A few weeks back we reviewed the Transportation Products Twin Coach TC 25/29 bus – a medium sized coach designed for shuttle, para-transit, and cross-town work. That coach didn’t quite succeed in the marketplace, primarily due to offering just one powertrain option. About the same time as Transportation Products was filing for bankruptcy in the mid-1970’s, another manufacturer, Eldorado, entered the “midi” sized market with their own coach – the Transmark RE.
As you can see, the Transmark is quite similar in looks and design to the final versions of the TC 25/29. I researched to see if perhaps Eldorado purchased some of Transportation Products proprietary designs and tooling during its liquidation, but didn’t find anything that could confirm that. So it could be that the Transmark RE is based on the TC 25/29, or it’s just a coincidence they look so similar.
Transmark/Eldorado aimed at the same market niche – shuttles for the airport trade and universities, the burgeoning para-transit market, and small city mass transit fleets. They first concentrated primarily on airport shuttles, and were quite successful. I can remember in the decade of the ‘80’s, when I flew into most any US large city and rented a car, a Transmark RE was usually what whisked me to the off-airport rental car lot.
The Transmark RE came in 27 and 30 foot lengths, with passenger loads of 29 to 34. Shuttles with minimum seats could hold up to 45. Initial models were powered by a 5.9 liter Cummins B-Series inline six cylinder, backed by an Allison six-speed automatic. Output was 230 hp and 440 ft lbs of torque. The Cummins/Allison combination worked so well that Eldorado has used these same components in all of its buses since then, including up to today.
One of the reasons for its success was the Transmark was classified as a “heavy duty” bus – buses are categorized as “heavy”, “medium”, or “light” duty. For heavy duty think most urban transit buses – like a GM Old/New Look or a more recent New Flyer or Nova Bus. Medium duty are those based on a strengthened commercial chassis – like a front-engined school bus. An example of a light duty bus is the now ubiquitous “cut-away”. Since 1989, certification for the heavy duty designation has been done at Penn State University’s Larson Transportation Institute at its Altoona campus. Buses are put through a variety of tests that simulate a 10-12 year/350-500K mile service life (without major repair/refit).
In the late ‘80’s and early ‘90’s, the cut-away gave fleet managers a much cheaper alternative. Eldorado adapted quickly and while keeping the RE in production, came out with its own line of cut-away designs. In fact, it currently offers five models based on Ford’s F-250 through 550 chassis. I’m not a fan of these cut-aways so we won’t review them here.
In addition to the shuttle market, major metro areas and smaller cities that had light passenger load or cross-town routes found Eldorado’s offerings were a good match for their needs. The South Eastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA – Philadelphia) was a prime customer, along with the city of Everett Washington.
The company weathered the challenge from the cut-aways and continued to expand. The standard height Transmark RE was supplemented with the low-floor EZ-Rider and EZ-Rider II model in the early 2000’s. These came in 30, 32, and 35 foot lengths.
The company continued to prosper to the extent that it decided in the mid-2000’s to enter the large coach market and compete with the “big boys”; New Flyer, Nova Bus, and Gillig. In addition to the smaller EZ-Rider II, it now offers the 40 ft Axess BRT model with diesel, LNG, CNG, Hybrid, and Fuel Cell powerplants. LA Metro is one customer, and placed an order for 295 CNG buses in 2017.
Today, Eldorado National, or now known by its acronym ENC, is part of the REV Group. In May of this year, it sold the shuttle bus portion of its product line to Forest River Industries – one of the major players in the US RV market. ENC manufactures its heavy duty products at its factory in Riverside California. The medium and light duty cut-away models, now called just “Eldorado”, are assembled in Salinas Kansas.
The bus business is not an easy one, as we’ve seen with other companies that have tried and went by the wayside – it’s nice to see one that fought its way through and succeeded.