(first posted 7/16/2016) In a previous post we looked at the Neoplan AN440 motor coach, an effort by the German manufacturer to provide US transport operators another alternative in the early 1980’s to the problem-plagued GM RTS II and Grumman/Flxible 870 buses. But another company was also looking to “crash the party” and pick up some US market share – Ontario Canada-based Orion Bus Industries.
Orion emerged as a motor coach manufacturer in the mid-1970’s. At the time, the company was known as Ontario Bus Industries (OBI) and was owned by the province of Ontario, with its main assembly plant in the city of Mississauga, near Toronto. It produced its first transit coach in 1977 – the Orion I – which proved quite successful competing against the New Flyer D40 and GM New Look Classic in the Canadian market. In turn, in 1982, the company decided to establish a US assembly plant in Oriskany, New York. The US operation was named Bus Industries of America (BIA).
The Orion I, which initially was 30 ft long and 96 inches wide, was produced from 1977 – 79. In 1979, a 35 ft model was introduced.
Finally, a 40 ft coach was available in 1984. I always thought these Orion I’s were nicely styled – perhaps because they had a “throwback” look to them; a combination of both Old Look and New Look design themes…
GM 6V53 Diesel
Early 30 and 35 ft versions used a GM 6V53 diesel engine with an Allison automatic transmission. Later 40 ft models had GM 6V71 and 6V92, or Cummins L10 engines.
Besides the Orion I, there were six other Orion models produced – the II, III and IV were built in small numbers. The Orion II was an innovative, early attempt at a low floor medium-sized bus and was built for, and used primarily by, shuttle and para-transit operators. The engine, typically a Cummins 4 or 6 cylinder, or a Navistar 7.3, was offset and located under the raised driver’s area.
The Orion III was a low-volume articulated bus built in conjunction with Ikarus Coach of Budapest Hungary – more on this bus in a future post.
The Orion IV “People Mover” was assembled for the Niagara Falls Parks Commission and showcased unique, futuristic styling. These models, both a tractor and trailer, shuttled visitors on the Canadian side of the Falls from 1985 to 2012. They used Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) as fuel to reduce engine noise and emissions. I had the opportunity to ride on these during a trip to the Falls in the early 2000’s – they were very attractive and modern looking. Unfortunately, they’ve since been retired and replaced by regular buses.
The V thru VII were the more mass-produced models. The Orion V was the company’s most successful coach – it was a high floor bus built from 1989 to 2008 in 32, 35 and 40 ft models. It was one of the first coaches to use Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) – and had the rather unique option of a John Deere CNG engine.
The Orion VI was a complete low floor model with an offset drive-train and inverted portal axles, similar to early versions of the NovaBus LFS. It was built from 1996 to 2004, with most sales in the Canadian market.
Orion’s final bus was the VII – a “Low Step” model that included diesel, CNG and Hybrid powertrains. As you can see from the pictures, New York Metro was a loyal Orion customer, perhaps due to the in-state Oriskany assembly plant.
New Flyer Models
The company had been acquired by Daimler in July 2000 but by 2012, Daimler decided to exit the North American transit bus market – and closed the Orion factory in Mississauga. The New York assembly facility remained open as a parts supplier, and was subsequently purchased by New Flyer Industries in 2013 – New Flyer then bought the remaining portions of the company in 2015. Orion/BIA’s old facilities are now being refurbished to assemble New Flyer models.
Great looking coaches.
Prior to the Flxible Corporation shutting down for good in 1997, The Orion Bus Industries was close in acquiring The Flxible Corporation with its sole production model the Flxible Metro E (a model not that much different than the original Grumman-Flxible 870) during the Fall of 1995 through the Early Winter of 1996. It was not to be however since many serious uncompromising differences only known in details to both bus manufacturers “killed” the deal and by that time The Flxible Corporation was handed down the “death sentence” to extinction. Orion Bus Industries which later became Daimler Chrysler then Daimler Bus North America continued on until 2012 when it no longer wanted to continue the ever changing transit bus productions. At around the same time however, Daimler Bus NA had just acquired Motor Coach Industries to team up with Kassbohrer Setra for Motor Coach productions instead. Now these defunct manufacturers Orion (for transit bus repairs, parts and services) and MCI (with its comprehensive coach lines) became a division of The New Flyer Industries much in the same manner that NABI or North American Bus Industries (formerly Ikarus USA) was also acquired by The New Flyer Industries as its other transit bus manufacturer division at least about a year or two prior to this next acquisition.
