The upstart Chinese-based manufacturer offers two models made with mostly U.S. parts as it battles tariffs and outdated impressions.
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — During his test run last spring of a new MCI J4500 model, Mike Vaughn of Mike's Limousine Service and Charter Bus wanted to make sure the bus did what was advertised.
“Coming up on an intersection where cars are stopped, I wanted to see if it could slow down and stop itself,” Vaughn said. “That thing brought me to a perfect stop at five feet behind the bumper of the next car without me even touching the brake pedal. That was the coolest thing I’d ever seen. We know it works now."
Vaughn was impressed enough with MCI's latest generation Advanced Driver Assistance System (ADAS) that he went ahead and bought his first MCI J4500. "I like to know what something is going to do before I take it."
“The system gives you peace of mind,” Vaughn adds. “When going down the road you don’t have to worry about coming up on someone or something too fast and having an accident.”
As occasional motorcoach accidents now grab a lot of media attention, motorcoach manufacturer MCI has spent the last few years incorporating ADAS which relies on cameras and smart sensor technology for adaptive cruise control and collision warning. As the most advanced ADAS safety suite on the market today, Bendix Fusion adds a windshield-mounted, forward-facing camera in addition to the front bumper-mounted radar. The added camera uses object recognition software to further identify stationary objects, lane markings, and road signs. It also offers lane-departure warnings, speed monitoring, and automatic braking.
As ADAS technology became available for motorcoaches, MCI started integrating the technology by adopting the Bendix Wingman system for its J4500 model coach. “We wanted to be a leader in integrating the systems to benefit the operator,” says Brent Maitland, vice president of marketing and product planning for MCI. He emphasizes ADAS is meant to be used as an additional safety aid and does not replace responsible driving practices.
MCI introduced Bendix Wingman collision-avoidance systems as on option during the 2015 model year J4500 coaches. MCI saw a need to further educate its customers on key features of safety technology.
“We felt we had advantages built into our vehicle structures and how we built our coaches,” Maitland says. “One year we brought a J4500 frame to the UMA trade show and discussed its construction. We educated customers on how certain elements of frame construction contribute to the structural strength of the frame. We extended that educational concept to other systems that we integrated into the coach.”
The latest Bendix Wingman system, called Fusion, offers active cruise control and braking and the provided ability to avoid or reduce the severity of collisions, whether on cruise control or not. Bendix Fusion integrates a camera with the radar and makes the entire system smarter with more processing and the ability to discern objects.
Bendix Fusion can detect a moving or stationary vehicle and apply the brakes, thanks to camera technology. The system has advanced in stages from radar to more sophisticated cameras. It added a camera to the existing radar and can now detect a stationary vehicle and apply the brakes.
The system activates up to three times before a collision warning. Adaptive cruise control allows the motorcoach to speed up and slow down based on proximity to other vehicles.
MCI’s two leading models for the private sector, the 56-60 passenger J4500 and the 44-passenger J3500, share the same electronics and technology platform.
If the motorcoach is exceeding a speed limit by 10 mph, the Bendix system will blip the throttle briefly and provide a warning. At 5 mph over the speed limit, the system will provide a warning only to alert the driver to slow down. Of course, like any cruise control system, a foot tap to the brake pedal or accelerator can override it.
Another advantage is traveling in fog or poor visibility. “I feel safe in foggy areas,” Vaughn said. “It told me within a quarter-mile a vehicle in front was going slower than me. Although you can’t see through the fog, the system can. It’s a great help in limited sight situations.”
MCI has seen a growing customer “take rate” on the optional ADAS features among its customers amid growing awareness of the benefits of reducing risk, Maitland says. So far, the take rates for the ADAS system are approaching 40%. The 360-degree cameras are also optional. “Customers who want to be progressive check all the boxes at the same time,” he says. “We are watching the take rate, and at some point, if the systems prove enough demand, we will make it standard.”
At Premier Transportation in Dallas, ADAS has helped motorcoach operations on several fronts, including minimizing road risks.
Four of the company 13 MCI J4500 56-passenger coaches now have the latest generation ADAS. Most notably, a driver taking a group to a destination in Oklahoma thought the lane to his right was clear to change lanes in a construction zone when he heard a detection alert of a car traveling along the right side of the bus, says Todd Davis, Premier’s fleet/business relations manager.
“I’ve had a few drivers say the bus gave them the warning to slow down when going 70 mph because the cars ahead had slowed down and they got warning signals that traffic ahead was not going at the same pace,” he says.
