October 2023 marked the return of Busworld to Brussels for the first time since the global coronavirus pandemic.

In this article, Roger Brereton, head of sales at steering system manufacturer Pailton Engineering, identifies three key themes from this year’s event, which drew a record-breaking 40,120 visitors. It felt like longer than four years since the last time the world’s bus manufacturers and their suppliers convened in Brussels for the industry’s leading exhibition. With the 2021 event cancelled due to coronavirus, there was a time not long ago where many would have feared large in-person events would never be as popular as they had been in a pre-pandemic world. In 2023, Busworld proved that fear would be emphatically wrong and it was great to be back.

A chess board where the pieces are all minor bus components

The exhibition featured 75 bus and coach manufacturers — an increase on the 66 present four years ago. In total 526 exhibitors from 38 countries, including 182 newcomers were there to showcase the latest in bus and coach technology. The exhibition halls hosted a total of 222 vehicles, with a further 29 outside for demonstrations, during the week-long event. It also opened to the public for the first time on Sunday.

Here are three key themes that stood out from this year’s event:

No More Diesel

It’s of no surprise that the number one observation was the lack of diesel vehicles on display. Although most of the manufacturers likely still manufacture diesel vehicles, looking to the future, the world’s leading OEMs chose to showcase electric, hybrid and hydrogen vehicles instead.

While in the automotive industry electric vehicles are clearly the winners in the race for e-mobility, the jury is still very much out on whether battery electric or hydrogen vehicles will provide the solution in the bus and coach sector. The general feeling at the event was that it is still too soon to pick which, if either, of these two alternative engine types will emerge as the long-term successor to the diesel engine.

Chinese and Turkish Representation

The growth in exhibitors was in part fuelled by the increasing representation of Chinese and Turkish manufacturers which, along with Germany, made up the top three countries by number of companies present. Turkey led the way with 96 companies, followed by Germany with 79 and China with 61. This was a noticeable increase from 2019.

There are lessons to be learned for the Europeans when looking at China’s impressive growth in this area over the past decade. The Chinese bus manufacturers have benefited from a long-term plan and government support. Sales of new energy buses in China peaked at 138,000 units last year, the final year in a decade-long program of government subsidies for new energy vehicles. It will be interesting to see, following the withdrawal of this subsidy in January 2023 and the shift from a policy-driven to a market driven environment, how Chinese OEMs continue to fare.

A bus travelling in the sun

Awareness of Ergonomics

A greater awareness of the importance of ergonomic designs, particularly for drivers, was the final noticeable theme at Busworld this year. There is a wider context to the growing focus on improving driver conditions, with the IRU 2022 Global Driver Shortage Report finding the sector was missing over 2.6 million professional drivers.

Addressing this shortage will entail improving working conditions. In the UK, recent data from RMT Union found nearly a quarter of its bus driver members had faced time off in the last year due to back, neck or shoulder pain caused by their working conditions.

The overall winner of the Grand Award Bus was the Mercedes-Benz eCitaro. The same vehicle also received a label of excellence in the ‘comfort’ category. A close contender was the VDL Citea Generation, which received the label of excellence for design. This bus features a unique titling head steering column, designed and manufactured by Pailton, to provide maximum adjustability for drivers and unique ergonomic benefits.

During our last visit to Busworld in 2019, we showcased a prototype of an electric steering column, alongside Ebusco and Continental. As well as improving adjustability, the design would deliver a built-in memory function so each driver could easily adjust to their optimal setting. In 2023, we unveiled the latest prototype of this product, which will be launched in early 2024.

This article was originally published by Pailton Engineering.


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