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Industry Today: New Flyer Better Bus

New Flyer is a leading North American manufacturer of heavy-duty transit buses, delivering life-cycle savings with greater fuel efficiencies and lower emissions. David Soyka reports on New Flyer’s efforts to create better buses that contribute to a better world.

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Buses were originally driven by horses, then by steam and electricity and eventually diesel. For more than a quarter century, New Flyer—the largest transit bus and motor coach manufacturer and parts distributor in North America, has built CNG (compressed natural gas) powered buses noted for their safety, efficiency and reliability. Most importantly, New Flyer’s CNG systems aren’t just bolted on, but are specifically engineered for its buses and directly integrated into their design. Driven by a Cummins engine, New Flyer CNG buses are designed for a 350 to 400 mile ranges, and the CNG tanks are certified for 20 years.

Currently, a little more than 17 percent of the active North American fleet operate on CNG; some 40 percent of New Flyer deliveries are CNG buses. As just one example, New Flyer recently won a contract to deliver 120 of its heavy duty 60-foot Xcelsior model to the New York Transit Authority and the Metropolitan Transit Authority Bus Company, the first time they are taking delivery of CNG buses in that configuration. According to a New Flyer spokesperson, “Switching from diesel to CNG reduces reliance on offshore oil, reduces emissions and provides fuels savings to transit operators.”

New Flyer was the first manufacturer in Canada and the United States to promote natural gas propulsion systems in high-floor and low-floor body types. Since the products were introduced, more than 7,200 natural gas transit buses have been delivered to customers by New Flyer.

New Flyer offers the broadest transit bus product line under the Xcelsior brand. In addition to CNG, Xcelsior models are available in other clean technologies, which includes diesel-electric hybrid, trolley-electric, and battery-electric powered models, in 35-, 40- and 60-foot lengths. A combination of reduced weight (eight percent less than previous models and the lowest curb weight compared to similar buses) and streamlined aerodynamic styling, Xcelsior fuel economy improved by eight percent over bus models. Moreover, lower weight and better weight distribution results in improved tire mileage, which means fewer operating dollars spent on tire replacement. Similarly, standard disc brakes are easier and less expensive to maintain and service.

New Flyer Connect®, a comprehensive telematics system available on all New Flyer buses, provides an additional 11 percent fuel savings opportunity, achieved through enhanced route performance, more efficient driving skills and improved control of bus idle times. New Flyer Connect also helps achieve maintenance cost savings through improved diagnostics, proactive maintenance and pre-emptive repair.

As a company spokesperson points out, “New Flyer has an unmatched history in transit bus manufacturing, with over 85 years of experience building buses across North America and more than 40 years of experience manufacturing zero-emission buses (ZEBs). We have heavily invested in lean manufacturing and are proud to boast industry-leading bus quality, proven manufacturing deliveries, and unmatched aftermarket sales and support to our customers.” Indeed, since 1930 New Flyer has designed and manufactured over 40,000 heavy-duty transit buses to customers throughout the United States and Canada. New Flyer maintains five bus component and assembly manufacturing facilities throughout North America, spanning over 1.3 million square feet with more than 5,400 employees.

The heavy duty transit bus is a “made-to-order” product. New Flyer has engineered a base product offering with range of available options for every major subsystem on the vehicle. Customers select options and features that best fit their needs. New Flyer’s manufacturing process, from vehicle line-entry to completion, typically takes between five and eight weeks, depending on the bus configuration and manufacturing location.

“We automate manufacturing processes where it makes sense, and rely on skilled labor for key manufacturing processes,” notes a company spokesperson. “We created the New Flyer Institute to train our own employees and advance their capabilities and knowledge constantly. It’s all part of our corporate-wide effort to make New Flyer a great place to work for all our employees.”

