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.
It’s a hassle to use the rental car bus at Fort Lauderdale airport, especially to and from Terminal 3. Crowed as hell both coming and going, especially the early AM or mid day. I find it easier to walk to the rental car counter at the main parking garage if the weather is reasonable.
Another great report Jim, on one of the small players in the North American transit bus market. OC Transpo in Ottawa, has one of the larger bus fleets in Canada with around 900 buses, but I recall only seeing one El Dorado product in their lineup. I used to see this ‘E-Z Rider’ (below) regularly employed on a very low volume route for a few years around 2000. With the retired New Look bus in the background, this pic appears taken in one of their scrap yards. The serial number indicates it was purchased in 1997.
Their later larger coaches somewhat resemble the Nova Bus.
It’s interesting they would have used that large of a bus for a rental shuttle, I’m guessing primarily at larger airports. I’ve only been renting cars for the last 20 years or so, and the shuttles I’ve gotten were primarily Econoline cutaway buses from 2000-2010 or so, and almost exclusively Transit/Sprinter passenger vans now. Even at that, I’d say half the time, I’m the only passenger, and the record is maybe like 3 other people in the shuttle with me.
It probably depends on the airport. When I flew out to California four years ago, all the busses seemed to be these bigger ones and were quite full.
Yeah I’m not really remembering all those smaller ones either, most of the airports I fly (flew) into, at least out west, seem to use much larger, big city size buses for the rental and parking lots. And they are generally packed. Getting on one nowadays after (or before) a flight sounds like the worst thing in the world.
The bigger busses are becoming more common as many more airports build “ConRAC”s – Consolidated Rental Car facilities, where all the rental companies are in a single building, rather than each having their own lot (and thus their own bus or van).
San Jose was one of the first, as was DFW. San Diego recently opened one, and LAX too. For LAX the reduction of traffic from using many fewer but bigger shared busses (and eventually a people mover) was a huge motivator. I looked at their traffic data once for a project I was working on and the number of rental car shuttles was absolutely huge.
Interesting, I suppose it makes sense if you’re moving larger groups further off-site. The last Enterprise shuttle I used was at SJD, pre-end of the world, & they had an all Sprinter fleet, and the other brands each operated their own shuttle van fleets. My home airport has the rental car offices and lots in the parking garage that’s connected to the main terminal, so really only hotel shuttles here. They too seem to have made the transition to a mostly Sprinter/Transit fleet.
Seeing the Ford based Eldorado 2020 reminded me of the Industrial Design work I did for Goshen Coach back in 1987. Driver sight lines out of these “chop” chassis, to the right, were horrible. Therefore I designed in the FIRST large bayonet window on the cab’s right to radically improve the driver’s vision to that direction. The “bus” made quite a splash when unveiled at a show out in Las Vegas. DFO
That looks almost futuristic for 1987, apart from the vintage 1975 Ford nose you were forced to use. If it were offered on the new-for-1988 GMT400 Chevy pickup-type cab chassis…
Thanks for the add’l info Dennis and congratulations on your design. I didn’t catch the “bayonet” reference until I went back and looked again at the Advantage pic – indeed, looks like a bayonet blade…..Jim.
There must be a huge investment in the design and manufacture of those cutaway buses. Ford intended to end production of the E-Series (nee Econoline) once the cab-and-chassis version of the Transit van was available.
There must have been such a major clamor from bus-body builders (and other custom body builders), that Ford continues building the cutaway E-350 and E-450 to this day. They still sell 3-4000 units every month, even in the current, troubled environment (source: goodcarbadcar.net)
See the comment by Dennis Otto below. These cutaways are cheap to design and build. So as long as there are customers buying on price alone, they will be made. Our paratransit fleet here still uses cutaways.
Ford didn’t intend to drop the E-series CA when the Transit CA/CC became available. The Transit has a max GVW of 11,000lbs and a GCWR of 15,000 while the E-Series starts at 10,500 so there is some overlap, but it goes up to 14,500/22,000 and authorized upfitters can take the GVW much higher with a Tag axle.
Speaking of Tag axles that is another reason the E-Series soldiers on, BOF construction means that adding a Tag and other frame modifications are simpler. Then there is the powertrain, no room for a big V8 in the Transit that can allow for that 22,000 GCWR which is needed to allow the purchaser of that really big motor home the ability to also do serious towing.
So yeah that is why the 2021 E-series got an update which gave it a new dash and the 7.3.
I love how you are very straightforward with the rationale behind not discussing the cutaways “…because I’m not a fan…”. They do suck and seem horribly unsafe and underengineered, the ones that take you out on the freeway like at SFO are the worst.
The whole “bus with a single door” concept has always been a source of wonder, it seems to terribly inefficient, but I suppose works if the loads are smaller and there are only stops at the ends of a route. Interesting post on some of the more invisible and unsung members of the genre.
I’m with you Jim. I wince every time I have to ride in one. I assume they have certain crash standards to meet but they just feel flimsy and cheap.
Certainly recognise the shape, even if I hadn’t seen the name. Interesting read.
“There must be a huge investment in the design and manufacture of those cutaway buses” NOT really, they are similar to a RV in that respect, altho the cutaway “buses” do have certain seat and structural standards now which RVs still mostly do not.
The engineering and tooling that is required, say for a Ford cutaway, far EXCEEDS about anything the small bus and/or RV industries combined require to uhh…”manufacture” their products.
Back in 1978 when I first left the “real world” of product design and engineering and came to Elkhart RVland, I about went into culture shock when I started realizing how flimsy these RV products really were. Admittedly the overall situation has improved since then, but numerous RV builders (and multi millionaire owners) will not spend a dime more than they are forced to for better, stronger products..
The Mercedes bus shown took FAR more engineering, ID and tooling than the U.S. RV small bus and RV industrie$ could ever afford to spend on a product line, as but one small example.
Talk about a REAL need for strong gov’t over$ight…………DFO
Interesting stuff, thanks. I guess it’s a sort of standoff between Ford and the body builders.
I see a few possible scenarios…
a) Body builders migrate to the Transit cutaway and the E-Series sales slow to such a crawl that it no longer makes sense to build them
b) The E-Series body stamping dies wear out and it’s not economically viable to make new ones to sell 40,000 units/year
c) Some sort of safety/emissions standards change and it’s not worth the money to re-engineer the E-Series to keep up
d) The Avon Lake plant, where Ford builds E-Series and F-350-F-750 chassis-cabs can’t keep up with demand for the latter and drops the E-series to open up production space
I guess the E-Series could die next year or 20 years from now. Who knows?
The E-Series isn’t going to die next year they just did a refresh for 2021 and they didn’t do that if they didn’t expect to sell it for at least another 5 years.
The Transit just doesn’t cut it for many of the E-Series applications so the builders aren’t going to drop their largest offerings if they don’t have to.
It might be worth pointing out that Eldorado is a division of Forest River Industries, one of the two or three heavyweights in the RV industry, and owned since 2005 by Warren Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway. They also make cutaway van/buses.
Good catch Paul, I’ll add that in….Jim.
These seem to have incredibly short wheelbases compared to overall length. That Enterprise bus looks like it could sit on its hind legs. I guess the advantage is a shorter turning radius.
Smaller turning circles was certainly one advantage – another included lower operating costs since they typically had smaller engines. But from what I’ve been reading, with new CNG, fuel cell, and certainly battery-electric powerplants, operating costs are almost the same for small or larger sized buses. As a result, unless the route requires a smaller bus due to geography, most fleets are now going with 40 ft buses to standardize….Jim.