Davis cited as advantages the systems’ adaptive cruise control that modifies bus speed based on the speed of vehicles ahead, lane departure warnings in vibrating seats if the driver fails to use a turning signal or drifts, and collision avoidance that calculates and warns about time to impact and then triggers automatic braking if the driver fails to respond.
“If a driver dozes off at night, it will detect any drift and the alarms will go off in the driver’s compartment,” Davis says. “It works much like in luxury cars with the same safety features, except made for a bus.”
MCI relies on a cross-functional group including product planning and implementation, sales, and sourcing that works with suppliers, finding what products they offer, Maitland says. A team of MCI engineers integrate the latest technologies into the motorcoach models and then test them before release.
Safety equipment and best practices generally lead to operator savings on costs, overhead, and insurance liability, although consistent data is not yet available.
“There are not enough motorcoaches on the road to get significant aggregate data, as is the case with the passenger car market, where the benefits can be accurately quantified,” he says. Operators report cameras have paid for themselves, with fewer damage-related incidents and lower operational costs.
“In switching over to collision mitigation, if it prevents one accident or claim, then it has paid for itself,” Maitland says. “Some operators have said they avoided accidents, so this thing did its job.”
The collision avoidance or forms of ADAS technology have been available in different generations for the last five years, with several hundred coaches on the road with some type of advanced safety equipment, Maitland says. “It’s more prevalent in the private motorcoach side of the business. Commuter/transit is starting to increase their usage, but it is not as prevalent."
For future advancements, MCI designers and engineers are looking at such advanced systems as telematics that track performance and pinpoint required maintenance on internal components to improve reliability.
While the limo/luxury market is a small segment of the overall motorcoach sector, it has generated double-digit annual percentage growth in MCI sales. The largest private transportation client segment for MCI is traditional charter and tour operators. Another growing segment is scheduled line run service, which has been branching out into more luxurious coaches.
Overall, MCI’s motorcoach client base includes private and public operators. The company does not disclose detailed unit and model sales figures.
MCI plans to bring at least one loaded limo-spec J4500 with all the advanced features and black-on-black color schemes to LCT East, Nov. 3-5, in Atlantic City, N.J., and the International LCT Show, Feb. 16-19, 2020, in Las Vegas, Nev.
Aside from diminishing the life-threatening and costly consequences of collisions, operators Vaughn and Davis report secondary benefits to having the system on their coaches.
Vaughn praises his J4500’s fuel economy because of the adaptive cruise control which adjusts the speed relative to other vehicles, thereby maintaining safe traveling and braking distances.
“I can set it while traveling behind a semi-truck going 70 mph,” Vaughn says. “As he speeds up or slows down, I speed up or slow down. I noticed an increase in fuel economy, so I can set it and forget it.” The cruise control also provides a live display of surrounding vehicle speeds. “I think every state trooper vehicle should have it.”
Among some minor glitches, Vaughn cites the beeping alerts from the lane mitigation system that can be overly sensitive when traveling in narrow lanes, and the audible alerts can annoy passengers trying to sleep in seats near the driver compartment. He also noticed the system will sometimes get confused between the 70 mph speed limit on an interstate versus the 35 mph speed limit of a parallel deceleration exit lane.
“It [blips the throttle] suddenly and decelerates from reading the other speed limit sign,” he says. “It needs a narrower vision so it doesn’t see signs 100 to 200 feet to the right. It will sometimes start beeping while going 70 mph down the interstate because it thinks the other speed limit is in your lane.”
While ensuring passenger safety is paramount for Premier, ADAS has helped the company save on its fleet insurance premiums while landing clients who put a priority on duty-of-care. The company gets a 5% across-the-board discount on the insurance premiums for its motorcoaches, Davis says.
When promoting the buses to potential clients, Premier staff points out the 360-degree cameras, the Bendix Wingman system, three-point seat belts, and driver safety training.
“We constantly push safety with our RFPs and when we show vehicles,” Davis says. “When we’re doing in-house site visits or taking the bus to clients, we show them all the safety features inside and outside the bus.”
Wingman uses front-mounted radar sensors to detect moving metallic objects and estimate closure rates in real-time (the standard setting is three seconds) to avoid or lessen the impact of a collision.
As the most advanced ADAS safety suite on the market, Bendix Fusion adds a windshield-mounted, forward-facing camera in addition to the front bumper-mounted radar. The added camera uses object recognition software to further identify moving and stationary objects, lane markings, road signs and more.
Bendix Wingman Fusion also offers:
Related Topics: accident reduction, bus manufacturers, charter and tour operators, driver safety, group transportation, liability, MCI, motorcoach operators, motorcoaches, passenger safety, Safety, vehicle safety, vehicle technology
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