Thanks for the additional info – I didn’t know about the potential Flxible deal. Next week’s post will discuss Ikarus-USA and NABI. Jim
You Welcome, after The Flxible Corporation’s failed talks with Orion Bus Industries, they also had discussions with Nova Bus which later became a subsidiary of The Volvo Bus Group along with Prevost Car to the present (which back then just recently acquired the RTS and the New Look type Classic production several years earlier and had also been producing the stand alone newer LFS to the present since) but to no avail because The Flxible Corporation as part of the potential agreement had to enter a “non compete” deal for a couple of years with Nova Bus which meant no longer producing the Metro because it competes directly with both the RTS and the Classic high floor transit bus market so the deal fell through and eventually a year later the Classic was discontinued in 1997 and the RTS operations was sold to Millennium Transit Services, LLC in 2002. MTS, LLC hardly produced any volume RTS’ if at all maybe less than ten? to other transit agencies but for the most part only as demonstration models. MCI however did acquired The Flxible Corporation but mainly for its parts services only and not resuming the production of the Flxible Metro E nor the proposed Flxible Metro Low Floor model based from the China Flxible design. China Flxible by the way was never owned by The Flxible Corporation much like Neoplan GmbH were to Neoplan USA and NABI were to Ikarus Hungarian operations.
Since I partially mentioned Prevost here but more details here six years later. Prevost will no longer be honoring BUY AMERICA requirements from their U.S. Bus Customers so they are shutting down their satellite U.S. Factories and Offices. Prevost is now completing the last volume orders for MTA New York City Transit and others and that would signal the end for their U.S. customers due to the “BUY AMERICA” stringent requirements. MCI will be also in the process of shutting down their main Pembina, North Dakota plant within the next year as well. So all these motions would put an end to the Express Commuter Bus manufacturing from both competing manufacturers. Over the Road Coaches and Private Haulers may have to look elsewhere like Van Hool and others if they don’t need to adhere to the “BUY AMERICA” requirements or even Prevost since they would still be building OTR coaches for their Canadian customers which does not required to be subsidized by any given U.S. line haulers and thus Prevost would not be subjected to the federal requirements in the U.S.
I’ve ridden in Orion II, IV, V and VI, since I’ve lived in Mississauga for the past 19 years. And I’ve ridden in Ikarus city and intercity buses when I’ve lived behind Iron Curtain.
Hated rides in Orion ll, as its engine was very loud!
Great articles about buses! Thanks, Jim! 🙂
You’re welcome – next week’s article is about Ikarus USA – hope you enjoy that one too. Jim.
I wonder if the Orion III articulated buses were the same type that the Santa Clara County Transit District purchased back in the early 80’s? It seemed that the County Transit buses came straight from Hungary, though, as I never heard or saw anything about Orion. (Also, it seemed strange that the local government would buy buses from the other side of the Iron Curtain as the Cold War was still going strong then.) They didn’t seem to last very long, however; I don’t know if it was because of reliability or maintenance issues or just because they were too much bus for the amount of riders County Transit had.
My guess is that they were Ikarus-Crown 286’s – so yes, they were very similar. Ikarus had a joint venture with Crown Coach in 1980 – Crown assembled Ikarus’ European 280 articulated bus at its LA plant. However, It wasn’t very successful – they’ll be more on that in our next bus post. Thanks for your comments. Jim.
Good article and TCAT out of Ithaca used to have a number of Orion Is in their fleet. The drivers liked how they went up hills so easily even with a full load.
Raleigh, North Carolina replaced its fleet of rather tired RTS buses with Orions sometime around 2000 or shortly thereafter. I think they were the V model. Seems they were in service for a good long while, but have since been replaced by Gillig models.
I currently own the Orion I shown in the above thread (former Pacific Transit System D-14). I purchased it and it’s twin “D-11” around 2005 and used them for a short time as event shuttles and then trips with friends an co-workers. They were some of the best driving buses I’ve ever driven. Sadly they were parked in early 2010 when I was injured, and they have not been driven since. The engine has been removed from D-11, while D-14 remains intact but in a deteriorated condition. I remember when these were the first full-size buses purchased by Pacific Transit System, and they were some of the very first buses manufactured by Orion Bus Industries at the Mississauga facility. The first one to arrive (prior to the two I own) had one single front door that swung in behind the chairlift…very unique. Mine were built and delivered in 1982, and the were dependable, reliable, and well-liked both by PTS and passengers. I loved the sound of the Detroit 6v53 engines. I would love to restore one or both of them to their former glory. So sad to see OBI go out of business…they made incredible buses.
On the whole, I thought the Orion I was pretty good – much more reliable than the RTS and a very well laid out area for the driver. I loved the instrument panels in them. Instead of a simple strip of lights like in the older Flxibles and New Looks, they had a scattered array of little colored buttons sticking up out of the dash, and the whole button would illuminate. It was probably not the best thing for glare at night, but it was rather cheery with all the different colors and it looked expensive. The only things I disliked were (1) for some reason, all our Orions had spongy brakes and I have cold sweat memories of standing on the pedal hoping to stop in time, and (2) it may not look like it in the photos, but they had a rather large blind spot for the driver at the front corners. I had a crossing guard come out and stand at the front left corner of the bus when I was at a stop watching passengers get on, and though he was probably two feet from me I couldn’t see him and nearly ran him over.