“In a dynamic, commercial world, getting involved in commissioning your own bespoke technical solution is a seriously risky business”. So said Capoco Design last week in a 3,700-word essay on TfL’s New Bus for London.
ADL Enviro 400 as redesigned by CapocoCapoco, you may recall, was the design house that Autocar commissioned in December 2007 to produce a vision for a new Routemaster, the RMXL. Capoco was apparently paid just £750 for it. The result was “the firestorm of popular and political reaction” that took the famous design house by surprise. “It served as a firelighter to a bonfire of profanities” right at the time when London mayoral hopeful Boris Johnson was challenging the supremacy of the articulated bus.
There followed a public competition and, later, a manufacturing competition. Two submissions were eventually shortlisted, from Wrightbus and ADL. Capoco confirms that there were, in fact, not one but two from ADL, one in collaboration with Foster & Aston Martin; and the other with Capoco. Instead, TfL seems to have gone direct to Heatherwick Studio, by-passing even Wrightbus.
The Autocar design from Capoco that seems to have lit the blue touch paperNot surprisingly, Capoco feels its own design would’ve been the street wise thing to do. It was, after all, based on the world’s best-selling double deck (the Enviro 400) plus the world’s best-selling hybrid system (BAe Systems). Capoco argues that both in the short- and long-term, as technology advances, BAe offers and will offer the best fuel economy. What could go wrong?
As it is, Capoco states that the project probably cost four times the normal commercial programme and this is why LT (and others) “got out of design manufacturing decades ago”. Continuing, Capoco adds “to hand Wrightbus a monopoly over London’s double deck fleet is dubious”. If TfL forces tenderers to use the NB4L then, according to Capoco, it has sponsored a commercial monopoly using public funds.
Capoco also considers the market for the bus, outside London. It concludes that there isn’t one outside RHD markets because of the expense of shifting the gubbins at the back from one side to the other. And even Hong Kong, loyal to the English double deck, would be unwilling to buy a bus whose open platform would negate the work of the required hefty AC unit. As for cascading to the provinces, forget it, they argue. Two redundant doors and a redundant staircase mean a lot of “dead non-revenue earning real estate back there”.
We doubt, though, whether Londoners will share Capoco’s concerns. They may look at the design teaser, top, and see a bus that is startling. But those who care will look longingly and wistfully at the old Routemaster and simply be pleased that London can again have its automotive glory.
As for the “exquisite mechanical design” of the old RM, Capoco reminds us that problems saw the fleet virtually all taken off the road in the 1960s; that build volumes were uneconomically low because no one outside London wanted it; and that its development was so slow that by the time it arrived in numbers, rear platforms had their day in favour of rear engines… will history repeat itself?
And Capoco doesn’t really answer whether the NBfL is actually needed, or not. But its views make interesting reading.
i Capoco article on the New Bus for London