MAN Automotive South Africa and VW cemented their partnership recently with an exclusive launch of the first and the only bus that German VW AG has designed so far in the world. Called Volksbus YABANTU, not only is the bus a game changer — it also ticks all the boxes regarding style, driver and passenger comfort and fuel efficiency. The launch coincided with the 60th year anniversary of MAN’s business in South Africa, and came just a year after the truck company successfully unveiled its new generation of trucks.
Oliver Klein, Managing Director of MAN Automotive South Africa, is excited about the launch of the new model. He said the bus was designed and styled in Germany but was engineered and built locally, and can be tailor-made for the company’s valued customers. “We are the only South African OEM with our own bus body production facility here in Olifantsfontein. This means we are able to deliver high quality products and offer a one-stop shopping solution for our customers, whereby customers can get a chassis and a body from a single supplier,” said Klein.
Unique and stylish
The bus comes in two types: the Volksbus YABANTU 17.230 4X2 OD, which has a manual six-speed gearbox and 230 horsepower, and the Volksbus YABANTU 17.260 4X2 OD, with 260 horsepower and an automated six-speed gearbox. Both models are Euro 5 compliant but importantly, without the need for AdBlue and this we think is a feature that will set it apart from others in its class. They also have power steering and anti-lock braking systems (ABS).
Head of Bus Sales MAN Automotive South Africa, Siyabonga Nhleko, waxed lyrical about the unique design features of the new bus. He said the bus was given a South African name to ensure that it is authentically local and resonates with the South African public it commutes. Although some of its components are from abroad (the chassis comes from Brazil), the bus was hand-made here, with passion, by the people and for the people. “It epitomises the VW branding and styling and when you look at the styling of the bus, that comes across very well,” he said.
Nhleko singled out the honeycomb grill with its chrome finish as the most aesthetically appealing and distinctive feature on the bus. He said that this “pulls you in” and makes the bus both striking and stunning. The design of the headlights is also noteworthy; Nhleko said they chose halogen lights instead of LEDs. The design was chosen purely for economic reasons, as most countries have been through economic turmoil recently.
Nhleko added: “Anything and everything has gone up in terms of the costs of manufacturing components. So we thought, let’s add a couple of fancy and ‘nice to have’ features but make it practical, affordable and easy to sell.” Another striking element of the bus is the illuminated destination board, positioned above the windscreen, which customers can use to add their own destination/messages on.
The side of the bus accommodates luggage lockers where passengers can store their baggage during trips on both long- and short-distance trips. The bus also has an optional steel and durable parcel racks for passengers to store their smaller parcels as the luggage lockers predominantly accommodates larger items to prevent them sitting uncomfortably with their luggage on their laps. This creates a positive, neat and comfortable atmosphere for the commuter. The rear of the bus is left uncluttered, thus accentuating the prominence of the VW badge. The main reason for this, according to Nhleko, is because “this is a partnership; we don’t want to spoil it — we reckoned this is the space customers who bought the bus would want to use to add their own branding”.
Fuel efficiency and economy
For Nhleko, the unique selling point of the bus is the Euro 5 rating without the AdBlue. He said the world is going green, and customers need environmentally friendly and fuel-efficient vehicles. Fuel efficiency has become the holy grail in the context of steep fuel price increases, particularly that of diesel. “In South Africa the standard is Euro 2 or 3, and for us to move from this to Euro 5 is a remarkable upgrade,” he said.
Ahead of the curve
What sets MAN apart from its competitors is the fact that it has a configurator — a highly specialised customisation tool used for tailor-making to customers’ specific needs, said Giacomo Virgili, Head of Department National Key Accounts Bus, MAN Automotive South Africa. He said with the state-of-the-art facility that they have, they are able to give their customers exactly what they need. “Nobody knows the business better than the customer,” he said, adding that this gives customers a level of optimisation because the bus is built locally, and therefore they can specify their unique needs to the technicians at the facility.
“Together we can spec a bus that is fit for purpose, help with efficiencies and contribute to the growth of their [customers’] businesses, and ultimately our business,” said Virgili. Another critical design elements are “ride heights” or “approach and departure” angles. He said based on the industry’s standards, the angles are too low, particularly considering that some customers operate in adverse conditions. “Both models, the Volksbus YABANTU 17. 230 and 17. 260, offer a lower and a higher ride height which gives you an option on ground clearance to suit the customers’ operation”
Enhancing the driver’s cockpit experience, comfort and safety was also top of mind, said Virgili. “When it comes to driver’s ergonomics and dynamics, there is air-suspended seat, three-point retractable safety belt, on-board computer, slim line fuse box and other extras, all designed to ensure the driver sits comfortably, without any distraction. Overall the bus is spacious and is built to ensure that commuters travel in style and comfort. Customers can choose a bus fitted with either vinyl or cloth seats,” added Nhleko.
The price of the Volksbus YABANTU is according to our latest available development for this particular bus, said Nhleko. He also stated that the price tag was influenced by the jump in global prices, following the economic slump occasioned by the pandemic and recently, the war in Ukraine. He said they have seen an up to 400% price increase in certain input costs such as fuel, steel and other critical components. But he assured customers that payment can be structured to accommodate their needs, with tailor-made packages from start to finish. “That jump necessitated that we follow suit, but we made sure that our product is still competitively priced,” said Nhleko.
Virgili said at the moment with current industry wide stock pressure and certain global component shortages, MAN Automotive South Africa will have new units being available from the second quarter of 2023. “The reason we are launching this month is because we want to give our customers a chance to place orders now, so that by early next year we can deliver the product,” concluded Nhleko.