Bus Stop Classics: American-Ikarus/North American Bus Industries – From Hungary to Alabama…

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Our European readers are no doubt familiar with Ikarus, a manufacturer of motor coaches based in Budapest Hungary.

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While Ikarus is still operating today, its heyday was in the period prior to the breakup of the Soviet Union, where it was a major provider of buses to countries throughout Eastern Europe.  This is its 66 series bus – quite a feast for the eyes…

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Ikarus-Crown 286 Articulated Coach in Portland

Ikarus was unique in that it was a company from a Soviet satellite country that tried on several occasions to market its products in the US.  The first attempt came in 1980 in the form of an alliance with Crown Coach Corp of Los Angeles, a long-established maker of heavy duty school buses and fire apparatus, which by this point was in financial difficulties.  Ikarus shipped unfinished versions of its 280 articulated coach for final assembly by Crown.  However, this partnership ended in 1986 with few orders, though Portland did purchase 87.  Portland was not a happy customer though, and subsequently sued Ikarus/Crown for substandard workmanship, documenting forty-five major problems with its coaches.  The suit was settled out of court.

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Ikarus-Orion 286  (also known as Orion III) in Toronto

Its second attempt came in 1987, when it entered into a joint venture with Orion Bus Industries to provide 60 foot articulated coaches to the Toronto and Ottawa transit systems.  Unfortunately, this effort was also less than successful, as no additional orders materialized, and Toronto retired its coaches early due to corrosion problems.

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The company tried one more joint venture, in 1989, this time teaming with Union City Body Co., of Union City Indiana to assemble a version of the Ikarus 415 transit coach, labeled the 416.  It also incorporated this joint venture as Ikarus-USA.

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With the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991, the company was faced with a much more competitive environment, and its market share decreased significantly.  This put strain on its US operations and Ikarus-USA was forced to dissolve in 1992.  Thus began a major transition for the company.  Ikarus sold 75% of the company to a UK-based Fund Manager who moved operations to Anniston Alabama.  Then in 1996, Ikarus sold the remaining 25% essentially ending its US operations – the new company was renamed North American Bus Industries (NABI), with no affiliation or tie to Ikarus.

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Free from the shackles of its former parent, NABI began making successful inroads into the US transit market, developing and selling a full line of products.  It continued to offer updated versions of its 416 high floor coach.

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35 ft

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40 ft

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60 ft

And in 1997, began marketing its LFW low floor model in 35, 40 and 60 ft articulated versions.  Powertrain options were typical for North America (Detroit Diesel, Cummins, Caterpillar; Allison, Voith, ZF).

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NABI routinely updated the model – this is a 2012 Gen 3 version, 31 ft, using CNG.

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The BRT series was the final new model NABI developed.

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In June 2013, New Flyer Industries acquired NABI from its current owner, Cerberus Capital Management, L.P. (yes, that Cerberus…).  It elected to discontinue all NABI models and switch production to New Flyer buses – the last NABI coach was built for DART (Dallas) in October 2015.  The Anniston plant will begin assembling the New Flyer Xcelsior this year.

Perhaps due to a similar acronym, NABI is often confused with BIA (Bus Industries of America) which we reviewed in a previous post.  They were in fact two separate companies with separate products, though the one thing they did have in common was that they were both ultimately subsumed by New Flyer.