The buzz on the Benz bus

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Text and photos by Aries B. Espinosa

FILIPINO commuters will soon have something to look forward to in their daily grind to and from work. A fleet of Mercedes-Benz buses have been shipped in, and are now ready for various transport applications.

Auto Nation Group, Inc. (ANG) has just introduced the Mercedes-Benz OF 917 Midi Bus, a high-deck passenger coach highlighting the brand’s expanding product lineup in the commercial vehicle segment in the Philippines. And on Feb. 15 one such bus was taken for a tour that started from the ANG headquarters in Greenhills, EDSA, to Nuvali in Santa Rosa City in Laguna, and back.

Although the road trip lasted more than four hours both ways because of the payday traffic, the passengers felt generally comfortable throughout, thanks to the 32 reclining seats and high-capacity roof-mounted air-conditioning. But what caught the group’s attention first — apart from the big Mercedes-Benz logo at the rear — was the OF 917 Midi Bus’ nine-meter length. This slots the vehicle right between that of a mini-bus (six meters) and a full-size bus (12 meters).

Joseph A.C. Ayllon, assistant vice-president for public elations at ANG, explained the OF 917 has been “designed and manufactured with the Asian market in mind.”

With the engine produced by Mercedes-Benz in Germany, the chassis produced in India, and the Alpha M8 body by TruckQuip SDA BHD of Malaysia, the OF 917 offers more space and capacity than vans and “coasters,” yet still maneuverable in the Philippines’ urban and rural streets.

The OF 917 power plant features a Euro5-compliant, inline four-cylinder, turbocharged and intercooled diesel engine that puts out 170 hp at 2,500 rpm and 520 Nm at 1,500 rpm. The OF 917 is said to achieve a fuel efficiency rating of four to five kilometers per liter, which ANG said is considerably better than that achieved by other buses.

The second attention-getter was the unique 4,783-liter rear compartment luggage space, positioned where the bus engine would normally be found, effectively making the OF 917 as having among the largest storage capacities in its class.

But we won’t see the OF 917 in great numbers anytime soon. Not this year, at least. Don Ramos, assistant vice-president for commercial vehicles of the ANG, disclosed that the company is expecting to supply around 20 units this year.

However, he was quick to add that the market “will definitely grow.”

“There are a lot of transport applications for the OF 917: We’re looking at feeder buses; at the P2P packages that the government recently offered; shuttle buses for companies; school buses, and also for airport shuttles. The interiors of the OF 917 are flexible, and we can reconfigure them based on what the customer needs.”

Mr. Ramos also revealed the OF 917 standard edition Midi Bus price is P4.9 million.

During the same activity, ANG also introduced the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter Luxury Coach, the premium version of its passenger van. The nine-seat Sprinter is powered by a 2.1-liter, four-cylinder, two-stage turbocharged diesel engine that puts out 163 hp, paired with a six-speed manual transmission to deliver what is claimed as best-in-class fuel efficiency.

What sets the Sprinter apart is its luxurious interior, making each passenger feel like a rock star. “The Sprinter’s refined cabin epitomizes the prestige of the brand,” said Mr. Ayllon, as he invited guests to look inside the Sprinter displayed at the Greenhills showroom.

By the time the group returned to the showroom after the tour in the OF 917 bus, the Sprinter showed by Mr. Ayllon was gone. It sold for P5.99 million.