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75 years Neoplan
16.04.2010 - 22:00

German version

75 years Neoplan
  • From coachbuilder to omnibus manufacturer
  • With the "Hamburg" model, Neoplan revolutionises the tourist coach segment in 1961
  • Neoplan Skyliner – luxurious travel on two decks
  • Neoplan Cityliner – the classic model

The founding years

Company founder Gottlob Auwärter jr. (*1903, † 1993) was born of a family with a long tradition as cartwrights and wheelwrights. At age 14 he is apprenticed to this trade in the family works in Stuttgart-Möhringen, becoming a journeyman cartwright in 1920. These are the early days of automotive development and Gottlob Auwärter jr. eagerly applies for a job with Stuttgart's famous coachbuilders Reutter, and in 1922 he goes there to learn the coachbuilder's craft. Three years later – like so many companies Reutter is struggling with the shock of the depression – he has no choice but to return to his father's small workshop. Here he has to find his place alongside his father and a number of siblings – four of the six Auwärter brothers are working in the family business – and a measure of disagreement over the limited resources is inevitable. Gottlob Auwärter jr. qualifies as a master craftsman in coachbuilding in 1927 and in the mid-1930s he escapes the constrictions of the family firm and ventures into business by setting up a company of his own. Only a few short years after the Great Depression, at a time when no-one had yet dreamed of state subsidies or heard of start-ups, this is a decision that calls for courage and fortitude. It demonstrates confidence in one's own capabilities to be independent in the business environment of the day.
Gottlob Auwärter

With a workforce of six journeymen and one apprentice – all on loan from his father to help get the new venture off the ground – the company trading as 'Karosseriebau Gottlob Auwärter jr.' officially opens its doors for business on July 1, 1935 in the premises of a former brickworks in the Vaihinger Strasse in Stuttgart-Möhringen. Along with box bodies, cabs and load platforms for trucks, the company primarily contracts to build wooden omnibus bodies to be mated to the chassis of established manufacturers, names like Mercedes, Büssing, Henschel and Krupp. Gottlob Auwärter jr. is happy to manufacture bodies for vehicles of all kinds, but his main ambition always is to be a builder of buses.

At this time there is much similarity of design between trucks and buses. A bus is basically a body designed to accommodate paying passengers, mounted on a strong truck frame. The body is generally the work of a small coachbuilder working to a pattern specified by the customer. The practicalities of the situation, therefore, mean that in most instances buyers commission local coachbuilders to undertake work of this nature. Gottlob Auwärter jr. is one of those whose first customers are located not far from where he has chosen to set up his business.


Opel Blitz with Auwärter bodywork of 1936

The war years and economic recovery

Gottlob Auwärter jr. has 45 employees on his books when war breaks out in 1939. They are in the business of manufacturing omnibuses with wood-frame bodies and metal panelling. But now half the workforce is drafted into Germany's armed forces. Gottlob Auwärter jr. is instructed to direct the efforts of his remaining workforce into the construction of what were commonly termed 'Panjewagen', carts drawn by the Panje breed of horse, destined for use by the army. In 1942 his business is shut down and Gottlob Auwärter jr. and the journeymen are moved to near-by Echterdingen airport, where they are detailed for aircraft repair work. In 1944 he returns to his workshop where he and his brother Otto and three remaining journeymen convert vehicles to run on wood-gas. Bombing raids are frequent but the workshop survives largely unscathed, and after Germany capitulates Gottlob Auwärter jr. can press ahead with his efforts to get his company up and running again as speedily as possible.


One of the first buses made by Auwarter with a wooden chassis on Opel Blitz base with 75 hp engine.

Despite all his endeavours and tenacity, it is no easy matter to get the company off the ground this second time: money and materials are both in short supply. The bills for the last shipment of carts to the German armed forces are unpaid and are going to remain so. The Allied troops now in occupation in this part of Germany requisition every vehicle they can find, again with little thought of reimbursing the owners. Six buses are all that Gottlob Auwärter jr. can manage to hold back from the requisitioning French troops. This tiny fleet is the nucleus he rescues in order to rebuild his company. Gottlob Auwärter jr. starts off by repairing used vehicles, but very soon he is concentrating on the production of buses: from the early nineteen-fifties onward people in Germany begin to travel around again and the demand for buses and coaches is increasing by leaps and bounds. Competing with some 80 other bus manufacturers in Germany, all looking to win customers' favour at this time, Gottlob Auwärter jr. succeeds primarily on account of his ability to develop technologically advanced designs of his own.

