Chinese automakers see opportunities in UAE school transport

Brands like Foton and Higer seek to tap into the school bus segment

PHOTO: Chinese buses are becoming a popular option with UAE customers, says the distributor of Foton buses. Credit: Shutterstock

Chinese commercial-vehicle brands are increasingly tapping into the UAE’s lucrative school transport sector, manufacturers say.

The opportunity in the school transport segment comes as the brand perception of Chinese manufacturers steadily improves in the market, said Nihad Alkilani, general manager for fleet and commercial at Liberty Automobiles Company, the UAE dealer for Foton trucks and buses.

Many Chinese buses have been successfully running in the market without any issues, and customers have started to see the value in the products, he pointed out.

Foton buses were introduced into the market by Liberty Automobiles about two years ago, and the dealer plans to relaunch the buses with more high-end specifications to suit the needs of the UAE market, Alkilani said.

The school sector has been particularly lucrative for the brand, and the company supplies buses to institutions like the International School of Choueifat. Foton buses are currently offered with different seating capacities, ranging from 35 to 65 seats.

Meanwhile, KHF Automotive, the distributor of China’s Higer buses, is also working on expanding its footprint in the school sector, said Reju Joseph, sales manager at the firm.

Safety is a top priority in school buses, and Higer buses come equipped with several features to make them safer, Joseph told MEConstructionNews.com.

“We mainly focus on safety. Our vehicles come with three-point seatbelts and a reverse camera, which gives an added advantage to the drivers. Now the school buses come with eight cameras: reverse camera plus the side cameras, and an inside camera.”

Higer buses can also be fitted with GPS tracking, he noted. Additionally, the vehicles come with a fire-suppression system inside the engine compartment, which is automatically activated in the event of a fire in the compartment. Other safety features include breakable windows and a slip-resistant floor.

When asked what school customers typically look for besides safety features, Alkilani noted that they also seek buses that can accommodate the maximum number of students at a reasonable cost.

Earlier, many schools would depend on buses from Japanese competitor brands, which had an average seating capacity of 30 seats, and came equipped with jump seats. But Dubai’s RTA ruled that jump seats are no longer allowed on school buses due to safety concerns and they had to be removed, further diminishing seating capacity, Alkilani noted.

Foton school buses come with 37 seats, including spaces for the driver and a guide. They are specifically manufactured for school transport purposes, as opposed to buses from other brands, which are modified to fit RTA specifications, Alkilani said.

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