(first posted 7/9/2016) I’m sure CC readers are familiar with Neoplan Bus GmbH– one of the largest manufacturers of motor coaches and other transport related vehicles in Europe. What you may not know is that from 1981 to 2006 Neoplan also assembled coaches here in the US – and the primary model produced was the AN440 – nicknamed the “Transliner.”
So how did Neoplan come to build buses in the US? Well, picture the US transit coach market in the early 1980’s – the two primary models in use, the GM RTS II and Grumman/Flxible 870, had both developed very poor reputations – the RTS for its HVAC/engine/door woes and the 870 for its cracked A-frame. Neoplan no doubt saw this and concluded timing was good to offer frustrated US transit operators another, more well-built option.
The company had tried once earlier – in 1977 it entered into a small-scale joint venture with Gillig Corp for that company to assemble a version of its mid-sized 30 ft European coach – and called this the Gillig-Neoplan Transit Bus. It found few buyers, and the plug was pulled on the collaboration in only the third year of the five year contract.
The company had better luck in 1981, when it took the larger step of building its own assembly facility, and chose Lamar Colorado as the location for the plant. This New York Times article from 1981 chronicled the excitement as this new facility opened.
The Lamar facility and subsequent follow-on plants in Honey Brook, Pennsylvania, and Brownsville, Texas built several different Neoplan models, but the primary coach assembled was the AN440 – a 40 ft, 102 in wide urban transit competitor to the aforementioned GM RTS II and Grumman/Flxible 870/Metro. All the typical North American powertrain options were available; GM, Cummins, Caterpillar, Allison, ZF, and Voith. Engines could be arranged in both “V” and “T” orientation.
In this clip you can hear a Transliner with the distinctive rumble of a Cummins L10G engine and an Allison B400R 6 speed auto transmission.
Later, 35 ft and 60 ft articulated versions were also sold.
A three axle version was produced, mainly for suburban routes. The forward rear wheel is a “tag axle”.
A low floor version was introduced in the mid-1990s.
Neoplan’s main customers were South Eastern Pennsylvania Transit Authority (SEPTA – Philadelphia) and the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (METRO – DC). SEPTA had at one point over 1,000 AN440s in their fleet.
So, why didn’t we see more of these coaches and what became of the company? Well, regarding the former question, when it began in 1981, Neoplan USA was a direct subsidiary of the main company in Stuttgart. At some point, I couldn’t identify exactly when, Neoplan spun off Neoplan USA – and the company went from a subsidiary to merely an independent licensee. It may have occurred around 2001 when Neoplan GmbH was incorporated into the MAN Group. One could assume that as a separate entity, it received significantly less support and oversight from the home company. Secondly and perhaps related to the first, the buses started to experience problems. Both Washington and Pittsburgh reported cracks in the frames. Then San Francisco also reported frame problems – and noisy cooling fans, faulty transmissions, and maintenance intensive brake systems. Not helping, Neoplan refused to acknowledge or fix the issues plaguing the San Francisco buses.
As to the latter question, sales tapered off as orders were cancelled – Boston cancelled a significant order in 2005. The company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in Aug 2006. It stayed around as a parts provider and then ceased all operations in Oct 2007.
Almost all of these Neoplans have since been retired – some just in the past year. If you see one, it is likely on its “last legs.”
Neoplan GmbH which is now a part of the MAN Group is also owned by YES the Volkswagen Group (Those Beetle/Golf/Jetta/Passat/Audi people). Neoplan USA which later became an independent franchisee during the 1990s went out of business due to Chapter 11 Bankruptcy by the 4th Quarter of 2007.
IIRC the Pittsburgh (and naturally probably the units in Philly) were called “Pennliners” I seem to remember a lot of problems with these. (both PAT and it’s riders bit**ing about the.), But I never remembered any thing negative about our M*A*N articulated busses, I had no idea they were “related”!
MAN and the defunct Neoplan USA were never related. It was only during the mid to late 2000s when MAN and Neoplan GmbH became related but still separate divisions (much like the present day Prevost and Nova Bus Volvo Bus Group parentage) via virtue of their Volkswagen Group parentage. Other than licensing agreements “naming rights” and former subsidiary prior to the early 1990s, Neoplan USA was independent from Neoplan GmbH let alone MAN.
Looks like no Neoplan I know – this must be a design solely intended to serve the US market and featuring the typical heavy-handed and dated styling of the type. For what it is worth, Neoplan is not known here in the EU as city bus producer – their forte is making coaches. The city bus market in the EU is dominated by such players as MAN, M-B, Solaris and others.
This is the bus I was most fond of while being a young teen below driving age in LA’s San Fernando Valley. Long waits in the sweltering summer sun trying to get to wherever my friends and I were trying to go just hoping that it wouldn’t be a rattly and poor-riding GM RTS that showed up again…Nirvana when we struck gold and one of these showed up with A/C that worked and more comfortable seating, and every once in a while even a whiff of New Bus Smell (which gets overpowered very fast). These were my first conscious exposure to Neoplan’s product and I was surprised when I started to notice the tour buses etc in Europe later one.
I took a ride in downtown Seattle in a MAN bendy bus back in 89. Looking just like the ones in Germany.Wounder if this was an import or a Neoplan?.
Googling around learned that there was a MAN Americana transit bus, built from 1984 to 1988.
Here’s one in Seattle, May 1994:
MAN originally sold their SG 220 articulated bus via AM General in the States, beginning in 1978. Around 1983 the SG 220 was replaced by the SG 310, which was a version of the same bus modified for better suitability to US conditions. Around 1984 MAN also introduced the standard-length SL40102 Americana, based on the German-market SL 202. King County Metro (Seattle) had SG 310’s in both trolleybus and diesel forms as well as diesel Americanas and SG 220’s. However, MAN sold their last transit bus to the US market in 1988. (If I had to speculate why, I’d say the Americana had not been very successful compared to its competition, leaving the brand without a strong 40-foot offering, and the SG 310 was limited in its success by not having a Detroit Diesel or Cummins engine option.)