He turns his back on the wood-and-steel bodies then typical of bus design and opts instead for a strong all-steel construction – a radically new departure in bus design at that time. To save weight, Gottlob Auwärter jr. uses light-alloy sheeting on the newly developed steel framing. Large windows carried through the curvature at the edge of the roof are a characteristic of his bus designs, a feature repeated again at the front and rear of the buses. Rubber buffers between chassis and body make the ride all the more comfortable for the passengers. The buffers isolate the body from the twisting action of the frame and the vibrations of the heavy diesel engine.


Krupp-South works L 50 of 1949 with bodywork of Auwärter

The first Neoplan is born

By the early nineteen-fifties, Gottlob Auwärter jr. has advanced bus manufacture to series production. He mounts his bodies on frames built by virtually all domestic manufacturers of chassis and engines – the list extends from Borgward and Hanomag through Henschel, Magirus-Deutz and Mercedes-Benz up to Krupp and MAN for large, heavy-duty buses. This breadth of diversity calls for tremendous craftsmanship and flexibility on the part of the coachbuilder, but it also fosters the precision necessary for adapting a vehicle to any set of customer requirements and preferences.

Bus production figures are rising steadily, the old works are soon too cramped and larger premises are urgently needed. In 1953 a new hall is erected; it offers 1,000 square metres of floor space and the workforce is now able to turn out buses at the rate of one a week. Gottlob Auwärter jr. is well aware of the necessity of shearing bus technology away from truck design and ramps his company up from coachbuilder to bus manufacturer by developing a new monocoque bus. This design dispenses with the separate chassis: frame and body form a single unit, the self-supporting unibody. The side panels welded to the ribbing – itself made of rectangular steel sections – contribute much to the strength and rigidity of the structure. The introduction of the monocoque body means a significant reduction in unladen weight and goes hand-in-hand with relocation of the engine to the rear of the vehicle, a configuration retained to this day in the vast majority of bus designs.


Mercedes-Benz L 3500 of 1953 with bodywork of Auwärter

Only a short time later, this first complete bus manufactured by the Auwärter jr. company is dubbed the Neoplan by its maker. "Hard to understand" murmurs trade journal Die Wagen- und Karosseriebau-Technik about this name in 1954, possibly unaware that the impromptu suggestion stemmed from the agent responsible for importing Auwärter buses into Greece. But the brand name Neoplan is soon accepted. Summer 1954, and series production of the first Neoplan commences with other versions in various lengths.

Demand for high-quality Neoplan buses increases in Germany and abroad, and by early 1957 Gottlob Auwärter jr. and his workers are ready to deliver the 100th Neoplan bus. In the same year, Neoplan debuts the world's first bus with air suspension as standard at the Frankfurt Motor Show, the International Automobilausstellung IAA. At a time when many competitors are still producing their buses by bodying slightly modified truck chassis, Gottlob Auwärter jr. sets a milestone in coach development with this design, which is patented in 1958. In combination with front independent suspension and the rear delta suspension sub-frame developed by Neoplan, these buses achieve a level of passenger comfort wholly unparalleled by any preceding design.


Neoplan SK 9 of 1954

Revolutionary times

Air transport is a burgeoning sector and radically new ideas are needed for ways and means of expediting passengers from the comfort of the terminal building to their waiting aircraft. Conventional buses are far from suitable. Neoplan rises to the challenge and in 1960 the company unveils a radically new bus for use on airport aprons worldwide. The passenger compartment has a level floor through the entire length of this spectacular vehicle with its no-step doorways. The bus sits astride a cranked rear axle carrying relatively small-diameter wheels, so the floor of the platform is a mere 350 mm above the ground. This enables passengers to board and exit the bus rapidly, easily and in safety, all crucial aspects of airport passenger handling. What is more, this is also the genesis of the "low-floor design" that will revolutionise the construction of city buses and service buses in the future, although a number of years have still to pass before this comes about.


One early apron bus NH 11 TR for airport Duesseldorf of 1964. These early models with their special front axle were the predecessors of modern low Floor buses that are very common today.

As far as coach design is concerned, Gottlob Auwärter's eldest son Albrecht moves centre-stage in 1961. Up until now, curved lines have been dominant in coach design. The side windows are small, and the coaches feature windows set into the roofline to give the passengers a better view of their surroundings. Now, at the 31st Geneva Motor Show, Albrecht Auwärter debuts a sensational new design destined to set new standards in bus-building – he calls it the "Hamburg" model. While studying at the 'Fachhochschule für Karosserie- und Fahrzeugbau' in Hamburg (hence the designation "Hamburg" for the new design) Albrecht Auwärter worked together with his co-student and later business partner Bob Lee on developing this radically new design.