Operational Excellence

One of New Flyer’s core operating principles is “Operational Excellence” to provide and maintain a safe, clean, and efficient working environment and maintain for all employees and achieve the highest level of first-time quality in its products through robust processes and procedures that are sustainable for future growth. New Flyer is the only bus OEM to have acquired all three certifications for ISO 9001 (quality), ISO 14001 (environment) and OHSAS 18001 (safety). “These certifications are the foundation for New Flyer’s sustainability initiatives,” explains a company spokesperson. The company slogan for this initiative is: “A better product. A better workplace. A better world.”

In 2016, New Flyer’s Winnipeg, Manitoba and St. Cloud, Minnesota manufacturing facilities were selected as finalists for the 2016 Industry Week Best Plant Award. The award recognizes manufacturing facilities that are on the leading edge of efforts to increase competitiveness, enhance customer satisfaction and create stimulating and rewarding work environment.

Driving R&D

New Flyer’s dedicated New Product Development team has led the North American transit bus industry in innovation for decades, such as the low-floor transit bus introduced in 1988 to improve accessibility; and now the industry standard. Other innovations include Programmable Logic Control (“PLC”) of electrical systems; a standard feature on all New Flyer heavy-duty buses since 1993, and the articulated body; an extra-long 60-foot bus composed of two passenger compartments connected by a bendable joint for turning. New Flyer’s Xcelsior also introduced LED driving and interior lights to the industry, lending better visibility for both drivers and passengers.

In addition, a company spokesperson notes, “New Flyer pioneered the integration of hybrid propulsion systems in heavy-duty transit buses, replacing conventional diesel power plants with diesel engines coupled with regenerative motors. Roof-mounted battery packs provide additional power for acceleration or climbing grades. Hybrid propulsion systems are now well-accepted in the industry, reducing greenhouse gases and improving fuel economy.”

New Flyer, along with its technology partners, introduced zero-emission hydrogen fuel cell electric buses (“FCEB”) in 1993. Twenty FCEBs were delivered to British Columbia Transit in 2010 and were showcased globally for the 2010 Winter Olympics. New Flyer continues to lead the industry with ongoing validation testing of North America’s first 60 foot FCEB for extended range zero-emission applications.

Motor Coaches, too

New Flyer is also North America’s motor coach market leader, having acquired Motor Coach Industries (MCI) in 2015, offering the MCI J-Series, the industry’s best-selling intercity coach for 11 consecutive years, and the MCI D-Series, the industry’s best-selling motor coach line in North American history. MCI is also the exclusive distributor of Daimler’s Setra S 417 and S 407 in the United States and Canada. MCI actively supports over 28,000 coaches currently in service.

New Flyer also operates North America’s most comprehensive aftermarket parts organization providing support for all types of transit buses and motor coaches. All buses and coaches are supported by an industry-leading comprehensive warranty, service and support network.

Safety and Comfort

With all its technical innovation, New Flyer never loses sight of the need to provide the safest and most comfortable ride possible. “New Flyer offers the quietest bus ride available, with the lowest ever interior and exterior noise levels of all North American heavy-duty transit manufacturers,” a company spokesperson says. “We also lead the industry in accessibility, with the lowest entrance step height of any available bus design, an expanded front door width, design accommodating up to five entry/exit doors, and the best entry ramp slope ratio in the industry, providing a gentler slope for passengers with mobility devices.”

The Xcelsior design also features more forward-facing seats, improved suspension and reduction of un-sprung weight, increased headroom on rear deck, narrowed window posts to increasing passenger visibility and enhanced options for such passenger conveniences as Wi-Fi networks, USB ports and infotainment systems.

Future Growth

New Flyer’s commitment to improved energy efficiency and reduce emissions is unwavering. New Flyer is a partner on multiple California Climate Investment initiatives1 and numerous low and zero emission and energy savings programs throughout the U.S. and Canada.

“New Flyer has been the innovation leader in North American heavy duty transit bus manufacturing for decades,” says a company spokesperson. “Our technology investments, supplier partnerships, manufacturing capabilities, and company focus is unprecedented in the industry. We provide technologies and solutions that millions of riders rely on every day. Our current focus on low and zero emission heavy duty transit is complemented by our ongoing research and development in mobility that will support automated and autonomous transit into the future”.

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