Bus Stop Classics: 1990 – 2003 Neoplan Megaliner – The Bus That Changed the Rules

As we saw in our post on the NH series “Hamburg” bus, Neoplan was a German coach manufacturer on the move in the 1960’s – 1990’s.  Always looking to innovate, it wanted to push the boundaries, or perhaps better said, the dimensions of the then current bus restrictions with regard to size and length in Europe.  The vehicle that helped accomplish that goal was the double-decker, four-axle, 15 meter (length) Megaliner bus.

While the Megaliner was introduced in 1990, it was not Neoplan’s first 15 meter (49.2 feet) four-axle model.  While European regulations at the time limited single body (non-articulated) bus length to 12 meters, Neoplan built a four-axle 15 meter version of its double decker Skyliner model for a Chilean customer in 1975.  It proved popular in Chile and in other South American countries, in addition to Saudi Arabia, Libya, Turkey, and other areas with less restrictive size limits.

Through the 70’s and 80’s, Neoplan continued to sell four-axle 15 meter versions of their Skyliner and Cityliner models in countries where permitted – but really wanted access to the larger and more lucrative European market.

So, in 1990 they built the Megaliner.  The Megaliner was part of a strategy to lobby German and EU officials to extend the 12 meter limit to 15 meters.  Neoplan offered several operators cut-rate prices on the Megaliner, which could be driven on European roads on a limited basis with a special permit, giving the public a preview and also  showing it could be operated safely.  At the same time, the company began the arduous process of petitioning for a change in the EU’s bus length regulation.

As with any bureaucracy, it took some time, but in 1993, both Germany and the EU approved a change allowing single bodied dual-axle 15 meter coaches – but with some stipulations; the interval between the center of the front and rear axles had to be at least 4 meters, and all four axles had to be steerable.

The Megaliner was all set and ready to go – besides being 15 meters long, it was 4 meters (13.1 ft) high and 2.5 meters (8.3 ft) wide.  It could seat 50 passengers on the upper level and 40 on the lower.  Engines were mostly the big Mercedes OM 442 LA 15.1 litre (921 cu in) twin turbocharged V8 diesel with an output of 525 hp and 1425 ft lbs of torque.  In addition, engines from MAN and Scania were also offered.  The transmission was a ZF 8S-180 eight speed manual.

With the basic Megaliner launched, Neoplan then introduced two variations.  The first was the Megaspace – a Megaliner with the lower seating level converted to a galley and lounge.

The Megashuttle was a Megaliner built for high-volume urban transit use – 55 seats on the upper level and 45 below, with standing space for another 80.

Scania K380 (14 Meter)

As the new century approached, motor coach regulations were again changing – several manufacturers had successfully petitioned the EU to permit 14 meter (45.9 ft) length buses with a single front axle, given they met axle loading standards.  Obviously, a single front axle bus is a lot less complex and less costly than a tandem axle version.

With sales decreasing, Neoplan ceased marketing the Megaliner in 2000 and the last one was built in 2003.  In 2008, one of these Megaliners operated in Japan by Japan Railways caught fire – all passengers were evacuated but the bus completely burned.  Approximately one year later, another Megaliner caught fire between Tokyo and Osaka – again everyone was evacuated – but the remaining Megaliners in use were all pulled from service.

As was mentioned in the previous post, Neoplan was integrated into the MAN Group in 2001 – their largest current model is the Skyliner (14 X 4 X 2.5 meters).