From personal experience, there is no customer more difficult to trade with or educate for that matter than a Bus or Coach operator. Your average road haulier for example will look for overall cost and network support before driver acceptance and a typical average car buyer tends to look for reliability and a good deal as their main reasons to buy.
A haulier has little interest in trucks outside of office hours and the car driver locks the doors and forgets until the next journey or daily commute. speak to your typical PSV operator and you’ll find a much different attitude. These men (and women) eat, live and sleep the industry like no other in my experience and considering their prime directive is to move the masses, each operators approach or view to how its done is as individual and varied as the print on your forefinger.
Some have an infectious attitude towards customer care, whereby some see the passengers as nothing more than two legged cattle and some simply care about the bottom line and nothing else. Some of the brightest, shrewdest, thickest, scruffiest, smartest and above all fascinating people I have ever met… have been operators of public transport.
In the turbulent world of sales, there is a known saying of ‘Customer is King‘ which of course is quite right, but what’s the general consensus of ‘The Customer is Always Right‘ – within the dark world of bus and coach sales? Well let me tell you, in many cases you couldn’t be further from the truth!
Let’s take Ronald Brooke for example, the once outspoken Fleet Engineer for the once colossal West Riding Bus Co. At the time, he was considered bonkers with his far reaching futuristic ideas. Brooke got rather carried away with a seedling of an idea to design and produce a modern double deck bus that was tough and strong enough to cope with the arduous and rough operating terrain of Wakefield and surrounding areas. West Riding had then undertaken an expansion plan which by 1957 saw the company become the UK’s biggest bus company that was independent.
One man’s dream becomes a National nightmare
The knock on effect of this was considerable influence with some manufacturers and when Brooke had finally finished his ideas of his dream child bus, various chassis builders were contacted with a view to turning this vision from a dream on paper to a product in steel and reality. Even in the days of black and white, manufacturers were always receptive to differing specification in power units or coachwork. But engineering tended to be set in stone and the chassis or suspension was the pure responsibility of the chassis builder be it Bristol, Daimler or Leyland to use as examples.
Brookes’ design was to feature many componentry ideas which today are commonplace on a modern bus. Air suspension and disc brakes is the present norm on every UK PSV chassis, but way back in the 50’s was viewed with aghast and wonderment. The engine was to feature up front like all other deckers of the time but so was the entrance platform for the passengers. There was reason in Brookes apparent madness, their fleet suffered with king pin and leaf spring failures mainly caused by the shocking roads in the rural areas the company served – no one could offer a solution so… all he did was create his own.
All the big chassis suppliers viewed Ronald’s plans and blueprints and kindly declined to become involved with such a daring and untried design. On paper the bus made perfect sense as new ideas often do, but re-inventing the wheel (quite literally) was too much of a risk to take for manufacturers who were still reeling and recovering from years of wartime austerity rules. But one company showed a keen interest and took little persuasion to become involved and consequently bring the Brookes dream into a reality which rather sadly proved to be more of a nightmare.
Guy Motors Ltd were once a well respected builder of Buses, Trucks and Trolleybuses who produced their products in Wolverhampton right up to 1982. Their products were far from revolutionary or futuristic but certainly known for being reliable and robust in construction. The Arab double deck chassis was very successful selling in big numbers to Municipal operators and had benefited by being selected by the Supply Ministry during WW2 to supply 2200 buses over a three year period with the first batches entering service in 1942.
A stolen march or a step too far?
Not quite as big as Daimler or Leyland at that time, Guy were seen as a respected rival and this new chassis idea was seen as an ideal opportunity to mix it with the big boys and pave the road ahead for future bus designs but Guy had their fair share of problems just as Leyland were to suffer a little later. An African business venture was dying on its feet and not long before the new bus was launched tragedy hit the company – founder Sidney Guy retired after more than 40 years leaving a great company without a great leader and sound businessman.
Undeterred, Guy launched the all new Wulfrunian onto a shocked and stunned marketplace in 1958 featuring almost all of Ronald Brookes novel ideas. Not only was the suspension air provided, but also independent on the front axle which also featured the Dunlop developed disc brakes. A drop rear axle was fitted to provide a lower chassis so that low bridges could be passed under and the all new Gardner 6LX 10.5 litre diesel was mounted up front as per the design brief. Guy motors sent two development chassis to Leeds to be bodied by Charles Roe in time for the 1958 Commercial Motor Show.
Guy had certainly stolen the march from Leyland who had developed its rear engined Atlantean chassis and some considerable interest was shown. Designed in anticipation of the relaxing of the one man operation rule made the front entrance area a requirement, the front axle was positioned further back than the norm to free up platform space. Owing to the huge size of the Gardner engine, the drivers cab area was very cramped in relation to other buses, so right away these buses were unpopular with driving crews and engineering staff who found them awkward to work on.
Ultimate technology brings ultimate downfall
The chassis itself was tough and substantial like Guy products that came before it but the combined weight of the driveline and complicated independent front suspension subframe gave the bus a massive weight bias over the front axle. They could be tricky to drive in slippery or icy conditions, especially when travelling uphill and all that unladen weight on the front end resulted in similar problems that Brookes had tried to avoid – accelerated wear on critical suspension or steering components such as the king pins and shock absorbers. Oh – don’t even mention the radiator less cooling system either!
Wulfunians also suffered from abnormal front tyre wear again caused by weight balance deficiencies. This spurred operators to remove the front two rows of seats on the upper deck and reducing the capacity by eight passengers in an attempt to preserve the life of the components that Ronald Brookes loathed to frequently replace on older bus designs. In reality, he had compounded the problem rather that cure it. Huge warranty costs and cancelled orders were key to Guy Motors entering bankruptcy in early 1961, rumor has it that Guy lost almost £500,000 in their final year of trading before entering administration.
Guy went on to be purchased by Jaguar Daimler who kept the Wulfrunian on the order books until 1965 of which during that time, 126 were purchased by the West Riding company out of a total production run of just 137. Guy ceased all bus building during British Leyland ownership in 1969, from then on concentrating on truck chassis. In a nutshell the Wulfrunian was a brave and clever idea in theory, but in reality a total and suicidal disaster, proving beyond doubt that the customer is quite often wrong…
Moving on to Rover and then PSV / HGV, he has circumnavigated most departments of dealerships including parts, service and latterly - the showroom. Mike has owned all sorts of rubbish from Lada to Leyland and also holds both Heavy Goods & Public Service Vehicle licences, he buys & sells buses and coaches during the week. Mike runs his own automotive web site and writes for a number of motoring or commercial vehicle themed publications
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