Thanks for the additional info, JK. All new to me.
Yes, I read those buses for the US market had a MAN engine. Utterly common in Europe -especially in its homeland of course- but it must have been an exotic in North-America.
Since 2004, Euro-MAN transit buses are marketed as the Lion’s City series. Current generation below (the electric version).
We lived in Southeast suburban Denver when the Lamar Neoplan plant (Neoplant?) opened. Denver’s RTD* bought a bunch of the new buses. They stayed in service for quite awhile, but there were visible field fixes applied over the years in an apparent effort to get around design problems or unnecessarily costly parts; I imagine there was quite a lot more of that kind of thing invisible.
*Why must so many public transit systems be so drably, unimaginatively named? RTD = Regional Transportation District. It should’ve been DART, Denver Area Rapid Transit, right? I’d’ve much rather taken the DART if I thought I’d have trouble parking the Dart wherever I was going.
Dallas called the dibs on DART acrynom in 1983 after its precursor agency DTS was reorganised and expanded to serve suburban regions.
At least, there’s regional bus system serving Lugano, Switzerland and Domodossola, Italy with actual but unfortunate acrynom, FART.
Have your self a laugh and Google “Sarasota County Area Transit”
It should’ve been DART, Denver Area Rapid Transit, right?
That would be good for Denver, not so good for Fresno.
Thanks for this Jim. I never knew that Neoplan US was a separate organization. As Pedro says above, Neoplan Germany is fully integrated in MAN Truck & Bus AG.
What us the reason for the tag axle ? Does it steer or is it just for stabilIty
To comply with axle-loading requirements. In most jurisdictions, city transit buses have exemptions from highway maximum axle weights, just like transit buses for years could have 102″ of width while on-highway buses were restricted to 96″ width, until the 70s. 40 foot (and longer) buses are quite heavy, and all 40′ and longer highway coaches had twin rear axles, the exception being the relatively light GM 4905. Even it had an optional retractable tag axle for use in certain states.
Axle weight maximums vary state-to-state. Some big trucks have numerous tag axles that can be lowered when the truck is fully loaded.
Haven driven three different types of Neoplans (1984 diesels, tag-axle suburbans, also diesels and the CNG’s), I found them to be comfortable buses to handle. The diesels had plug doors which often failed to close and we’d either hit the over ride switch or momentarily shut down the engine. The patrons were used to it. The “tags” were heavy. Unfortunately RTD had given up a lot of surburban runs to contract operators not long after they’d purchased the “tags” and part of a trip might involve running as a local. Not a good thing with only one door. I much preferred Neoplans over RTS buses. The CNG’s were the best of the crop and they ran well. Toward the end of their lives, I began to notice some serious rust problems, especially with the bodies. All told, RTD/MTA had approximately 415 diesels, 90 “tags” and about 700 CNG’s. All were retired by 2012.
Did Neoplan also build buses that are used at airports to take passengers from the plane (if not using an airbridge) to the terminal? I think I’ve ridden in a number of them all over the world.
Never heard of any in the U.S. Major bus builders seemed to stay away from that market with the exception of Gillig, which seemed ready to build anything if a contract came along. One break in that thinking was the use of 35′ RTS buses by Hertz, the car rental agency, utilizing that big rear door to bring on luggage. There were a number of them at Los Angeles Int’l. A guy that I knew intended to buy one that had been retired and I went along with him to test drive it. I got behind the wheel and it handled fairly well.
was there not a graft investigation involving Neoplan?
These were very popular in Pittsburgh when they first arrived – building the PA assembly plant was a condition of winning the SEPTA and PAT contracts, as the state was buffeted by collapsing industry in the early 80s.
They were seen as a real step up from the RTS busses which felt plasticky compared to the long-serving Fishbowls. Plus they were German, something that carried a lot of weight around Pittsburgh – the number of Beetles on the road when I was a kid was amazing.
I went off to college and then my folks moved before the frames started cracking, though. My guess is the Germans never considered the effect of potholes – or at least the number of them a typical Western Pennsylvania winter creates.
Wow, really interesting! I just rode on one of these today in San Francisco! They probably won’t be around for much longer!
It’s a bit late now, but it appears Neoplan USA became a licensee when it was purchased in 1998, see: https://www.bizjournals.com/denver/stories/2004/08/16/story3.html
As of 2022, MBTA (Boston) has the last American fleet of Neoplans, with 2004/05 AN440LF diesels. They also had one-of-a-kind AN440LF ETB trolleybuses and AN460LF articulated dual-mode trolleybus/diesels, but the trolleybus routes are being converted to hybrid-electric so the AN440LF trolleys are gone. The AN460LF dual-modes are still running on Boston’s Silver Line, but they are going to be replaced by New Flyer Industries XDE60 hybrid buses which are currently on order.
Los Angeles RTD (as it was then) heavily circulated a picture of one of the Neoplans in front of the Coliseum as part of their 1984 Olympic brochures and such. It’s a bit odd that it wasn’t an RTS since GM was a major Olympic sponsor at the time and for some years after.
Neoplan entered the US market out of spite for Gillig.
Back in the late 70’s Gillig wanted to enter the transit market but had no experience with anything other than school busses. They entered into a five year contract to partner on the transit production but once Gillig had learned what they needed the contract was canceled. Gillig went on to produce the phantom which was mostly a copy of the truss frame neoplan.