Safety and Liability. Part 3: The MCI D45 CRT LE Commuter Coach

A Paradigm Shift in Motorcoach Accessibility Part 3: The MCI D45 CRT LE Commuter Coach In Part 1 of this series, I introduced N ATIONAL B US T RADER readers to a new vehicle: MCI's 45-foot, ramp-equipped D45 CRT LE. I hinted at its striking innovations and its promise down-the-road. In Part 2 of this series, I described the specific details of this vehicle, along with their significance. In this closing installment, I will examine this vehicle from the perspective of bus design – a discipline in which I have considerable professional experience. I will both expand upon this vehicle's brilliant starting point and explore its potential as the transforma- tive vehicle I believe the D45 CRT LE can further become. As a cautionary warning to N ATIONAL B US T RADER readers and MCI's designers, the D45 CRT LE is not the only unique entrant to the motorcoach or public trans- portation field. At periodic intervals, other OEMs have done likewise. One of the most interesting was a vehicle introduced by Neoplan at the UMAMotorcoach Expo in 2001 in Atlantic City. Known as the Inter- modal Explorer, it combined passengers and freight into one vehicle. The front was a double-decker coach that could seat as many as 35 passengers while the rear was a platform supported by three axles that could transport a standard 20-foot inter- modal freight container. The vehicle could presumably operate on routes serving sea- ports and railroad yards. While the concept was interesting, we never heard of any orders being placed. Another lesson comes from the recent OEM Mobility Venture's MV-1. Coming upon what I immediately thought was the ultimate paratransit vehicle, I askedMobil- ity's VP at a trade show why it only had a single wheelchair securement position – lim- iting it to an accessible taxicab rather than a the ideal vehicle for shared-ride paratransit purposes. He told me that the seat directly behind the driver's seat could not flip up (as minivan seats in that position all do) because their engineers had designed the fuel tank to lie beneath it. Not even addressing the notion of a gasoline engine inside the pas- senger compartment, I asked this corporate official what could be done about it. He replied, "Nothing. We would have to invest another $150 million in tooling to redesign the vehicle that way." The affordable MV-1 is still on the market. Its market potential was severely constrained by this decision at the design level. The perfect paratransit vehi- cle – a versatile, moderate-cost, SUV-size chameleon – turned out to be merely a niche market product on the public transportation landscape. These examples illustrate an important principle about vehicle design, and prod- uct design in general. No matter how bril- liant a newly-introduced vehicle or prod- uct is, it is only a starting point. If it is not well-marketed, if no mistakes were made at the design level which preclude the product's further development and if the initial design does not evolve quickly to expand beyond its initial target market, the starting point may be ignored. With the potential I myself see in the D45 CRT LE, I truly hope that MCI grasps these lessons, and continues to unleash the potential that would seem almost unlim- ited to someone with imagination – or at least to one who understands the essence of vehicle design. The Vehicle Design Continuum Vehicle design is not what most people think it is. While the first step in a vehicle's evolution is indeed design, this step will not succeed unless all the successive steps are taken into consideration such that the design facilitates the optimization of each successive step in the process. Of these successive steps, after design comes engi- neering, After engineering comes proto- type cobbling. After prototypes come test- ing and certification. After these come the still-largely-hand-crafted construction of pilot orders (and continued testing). Then comes tooling – a major cost, where all the jigs and fixtures must be created to mass produce the vehicle (although most of today's vehicles are assembled, in team- work fashion, with smaller inventories, according to an approach known as "lean production"). Then comes marketing. Then sales – assuming that the design facilitated the optimization of each successive step before it. Then, naturally, comes produc- tion. The vehicle's continued sales will depend on the production-line consistency of high-quality vehicles at a reasonable cost. At each successive step in the vehicle development process, those in charge must envision the steps to follow, making sure that no step constrains the optimization of those steps which will come after it. If every step is well thought out, the vehicle's further evolutionwill adapt to new challenges rang- ing from regulatory requirements to buyer preferences. Well-thought-out is street talk for great design. For, according to the prin- ciples cited above, great design usually National Bus Trader / March, 2018 • 35 Safety and Liability by Ned Einstein One of two monitors in vestibule