Vehicle Design and Product Development

Transportation Alternatives created the U.S.-Slovene joint venture company, TAM-USA, which designed, marketed and sold a 12-meter integral school bus and 12-meter luxury motorcoach for the U.S. market. TA also prepared vehicle specifications for the City of Los Angeles Department of Transportation, other municipalities and private contract operators. TA also conducted a two-day technical workshop on Preparing Vehicle Specifications to Los Angeles County transit agencies and municipalities for the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

Vehicle Design: School Bus

As its first TAM-USA project, TA coordinated the design and development of a 40-foot, fully-integrally-constructed school bus for the North American market. Product development involved the full spectrum of activities including design, engineering, prototype development, testing, certification, marketing and sales. TAM-USA prepared Product Acceptance Standards, advised TAM-BUS and AM-BUS on the selection and purchasing of U.S. componentry, and defined and supervised the conduct of both road testing and certification to Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards. While only the motorcoach effort was commercially successful, the school bus project had a profound impact on the school bus industry, and the vehicle's many innovations (e.g., ABS brakes, "out-board" pneumatic suspension systems, retractable headlight panels, etc.) were replicated by their later inclusion in other U.S.-manufactured school buses.

In its efforts to integrate a full range of U.S. componentry into a European commercial vehicle envelope, TA formed and directed the efforts of an interdisciplinary User Design Committee comprised of four state directors of pupil transportation (California, Washington, Arizona and Texas), local school district transportation directors, senior officials from the nation's five largest private school bus contractors (Laidlaw, Ryder, Mayflower, VANCOM, Durham), directors of both the public and private sector school bus industry "umbrella" organizations (NAPT and NSTA), the U.S. Department of Transportation's National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, and the National Safety Council. These individuals interacted throughout the design effort with engineers and marketing experts from TAM-USA, TAM-BUS and AM-BUS (TAM's body maker). For both its School/Activity Bus and Luxury Tour Coach, TAM-USA coordinated the engineering efforts of technical and applications engineers in six countries (United States, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, France and Slovenia).

The TAM School/Activity Bus contained a litany of unique standard features never before available in a school bus of any kind:

One-piece, Inseparable Monocoque Construction
Six-air-Bag Pneumatic Suspension System
Wider Passenger Center Aisle (15 inchesS)
160 Cubic Feet of Pass-through Underfloor Luggage Space
Oversized Passenger Windows (24" x 14.5")
Oversized Wraparound Windshield (4,210 cu. in.)
Fully Ergonomic Driver's Compartment

 

This bus was also available with a number of options also never before offered in a school bus, including:

Fire Suppression System
Anti-explosive Fuel Tank Technology
200-gallon Fuel Tank
Track Seating System with Respaceable and Removable Seats
Rear "Curb" and "Safety" Lights to Illuminate "Danger Zone" beneath Rear Wheels
Anti-lock Braking System
Air Conditioning

 

Vehicle Design: Motorcoach

The TAM 260 luxury motorcoach was conceived as a niche market product also never before available in the North American market: A full-size, heavy-duty, integrally-constructed luxury motorcoach resting on a single rear axle. This unusual approach translated into significantly lower capital and operating costs, delivering an astonishing fuel efficiency of 10 miles per gallon — fully loaded. By employing a heavy-duty (rather than "heavy-heavy-duty") 8.3 liter 275 horsepower Cummins engine (with 750 foot-pounds of torque),and a proportionally-sized ZF transmission and McCord cooling system, and the vehicle's weight on the rear axle, when fully loaded, permitted the coach to achieve a top speed of 65 mph. with 44 passengers and their baggage (stored in 240 cu. ft. of pass-through undercarriage luggage compartments and 100 cu. ft. of interior package racks).

The coach also contained virtually every luxury feature of other European or U.S./Canadian-manufactured motorcoaches, including restroom, VCR system with multiple monitors, aircraft type air conditioning and interior lighting system with individual passenger controls, reclining seats, coat closet, tour guide seat (optional), mini-refrigerator and full carpeting and window curtains.

TAM-USA immediately sold the first dozen coaches ordered (they continue to operate in California, Nevada, Ohio and Florida), and within fewer than six months, followed up with a second order for 30 coaches. However, due largely to the restructuring (or more properly, the liquidation) of the Slovene economy by "westernized" bankers and government officials after this new nation's quick adoption of democracy, the parent company disintegrated in the aftermath of Slovenia's privatization efforts following its independence from Yugoslavia, loss of ex-Yugoslav markets, and the profiteering from the sale of TAM-BUS' assets in hundreds of separate transactions.

For a detailed description of the TAM 260 Motorcoach, see TAM 260: The new coach for the economical and small market niche. For additional information about TAM products and the projects associated with them, see:

Marketing, Advertising, Public Relations and Sales
Vehicle Distribution and Sales
Articles about Transportation Alternatives, TAM-USA and Ned Einstein

For a concise chronology of the TAM-USA project, see Make Way... Slovenia Coming Through! in East European Investment Magazine, September, 1993.

Integration and Export of U.S. Components

Both models of TAM buses introduced into the U.S. market contained a full range of U.S. components - including a large number produced by multi-national corporations whose products were supported in the international market (Cummins, Rockwell, Bosch, Bendix, etc.). To help TAM-BUS and AM-BUS comply with Federal (U.S.) axle weight limitations, and to lower the parent manufacturers' production costs by taking advantage of differences in currency exchange rates, TA prepared both a Weight Reduction Plan and an extensive list of U.S. and Canadian components which would collectively reduce TAM-BUS's production costs by 12 percent. As a result of this research, and TAM-BUS's experiences with U.S. componentry in the TAM-USA projects, TAM-BUS produced a nine-meter luxury motorcoach relying on a U.S. engine and drive train which it sold to buyers in Russia, Israel, Croatia and Slovenia, as well as the sale of 400 12-meter motorcoaches (also including Rockwell and Cummins components) to the City of Moscow. In addition to balancing TAM-USA's import activities with export counterparts involving the same suppliers and commercial relationships (and offsetting higher costs for imported EU components with lower-cost SAE counterparts), such efforts helped "push" Rockwell rear axles, Cummins engines, Power Star (Canadian) shock absorbers and other North American suppliers' products into new markets in Eastern and Central Europe, and the Middle East.

Vehicle Specifications and Product Acceptance Standards

Beginning with and subsequent to the TAM-USA project, TA has prepared a number of product acceptance standards and technical specifications for both integral and body-on-chassis buses and coaches. These included the preparation of detailed technical specifications for a 50-bus order of 30-foot transit buses for the Los Angeles Department of Transportation, along with several variations of technical specifications for models of the TAM 252 and 260 buses and coaches.

Presentation of Workshops on Vehicle Design and Specification

As part of its 15-subject curriculum on specialized transportation for disabled persons, the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority hired TA to conduct a two-day workshop on the preparation of technical specifications for paratransit vehicles. This workshop was attended by representatives from transit agencies and municipalities within Los Angeles County. In addition, TA has made presentations related to fuel cell and battery-powered buses to Northrop Corporation, International Fuel Cells and H-Power Corporation. In the early stages of the development of its Advanced Technology Transit Bus (ATTB) project, Northrop Corporation solicited a proposal from TA to examine opportunities to export the vehicle and its high-technology elements to bus purchasers, other manufacturers and suppliers in the international market in exchange for sharing its composite material technology with TAM-BUS and AM-BUS for use in their bus and truck products.