In our last Bus Stop Classics post we looked at how the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 ushered transit coach operations into a new era – the “Low Floor System” or “LFS” era. We also looked at the first low floor coach to be introduced to the North America market; the New Flyer D40LF. New Flyer had a monopoly on the low floor bus market for several years in the early 1990’s, but one competitor was working hard to change that…
That competitor was Montreal-based NovaBus. NovaBus has an interesting history. For the non-bus fans here, let me provide just a quick summary. The company traces its heritage back to the General Motors Diesel Division (GMDD), GM’s Canadian-based heavy equipment subsidiary. The success of the New Look coach in 1959 encouraged GM to start another production line in Canada, and in 1961, GMDD began assembling that bus. It went on to build an update, the Classic, all over a 25 year period at its assembly plant in Saint-Eustache. GM sold its bus operations to Motor Coach Industries (MCI) in 1987 and that company continued operating the facility until 1994, when they too elected to divest their transit bus models. The employees at that point took the innovative step of incorporating the plant on their own, and naming their new company NovaBus. In 1997, the company was purchased by Volvo Bus Corp, which continues to operate it as a subsidiary. Volvo had previously purchased Prevost Car Inc., a long time Quebec-based maker of intercity and tour coaches, in 1995.
B96 Alliance LFS Demonstrator
While still producing the New Look Classic model for the Canadian market, NovaBus realized there was no future growth in high floor buses – and focused on getting a new low floor model into production. They looked to Europe for a potential partner and, interestingly, found the same company as New Flyer had several years earlier – the Dutch company Den Oudsten Bussen B.V. Unfortunately, Den Oudsten was in somewhat dire financial straits by this time and couldn’t fulfill its portion of the joint venture. NovaBus did acquire one B96 Alliance bus and obviously studied the design – one can see the similarity between it and the prototype demonstrator LFS model released in 1994.
By this point, buses were fairly standardized in terms of size (40 ft long, 102 in wide), powertrain (Detroit Diesel, Cummins, or Caterpillar), and transmission (Alison, Voith or ZF). But the LFS had one unique feature – an asymmetrical engine placement – it used a T drive orientation with the engine offset to the left (facing the rear of the bus). This offset allowed for a full low floor version, in addition to a “Low Entry” model.
To meet “Buy American” restrictions, the bus was built at an older assembly plant in upstate Schenectady New York beginning in 1995. However, orders weren’t as large as forecasted and the plant closed in 2002 – the company withdrew from the US to concentrate on the Canadian market. Prior to closure, one major customer was the Chicago Transit Authority who purchased 480 LFS models for their fleet.
The company kept its eye on trends in the US market and saw an opportunity to re-enter in the later part of the decade. In 2009, it built a new assembly plant in Plattsburgh New York, only sixty miles south of Montreal. This plant was expanded in 2015.
This first generation was built from 1995 – 1999.
The second generation (1999 –2009) came only in a Low Entry model.
2nd Gen 3rd Gen
The third generation (2009 –2013) switched the engine location to the center-line of the bus.
The fourth generation (2013 – present) continues to be built at the Plattsburgh plant today.
A 62 seat articulated version is available for BRT routes.
This is another bus I have not had the opportunity to ride in, so I’d be interested in hearing reader’s comments. I’ll admit I’m not a fan of its looks – it strikes me as trying to be a little too “cute.” I admire bus manufacturers like Flxible that try to put some style in their products, and also those that eschew styling for strict functionality, like the New Look Classic and New Flyer D40LF. This NovaBus looks like it would be more at home in a Disney Parking Lot, rather than Main Street.
Our next post will look at the last of the US manufacturers currently offering a heavy duty low floor urban transit coach – Gillig…