It seems that in the bus industry long term loyalty and brand devotion is a pretty important factor, and in recent times there have been a number of major milestones for employees of bus manufacturers that recognised decades of devotion and service.
One such significant anniversary being celebrated this year is that of Trevor O’Brien who notched up an amazing 40 years with Scania this year.
It seems unusual in today’s world, but Scania Australia does also point out that it is not short of long-term employees.
At the recent launch of Scania’s New Bus Generation Trevor O’Brien’s milestone anniversary with the company was revealed and acknowledged to much acclaim from the audience.
When Scania Australia received its initial evaluation fleet of the New Truck Generation prime movers in 2017, the 11 vehicles were placed with selected customers to gather real-world feedback on the all-new trucks.
Scania Australia decided to honour its 11 longest servicing employees by naming one truck after each of them. At the time, Trevor O’Brien was a mid-fielder among the 11, but now he is currently Scania Australia’s longest serving employee, having clocked up 40 years with the company in early January.
Prior to starting at Scania, Trevor undertook a diesel technician apprenticeship with Cummins. Once qualified in 1982, he moved to Scania as a technician,
After a year on the tools, Trevor worked within the service reception area until the introduction of the first K chassis buses in 1984.
“My first bus role was co-ordination, farming out the components that arrived from Europe to chassis assemblers. When we received the fully-framed chassis back we then sent them on to body builders,” Trevor recalled.
Soon after, Scania decided to step-up the level of technology in its buses by introducing a revolutionary computer-aided gearshift system (CAG) into the specification. CAG was a forerunner of the now familiar and much-lauded Scania Opticruise automated gearchange system available across bus and truck model ranges.
In order to test the reliability of the system in Australia, the development team cooked up the now famous Centre Test, taking a new Swedish-built tag-axle chassis with the first computer-aided electronic gear-change though the Outback on a gruelling month-long test.
Equipped with a PMC Adelaide body, the 18-tonne coach was driven with gusto at all times, and survived the brutal heat, road conditions and enthusiasm of the testers unscathed.
The bus was subjected to punishing driving in the Marla-Oodnadatta-Granite Downs-Mount Willoughby areas, and also went to Darwin via Uluru, Alice Springs, Rabbit Flat, Tanami Track, Broome, Halls Creek, Lake Argyle, Katherine and a return via the Stuart Highway to Adelaide.
“It was a very effective way to test if our technology could survive the worst of Australian conditions, and it set the benchmark for us and for our engineering teams back in Sweden to understand the challenges vehicles had to cope with,” Trevor said.
“Having shown that our technology could cope, it allowed us the confidence to move into the interstate coach market in a big way,” he added.
“The most notable changes since then have been the shift from a fully CKD market to one where we can now import a driveable route bus, charter or coach chassis, or a completely built and ready to sell Scania Touring or Scania-Higer A30 coach. Other advancements in the bus market particularly have been far more stringent emission controls and the advent of hybrid electric and battery electric bus chassis,” Trevor said.
“The whole bus industry is a lot more regulated and a lot more international. Standards now are much tougher and higher. When I started, Bedford and Leyland were considered the benchmark for city buses, and an American driveline was the ‘only choice’ for coaches. The Europeans changed that with fuel economy that was unheard of up to then,” he said.
“One of the many career highlights has been exposing our customers to study tours to Sweden. It really conveys to them just how big Scania is globally in both the truck and bus markets, and how seriously we take research and development, but always keep the customer and affordability at front of mind.
“We’re very focused on the concept of the ‘Scania family’ and that expands out from the people we employ and work with, to bring fully built-up buses to our customers, but it actually includes the customers as well. It’s amazing to realise that now we’re dealing with the third generation of families who have been buying Scania buses since the 1980s,” Trevor said.
“It took us just over 10 years to deliver our first 1000 chassis in Australia, yet by 2012 we’d delivered 4000. Now in 2022 when we start to deliver our battery electric chassis into the market, we’re well over 10,000.”
Throughout his career with Scania, Trevor has worked in a variety of roles promoting the bus business, from National Fleet Manager to National Manager of Buses and Coaches, as well as spending some time as the General Manager, Vehicle Sales Support for Scania Australia’s bus, truck and engines business.
In the past three years, Trevor has returned his attention full time to the bus division working with Director of Sales, Buses and Engines, Julian Gurney, in the role of Product Manager Buses and Engines.
Under Trevor’s watch Scania Bus developed significant relationships with state-based transport operators, leading to substantial fleet purchases by governments in all the eastern and southern states, including Tasmania.
“The secret to our success has been listening to our customers and delivering a durable, reliable product that we back up consistently over the extended life of the vehicle,” Trevor says.
“Australia is one of the toughest operating environments in the world. We have high temperature differentials to cope with and some very ordinary road surfaces, but the fundamental difference in Australia is the up-to 25-year working life expectancy for the chassis. In Europe, driven by strict emissions controls and legislation, buses are turned over more frequently.
“Even in Australia there are very few tool of trade vehicles that have a working life requirement of a quarter of a century, and the fact that so many of our customers have remained loyal to Scania underlines how well suited the buses and coaches are to this operating environment,” he says.
“One of the greatest aspects of my work now is looking forward to the big transition in technology from diesel to electric. We have been pioneers with alternative fuels and renewable fuels for quite some time, having offered gas and ethanol-fuelled buses to customers successfully over 20 years.
“We have had hybrid electric city buses in service for a couple of years delivering vastly superior fuel efficiency and reduced emissions, and now we’re taking delivery of our first fully battery powered bus chassis, destined to hit the road this year,” he says.
“We’re also about to introduce radar-powered vulnerable road user protection systems, a concept that would have been utterly unimaginable to the first generation of bus customers we approached with our first product offerings in the mid-1980s. So, we have come a long way.
“At the launch of our New Bus Generation chassis in Melbourne recently, we arranged for a small display of some heritage Scania buses to underline this very point.
“The Joyce family, owners of Wangaratta Coachlines, brought along a K82 8-litre, six-cylinder city bus that was one of the very first batch of six chassis we received in 1984. That bus has certainly served the operator well and we were delighted when they bought it back from its subsequent owners and refurbished it to a very high standard.
“Similarly, the Tasmanian Bus and Coach Society has refurbished the first low floor Scania in Australia. It was their 100th Scania bus. This 1992 N113 CRB model shows how quickly Scania adapted to Australian conditions. During its extensive working life, it covered 1 million km.
“We were also fortunate to have on display an articulated L94 bus from 2002 that was originally part of the airport shuttle service in Melbourne before being recommissioned as a food bank by owner and operator Kinetic for a Melbourne charity. This bus racked up 200,000 km a year and has 1.6 million km on the clock,” Trevor said.
“What all these buses show clearly is that Scanias are right for the times and the operating environment, and I am proud to have played a part in bringing these buses to their operators and to their customers, right around Australia.”
Having clocked up 40 years for Scania, Trevor says he has no plans to slow down in the foreseeable future.
“I’m itching to get my first drive of the battery electric bus on local roads, and revel in that surge of torque from zero revs, not to mention enjoy the silent ride,” he said.