Neoplan NH 6/7 L – Type of Hamburg. Together with university colleague Bob Lee Albrecht Auwaerter developed in 1961 for their diplomas at Hamburg Wagenbauschule he new coach Type Hamburg that was the first modern coach of its style. It was the hallmark for the brand Neoplan for some decades.

Just as Albrecht Auwärter revolutionised bus-building with the "Hamburg" model, in 1964 younger brother Konrad gives ample proof that as the youngest member of the family he too has inherited the spirit for developing cutting-edge bus technology. Konrad Auwärter concludes his course of engineering studies by submitting a dissertation on what would be the "Do-bus", an extremely lightweight double-decker service bus. Neoplan however is engaged primarily in the business of developing and building coaches, so in 1965 the design principle is adapted to the tourism sector and embodied in the Do-Lux, a sightseeing luxury double-decker. Although it was originally intended as a sightseeing bus for the city of Berlin, the buyers of the Do-Lux gradually go over more and more to using it for coach touring.


First Neoplan line-double-decker. Constructed fall 1965 of Konrad Auwärter. News: First double-decker with 100 seats, total height 3,99 m. Special characteristic, floor-hight only 350 mm above the road. The vehicle itself had no steps or stairheads.



Neoplan Do-Lux NB 20 L – The first Neoplan double-decker for town-allround-trip 1965 for Magasch-Berolina, Berlin. Total height 4 m, 74 + 1 seats. Fibre-glass domes in front and rear gave a good view. In the rear a MAN underfloor-wisper-engine was installed.

The Neoplan designers are well aware of the needs and preferences specific to this sector, so the company decides to develop a long-haul double-decker coach in line with these requirements – this is the Skyliner. When the design debuts in 1967 at the Bus Week in Nice, France, Neoplan steals the show. Before the year is out the original two-axle bus has been joined by a three-axle version with a tag third axle. The "liner" part of the designation, of course, harks back to the luxurious overtones of travel on luxury ocean-going liners and the speed of airliners, and has since been included in the names by which virtually all the new series from Neoplan have become famous around the world.


Neoplan Skyliner NH 22 – As early as 1967 the touring coach version of this bus was developed and founded a new class of coaches.

Neoplan pioneers modern touring coaches

Ten years have passed since the "Hamburg" model debuted – it is time to advance the groundbreaking concept to the next stage in its evolution. In this vein, Neoplan moves further down the chosen path of development from single-decker to high-decker and in 1971 the company selects the 20th Bus Week in Monaco as the venue for its launch of Europe's first high-deck touring coach – the Neoplan Cityliner. The passenger compartment is now two steps higher than the cockpit, the seats are again mounted on raised platforms. The side windows curving into the roofline, the high-comfort air suspension with rear subframe and front independent suspension still figure large on the list of standard Neoplan features, as do the air-vent nozzles for the comfort and convenience of each individual passenger. The Cityliner sets new standards for comfortable long-haul buses. In 1973 the range is extended to include a triple-axle version which, like the "Hamburg" in its day, earns the Cityliner the Grand Prix d´Excellence, the highest accolade in European bus-building.


The very first Neoplan Cityliner that was designed in 1971 as a city sightseeing coach in front of the Stuttgart testing department.

The continuing success of the Neoplan brand and increasing demand for high-quality premium buses have brought the Stuttgart production plant to the limits of its capacity. In Pilsting, Lower Bavaria, the Eicher tractor factory is up for sale. In Stuttgart space has always been at a premium, but in this new plant there is ample room for well-trained specialists to go to work. The Auwärter family acquires the factory to turn it into a second production facility. On December 1, 1973 the new plant is officially opened and production can commence. The factory is headed by Konrad Auwärter, who takes up residence with his family in the town of Pilsting.

Outside Germany too, Neoplan buses are attracting more and more attention and appreciation. Popularity continues to increase as time passes and now Neoplan buses are becoming a common sight on roads beyond the borders of Europe. The Republic of Ghana places a number of large-volume orders, and the company decides that the time has come to reinforce its position on the African continent. In 1974, Neoplan opens its third production plant in Kumasi, Ghana's second-largest city. The sturdy buses of the Tropicliner series are still manufactured here today.


Neoplan Tropicliner of 2005

Neoplan has had signal success in the coach sector, and now the company begins to shake up the market for public-service buses. In 1976, the N 814 arrives on the scene as the first low-floor city bus with two wide, no-step doorways for access. The technology comes straight from the company's in-house designs, and in fact had characterised both the first low-floor airport bus and Konrad Auwärter's double-decker, the 'Do-bus'. The N 814 creates a sensation when it appears, but ten years are to pass before the low-floor concept really catches on, establishing itself as the signature feature of city-bus and service-bus design it has remained to this day.


