In autumn 2001, the Mercedes-Benz Bus and Coach unit of EvoBus GmbH celebrated the opening of a new design studio right next door to its Bus and Coach Delivery Centre, a new building which is also completely new in design. Consultancy for the exterior and interior design of all Mercedes-Benz bus and coach series has been concentrated on two floors covering some 450 m². Customers are now even better able to obtain advice from Mercedes-Benz design specialists when selecting individual paint finishes and interior appointments.
The design consultants of the Mercedes-Benz Bus and Coach unit are much in demand with customers, as buses and coaches are a transport company’s calling card. A passenger’s decision to travel with a particular transport company often depends on the vehicle type, its colour scheme, its appointments, the level of passenger comfort and an unmistakable corporate identity. Every year, a large number of local public transport operators and tour operators come to Mannheim to find out about the latest trends and individual design options.
Everything under one roof
The design studio provides a friendly and attractive setting, where in a calm atmosphere transport operators can pursue in-depth discussions on design with Mercedes-Benz design consultants.
On the first floor, exterior bus and coach design is located at what is called the design and paintwork centre, while on the second floor the interior appointments section is accommodated in spacious rooms. Customers seeking individual advice are thus able to see immediately what their future vehicle will look like and select the appropriate interior design and seating configuration on the spot. Michael Schneider and Harald Schröder, responsible for bus and coach exterior design at the Mannheim design studio, and Thomas Hassler and Franz-Josef Rapp, who have responsibility for customer consultancy in matters of interior design, are more than willing to explain the centre’s concept. „The design studio has the facilities to provide a wide range of information in a pleasant setting“, is how Thomas Haßler describes the benefits of the design studio. And the fact that customers are tending more and more to seek the help of the design experts in Mannheim after major events such as trade fairs or the Mercedes-Benz Bus and Coach Open Days traditionally held every two years at the Frankfurt-based Used Bus and Coach Centre (OGC) is confirmation for Harald Schröder that „our design offering is absolutely spot-on“.
The paintwork – the operator’s calling card
Many customers, especially urban and rural regular-service bus operators, come to Mannheim knowing exactly what sort of finish they want since the new bus has to be integrated into the overall fleet and match the relevant company’s existing corporate identity, while at the same time requiring surfaces for advertising. But even within these narrow limits, customers can obtain advice from the Mannheim design consultants on how to adapt the corporate design to the shape of the bus or how to incorporate the latest trends.
In the design and paintwork centre, the exterior design specialists provide an overview of the options available in exterior bus and coach design using a wide range of paints, paint methods and graphic designs. The equipment and technology used to perform the tasks are also presented, and the ways in which the various design techniques such as adhesive sheeting, painted or coloured sheeting and so on are applied to individual vehicles are also explained. Solutions are then recommended for the right design and adhesive technology for the new vehicle or fleet, which is carefully adapted by the exterior design specialists to the exterior styling. By incorporating unique corporate design elements they ensure that the newly purchased bus or coach can blend in with the rest of the fleet.
To this end, the design consultants at the Mannheim bus and coach plant have advanced, powerful Silicon Graphics computer systems at their disposal, which enable them to design the paint finish of the new bus or coach in close collaboration with its new owner. The exterior finish of the customer’s future Mercedes-Benz regular-service buses and touring coaches is designed on a large display screen measuring 2.5 x 1.8 m. On this screen, the entire outer skin of the vehicle can be shown from three different views (front, rear and side), thus allowing the customer and the consultants to see on-the-spot what the finished result would look like. The right paint finish is selected from the EvoBus GmbH and RAL colour range, starting with the definition of the base coat. The body can then be de-corated with adhesive photo sheeting, painted sheeting and/or coloured vinyl sheeting. New sheeting and adhesive techniques, such as the use of retro-reflecting sheeting, metallic printing and window graphics, and low-cost, high-quality adhesive solutions such as „photo-printing“, are all available. The complete range of finish options available for Mercedes-Benz buses and coaches extends from classic paintwork, through adhesive motifs, to airbrush motifs on paint or sheeting, to meet the customers’ own special wishes. The complete sets of full-scale data for all Mercedes-Benz bus and coach models are stored in the computer. As a result, designs can be elaborated in detail, without conversions in size or quality losses, and passed on directly to a plotter which then cuts out the finished original sheeting.
