(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.