How the Ukrainians made the world’s first off-road bus

EP has learned how the Ukrainians were able to create the world’s first off-road bus in just one year, and why the buyers for this vehicle are lining up in the United States, Australia, Canada, Bangladesh, Georgia and New Zealand.

From blueprints to the operational bus in just one year: the Ukrainian company Pulsar Expo created the one and only off-road bus in the world, Torsus Praetorian.

This motor vehicle is unique not only because of the futuristic design. The European Union, where the bus is undergoing certification, does not have the “off-road bus” category. The European certification authority had to place a request with the European Commission to open a new category.

Presently, Pulsar Expo is in the phase of small serial production. Eight vehicles have already been assembled, and another 17 are in the works.

Simultaneously, the manufacturer is in talks with automakers in the United States, Turkey and Ukraine regarding the launch of serial production. Orders for the bus have been received from the United States, Australia, Canada, Bangladesh, Georgia and New Zealand.

Auto conversion experts

Pulsar Expo was founded in 2014 by the Ukrainian couple of Vakhtang Dzhukashvili and Yulia Khomych.

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Pulsar Expo founders Vakhtang Dzhukashvili and Yulia Khomych
Photo by PULSAR EXPO

Vakhtang hails from the automotive world. He worked in corporate auto sales, consulted the industry’s companies, handled auto conversion. Yulia is a lawyer specializing in international law. She worked at large law firms, and then, founded her own law firm.

“Me and Vakhtang decided to join efforts: my experience in working on international projects and his in automotive industry”, she says.

That’s how Pulsar Expo came to life. The company supplies specialized vehicles under international technical assistance programs.

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Among the company’s clients is the U.S. Government, in particular, the State Department (Regional Bureau for Procurement Support, U.S. embassies) and the Department of Defense, and also, agencies of the United Nations.

The U.S. Government and the United Nations regularly announce tenders for delivery of technical assistance to various countries. Pulsar Expo participates in these tenders and wins them. During 2016-2017, the company signed contracts worth the total of over US 20 million.

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Geography of Pulsar Expo’s deliveries

“We deliver any motor vehicles except tracked machinery”, Vakhtang says, “staring from ordinary sedans for personal trips and modified pickup trucks, and ending with AWD trucks for use in extreme conditions.

“In addition, we often convert motor vehicles. An ordinary truck is of little use. We make a lot of additional improvements; for example, we assemble a tow and repair truck or a wheeled excavator. It’s a quite complex and specific conversion, and that’s what we do”.

The demand is worldwide

The idea of creating an off-road bus was conceived after analyzing requirements of Pulsar Expo clientele. The geography of the company’s vehicle deliveries includes countries with low-sophisticated infrastructure.

“When donor organizations order five off-roaders that have to travel in a column from point A to point B, we understand that this is being done only because they don’t have a technical solution”, Vakhtang explains. “From operational point of view, five SUVs is a waste of money”.

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The interior of the off-road bus’s experimental model

Besides the public sector, the Ukrainians have contacts with oil and gas production companies. They prefer truck-based crew buses. According to Vakhtang, these buses are horrible, but have no alternative.

There is a demand for off-road buses on part of extractive companies in Canada and Australia. Large quarries are located far from the place where the personnel live, so people have to be transported there.

Still, Pulsar Expo has no intention to stick only to this particular configuration. The company already senses demand in Georgia and New Zealand for skybuses – off-roaders transporting groups of skiers with their gear.

Bangladesh wants to buy 105 off-road buses, including the “ambulance” modification. This is the only vehicle capable of transporting up to 12 seriously injured patients in the lying position in the conditions of complete absence of roads. For the country experiencing frequent floods and earthquakes, this vehicle is a must.

In the United States, the Ukrainians see a substantial potential in the camper segment.

“When you buy a camper, you want some freedom. People travel in campers to a forest or mountains. This way, you have more freedom, but you’re still confined to the 4×2 drivetrain configuration and disadvantages of a large bus. What we offer is freedom in the maximum possible configuration”, Vakhtng says.

What an off-road bus is assembled of

Realizing that the niche of transportation in off-road conditions is occupied by SUVs and modified trucks, the Ukrainians decided to create an off-road bus.

According to Yulia, the difference between a truck remodeled as a bus and an off-road bus is that remodeling always requires a compromise. The Torsus Praetorian has been built as an off-road bus from the very beginning.

The crucial distinguishing feature of the Torsus Praetorian is that the vehicle’s body is made not from metal but from composite materials. These materials are lighter than metal, allow for a wider range of shapes, and most importantly, do not corrode.

The latter feature is especially important, considering difficult operating conditions. Roads could be sprinkled with salt, and often have small gravel that destroys the metal’s surface, thus causing rust.

The bus was created from the scratch: the couple ordered design to a foreign designer, which provided the basis for development of the vehicle.

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Pulsar Expo founders show the Torsus Praetorian’s blueprints
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Vakhtang Dzhukashvili

Manufacture of a bus, like any other automotive production, is a constructor of a sort: the vehicle is assembled from ready components. All units were made at factories in the EU and the United States. Most of them — engine, chassis, transmission box, brakes — are manufactured by MAN.

Still, the Ukrainian company’s contribution to development of the bus is substantial. “The design of the bus is ours. We develop molded forms — a master model, welding jigs, assembly line – and then outsource them all. Outsourcing companies make spare parts for us”, Vakhtang says.

Presently, Pulsar Expo engineers assemble the buses in Bratislava, Slovakia’s capital. For that purpose, the company leases a production facility. The company’s founders would not disclose the number of members of the development and assembly team, as well as the amount of investment. The only thing they said is the approximate starting price for the base version of the bus: 100 thousand dollars.

 Torsus Praetorian off-road bus

Number of seats: up to 35 with seatbelts

Drivetrain configuration: 4×4

Clearance: 389 mm

Maximum speed: 117 km/h

Engine: 6-cylinder, diesel, 176 kW, emission level: Euro 3 — Euro 6

Fuel tank: 100 L

Maximum load: 13,500 kg

Chassis: MAN

Transmission box: MAN

Brakes: MAN

Equipped with a winch

Minimum price: US 100 thousand

What’s next?

The company has no signed contracts for delivery of its bus yet, although it received a lot of inquiries. For instance, one oil company wants to buy 70 vehicles of this type.

The government of Bangladesh is ready to buy 105 buses, and has requested detailed documentation. For the time being, all these inquiries are hanging in the air, because the company has no production capacity to deliver consignments of this size.

Pulsar Expo is presently completing certification of the bus in the EU under the Euro-6 standard. All that’s left is the certificate for chassis. Vakhtang estimates that it would take three months. After that, the company would be able to register the vehicle in any EU state and in any country of the world recognizing the EU certificate.

VSEVOLOD NEKRASOV

The article was originally published on Evropeiska Pravda

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