Interior bus and coach design makes the passenger feel at home
While the exterior design of the new bus or coach is being developed, the colour scheme for the interior is selected almost at the same time. This guarantees that the seat covers, curtains, backrests, wall and roof trim right through to the galley are perfectly matched to the exterior finish.
The top floor of the Mannheim design studio houses design consultancy for the appointment of bus and coach interiors. In the interior design rooms, with one room dedicated to touring coaches and one to urban and rural regular-service buses, interior design experts show operators the various interior design options open to them and the types of seating and various fabric patterns available. A high-performance computer system, creating two-dimensional interior animations for coaches and three-dimensional animations for regular-service buses, makes the consulting experience as lifelike as possible. The various trim choices can be simulated using modern media, allowing customers to equip their vehicle to suit their own individual wishes and requirements. There’s also plenty of „hardware“ on hand: to suit the intended application, the full range of passenger seats for the different types of Mercedes-Benz buses and coaches, the different driver’s seats, a wide choice of galleys and „drinks centres“ offered by various manufacturers for Mercedes-Benz coaches, as well as the latest collections of fabrics in the full ran-ge of patterns and the latest trim materials are all available for „hands-on“ inspection. A „design gallery“ provides an overview of interesting plans, showing the development of past projects and the very first drafts for collections in the current Mercedes-Benz bus and coach range.
An example of this is the selection of fabrics and fabric patterns for seats, floors and other interior trim. Where the design of the fabric motifs is concerned, emphasis is placed on the one hand on the requirements specific to regular-service buses and touring coaches - such as easy cleaning and attractive looks. At the same time, attention is paid to structuring and dividing up the interior space effectively using multi-coloured fabrics. The seat coverings used in regular-service buses are modern without being modishly short-lived– in the case of urban buses, the vehicle should, after all, still be attractive after an average service life of 10 to 15 years.
The patterns of the upholstery materials currently available therefore range from classic to youthful comic or graffiti motifs; the latter are designed to appeal above all to younger passengers and pupils, thus catering for the growing number of schoolchildren travelling by bus. The „trendy“ design of the new upholstery covers is also intended to prevent vandalism - a phenomenon frequently encountered in this age group – the idea being that young people will not mindlessly destroy things that they like. The texture of many of the fabrics used is also new, with the Mannheim collection featuring new fabrics with glitter threads which give an almost three-dimensional appearance to the motifs. For touring coaches, a collection of leather appointments is available in colours matching the exterior paint finish and the interior trim, ranging from all-leather luxury appointments to hard-wearing leather-and-fabric combinations. Customers can also choose floor designs and attractively integrate them into an appealing overall interior design concept.
The two-dimensional design computer used in coach design consulting allows the whole interior of a Mercedes-Benz Travego or Tourismo to be visualised on a 109 x 62 cm TFT screen. All the current upholstery designs and interior trim colours are stored in the computer programme. With the help of the design consultant, the customer can convert an initially grey coach silhouette into the coach of their choice by combining interior trim colours and fabric patterns on the screen. The Mercedes-Benz bus and coach sales representatives also have this software on their laptops, so that they can produce a print-out, with pictures and codes, of the interior design configuration agreed with the customer for the customer’s new vehicle. Interested customers can also access sample designs at www.mercedes-benz.com under „Design Studio“ in the „Buses and coaches“ submenu.
3D interior design consulting for regular-service bus customers
In addition to the 2D design consulting which has been offered for coach customers for quite some time, 2003 saw the introduction of 3D consulting for regular-service bus customers. The interior trim of a regular-service bus is much more complex than that of a coach, due to the wide range of potential applications. Customers and design consultants can choose interior trim for Citaro urban and rural-service buses in a real-time, virtual step-by-step 3D walk-through. Different interior trim permutations can be tried out until every detail is just right, the colours of the different components are perfectly coordinated and on the inside, too, the bus becomes an impressive calling card for the operator.
