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Delivering on the promise

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Optare is predicting output of 750 vehicles in 2009 as it consolidates its operations following a year of change and acquisition. The double-deck hybrid Rapta, unveiled at November’s Euro Bus show, is scheduled to be available for demonstrations in the second half of the year with the first production models available for London before the end of 2009. However the Solo Plus model which was also unveiled at the show has been dropped from the plans because of a mixed reaction from customers.

Following the unplanned departure of chief executive Andrew Brian at the end of last year, Optare is now seeking a replacement and in the meantime chairman John Fickling has moved into an executive role.

Fickling describes the coming year as one of consolidation and delivery, following a year of restructuring and launches. The move into a new Blackburn factory has slipped a little behind schedule but the facility should be operational in the first half of this year, according to Fickling. He stresses that the company has improved manufacturing processes at the existing Blackburn and Leeds sites and is confident of keeping to delivery schedules. In the longer term the Leeds plant will be relocated in the city or close by, but this is not imminent and the state of the economy means that the proposed housing development on the site is not likely to start anytime soon.

Ahead of the launch of the demonstration Raptas, Optare plans to launch its Solo EV electric vehicle. Commercial director Glenn Saint says that the Solo EV received very strong interest at the NEC show and although there are not yet any orders to announce, he believes it has great prospects. “It is ideal for low mileage, light duty in level areas and the payback is faster than hybrid technology meaning that it is a commercial proposition for operators, not just a way of being green.”

Hybrid technology is of course a high priority as well as Optare competes for its share of the promised London market for this option. The first Rapta demonstrators will be hybrid versions in TfL specification and Saint points to its lighter weight as an additional advantage over competitors. “It is around a tonne and a quarter lighter than equivalent double-decks. We have achieved this because we started with a clean sheet and designed the vehicle as a whole.”

Saint points out that a tonne of weight is roughly equivalent to 1mpg saving in diesel and with average London mileages of 5mpg, this equates to an additional 20 per cent fuel saving.

The Rapta uses hybrid technology from Enova while the single-deck Tempo uses the Allison parallel hybrid system. Optare already has orders for ten hybrid Tempos, five each for Metroline and East London. During 2009, Saint says that Optare will be developing hybrid versions of the Versa and Solo models, using Siemens or Enova systems.

“Reliability is the key issue for us with hybrids,” says Saint, “which is why we are working with partners such as Enova, Siemens and Allison who have expertise in delivering proven complete systems”.

Fickling says that the company incorporates a high level of engineering skills with the coming together of LPD personnel and the “old Optare” team. “This expertise is why we have been able to be quick to bring new product to market even though the technology and the external issues continue to change rapidly”, says Fickling.

Aftersales is another area of development for Optare. From this month Multipart has taken over the stocking and supply of all Optare parts, although Fickling stresses that the customer will still call Optare and speak to its own staff for ordering, with Multipart looking after the logistics and fulfilment.

Other projects on the horizon are coaches. Optare continues to import small coaches from Spanish builder Ferqui but it is planning to start the development of its own range of coaches by the end of the year, according to Saint.

Export markets are still a focus for Optare but it is now looking for more opportunities to work with dealers and importers rather than trying to establish direct sales in Europe. A recent export win is five Solos for an Israeli operator which are being supplied through the local MAN dealer.

www.optare.com


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