSRIDE

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ride, Arrow Stage Vice President of Sales Chuck Gunnels believes it contributes to their improved rider experience. “Coach passengers are certainly aware of how their driver is performing,” he says. “If he is not having to back up as often in tight situations, and the ride goes generally uninterrupted, they feel more secure and are more at ease.” Arrow Stage Line Director of Maintenance Wade Freeman says that in the time Arrow Stage has had possession of the pilot coach, he has not seen or heard anyone reporting a mechanical issue. “Generally, the set up on this new J4500 is much preferable over previous models, particularly with the Bendix brake system,” he says. “I particularly like the use of unitized wheel hubs on the steer and tag axles. They can be easily changed out in the event of wheel-bearing issues.” Service requires replacing only the bearings rather than the entire hub, and there is one common rotor part rather than two. “We strongly believe that the fundamental design of the bearings and wheel ends is going to keep out significantly more contaminates,” Maitland says. “They are more reliable, which owners will appreciate.” Van Galder Bus Company Van Galder Bus Company, Janesville, WI, essentially provides year-round non-stop regular scheduled service from Janesville and its hubs in Madison, WI; Rockford, IL; and into downtown Chicago with service to Midway and O’Hare Airports — an ideal venue for the operator feedback MCI is looking for in this pilot program. According to General Manager, Allen Fugate, Van Galder is using its J4500 primarily for regular service to O’Hare from Rockford, but every driver throughout the system is getting the chance to slip behind the wheel and offer feedback. “Without disclosing a lot of technical detail, MCI asked us to maximize mileage on our test coach and report on what we experience out on the road.” says Fugate. “With our goal of 70,000 miles, we have kept it very busy. Proabably 30 different drivers have taken the coach out on their runs. From the comments we have heard, the new coach has a very nice feel; not significantly different than any other J models, but enough to notice.” Fugate says the maneuverability is the most noticeable feature from a driver’s standpoint, noting that with the new trailing tag axle, drivers need to be aware of more backend tail swing. “It shortens the turning radius and is probably similar to the MCI E Model MCI,” he says. “This new setup is great for maneuverability, especially getting in and out of tight spots. I drove it through some pretty stout winds and it handled fine, but not necessarily any better or worse than other J4500s.” Fugate says his team has already suggested a tweak in the programming on the ride levelizer. Like the E Model, it was highly active. We asked them to just soften it some. Van Galder Maintenance Director Ron Thompson appreciates the ease on tire wear the ZF brings in tighter turns. “This axle with not jump a curb or slide going around a corner,” he says. I don’t see any scuffing with the trailing axle.” Thompson also finds the more open framework underneath is now easier to access and maintain, a point he says is important to the people working on the coach.

Above and below: The ZF system takes the MCI models from solid beam to independent suspension.

Bendix Brake ADB System According to Maitland, the Bendix ADB system will feel more like automobile brakes. “We feel these brakes should be an easier adjustment for new coach drivers used to an automotive feel,” Maitland says. “The actual brake performance is roughly the same, but the stopping distance is way less than FMVSS standards.” MCI says it is moving to include the Bendix Wingman System, which offers adaptive cruise control as well as collision mitigation. “These functions are becoming more common in the automotive market,” Maitland says. “We think this is a very important safety feature that we can bring to MCI coaches.” The Bendix adaptive cruise control detects a coach’s position behind other vehicles and automatically reduces the throttle or applies the brakes to maintain safe following distances. It is also billed as improving the functionality of cruise control and fuel economy. Coaches are in testing with the Bendix System, and when MCI determines it is ready, the system can be retrofitted into the new ZF-fitted pilot coaches for customer feedback. 4

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MCI unveils the 2015 J4500