The 3D interior design consulting follows on from the local public transport customer’s visit to the Mannheim design studio’s exterior design office to choose CI-compliant paintwork for their new regular-service bus. Armed with a colour print-out of the selected exterior design, the customer then visits the „interior design – regular-service bus“ section of the design studio.
Here the first step is to select the passenger seats for the new Mercedes-Benz re-gular-service bus from a large number of possible versions for urban and rural-service buses. The spectrum extends from basic urban bus seating through comfortably upholstered SCC seats to the A 680 rural-service seats. Then, taking into account the customer’s requirements, all the possible seat versions and arrangements are reviewed until the perfect solution is found and has been scrutinised from all perspectives. Next comes the selection of the fabric trim, with 50 different designs to choose from. The colours of the seat backrest centre sections, the backrests, the sidewall trim, the grab handles, the roof edge rails, stop request buttons and floor coverings can be shuffled and reshuffled until everything is perfectly matched and coordinated.
The 3D design consultancy service allows customers not only to visualise interior designs but also to feel them or try them out for real. From grab rails to seats, specimens of all the various interior design components are available for „hands-on“ inspection, in all the various available colours and materials. The two aspects complement each other and dovetail at every stage. The interior decor can be reworked again and again during the virtual walk-throughs by adding or changing designs and colours, until eventually the entire interior presents an attractive and thoroughly satisfying appearance from all angles.
Right from the start it was intended that the new 3D interior design consulting system for regular-service bus customers should be available not just on the pre-mises of the Mannheim design studio. Soon customers will be able to benefit from this kind of consulting at their own company offices too. The 3D design consulting service has therefore not been developed as a mainframe-dependent solution requiring high capacity and memory. Instead it has been designed with current-generation PCs in mind, which will allow it to be deployed flexibly as a bus sales tool throughout Europe. In fact, at the Munich Service Centre, „on-line design consulting“ is already up and running.
3D design consulting is being steadily developed and expanded. 3D animation can now be provided for all Mercedes-Benz regular-service bus series. The range of fabric designs and colours too is being continuously extended and updated and further materials are being added. For example in addition to conventional PVC floor coverings, injection-moulded floorings too can be visualised in 3D animation, with the aid of an integrated configurator.
The new design studio offers both design consultants and bus and coach operators an excellent basis for making a successful choice of both fabric designs and exterior paintwork. The designers also have the option of configuring new designs and paint colours using internal DaimlerChrysler resources. The interior fabrics are selected from a 20-shade colour system specially designed for Mercedes-Benz buses and coaches. The resulting colour schemes can be guaranteed to provide a harmonious colour match between the fabrics and surrounding areas.
„Online“ design consulting
In 2004, an all-new service for bus and coach operators made its world debut at the Munich Service Centre. Now customers buying a new Mercedes-Benz regular-service bus or coach can consult the exterior and interior design experts of the Mannheim design studio via a videoconferencing link, thus saving themselves both time and money.
The Munich Service Centre incorporates a design centre and showroom which is unique in the bus and coach industry. On a large display screen connected to a PC equipped with a high-performance graphics card the customer can configure the interior of his new Mercedes-Benz coach or regular-service bus just as if he were in the design studio at the Mannheim bus and coach plant. In the case of the Mercedes-Benz Citaro regular-service buses, the process can even be visualised in a 3D animation. If the coach or regular-service bus customer requires the advice of a Mercedes-Benz design expert, a consultant at the Mannheim plant will appear within minutes on two further displays to discuss the matter via a direct videoconferencing link. In this way the bus and coach customer not only receives comprehensive and competent advice but can also save a great deal of time since the long journey from Bavaria to the Mannheim design studio is no longer absolutely necessary. Brief queries can be quickly clarified via the conferencing link.