Neoplan N 814

One step ahead of progress

1981 is proclaimed International Year of Disabled Persons, and media coverage is considerable. In Germany as elsewhere, the special needs of disabled persons are a main focus of attention. In 1980 Berlin's Senate commissions a research project for the development of a bus featuring easy access for the disabled: the Senate's intention is to use this vehicle in the Berlin West district. Neoplan's submission is the Telebus: the concept wins out over the competition and one year later the low-floor Telebus N 906 with all-pneumatic suspension takes to the city's streets. The passenger compartment can be divided up in several different ways and has in-floor latching mechanisms for wheelchairs and seats for accompanying persons. A floor that is level right through, a body that can be lowered to pavement height on the right side or to road level at the rear by means of a ramp make it easy for people in wheelchairs to roll on and off. The Telebus design is an excellent concept, but the bus fails to become a viable commercial success. The International Year of Disabled Persons draws to a close, the ambitious plans for investment are shelved by the public authorities, and the Telebuses are not much liked among the target group of users: the physically challenged do not want separate means of transport and adamantly prefer to travel in the same vehicles as all other members of the public.

The Telebus project gives Neoplan reason to open a fourth plant, located in Berlin-Spandau, in 1980. The new facility initially produces the Telebus in small numbers and utilisation is subsequently improved when production of the Jetliner is allocated to the plant. The Berlin-Spandau plant is also a service center and – after the fall of the Berlin Wall – it is a jumping-off point for penetration into the markets of the former East Germany and eastern Europe.


Neoplan Telebus N 906

As in Ghana, Neoplan is also establishing itself in the USA. As the follow-up to a number of volume orders for coaches and service buses, a production facility is opened in 1981 in Lamar, Colorado. Neoplan has a lead in low-floor and CNG technology, so the company's service buses are soon well established on the North American market. Demand remains high and success overseas continues to grow, so in 1985 another plant is opened in Honey Brook, Pennsylvania. The start-up order for 900 buses fails to materialise, however, so the plant cannot become established. Despite the highly positive initial development – the total tally of Neoplan buses manufactured in the USA exceeds 5,500 – US business starts to decline from the nineteen-nineties onward. There is a reason for this: investments in public transport are slashed. In 2006, finally, Neoplan USA ceases trading.


Neoplan Articulated AN460

A little more than ten years after the first Neoplan low-floor city bus was presented to an appreciative public, the triumphant progress of this advanced technology has become unstoppable. At the UITP congress in Lausanne in 1987, an evolved low-floor articulated bus is presented to an amazed trade public; the debut is a sensation and it also gives rise to much heated discussion. The SL II standards for city buses have only just been finalised and established bus manufacturers who have opted for a different concept are extremely unsettled by the low-floor approach. This, however, does not stop key fleet operators from placing orders for the low-floor buses, leaving the competition with little option but to bow to the dictates of the market and adopt the Neoplan concept themselves.


In 1987 the Low Entry concept had it´s breakthrough: according to customers wishes, Neoplan developed the first articulated low Floor citybus, the way was paved for success.

On May 25, 1988, Neoplan invites the trade press to Stuttgart to see the world's first ever unibody bus cell made of fibre composites. This is the Metroliner in Carbon design (MIC for short) and it dispenses entirely with steel ribbing and chassis, so it weighs almost 50 percent less than a conventional bus of the same size. Measuring 10.6 metres in length and 2.50 in width, the low-floor bus accommodates 80 passengers and tips the scales at a mere 6.25 metric tons. At the 1989 IAA Neoplan presents the slightly smaller Midi-MIC, which is tested with a wide array of fuel concepts, including for example CNG-powered and fuel-cell propulsion units. Industry acclaim is enormous – in 1990 the corrosion-proof all-plastic-bodied bus is voted Coach of the Year – but the concept fails to achieve broad acceptance and only some 300 MICs in all are built, too few to recoup the high costs of development. The MIC is too costly to manufacture and ride and passenger-compartment acoustics lag slightly behind the high level of modern buses of more conventional design. "It turned out that it was a vehicle ahead of its time", declares Neoplan's chief design Bob Lee later in self-critical tones.


Neoplan MIC N 4012 Metroliner

New ideas for the new millennium

In the early nineteen-nineties, Neoplan has its sights set fairly and squarely on expansion. In 1990 a new production facility is opened in Ehrenhain in the German state of Saxony, to be followed a year later by another, the fifth Neoplan works, in the city of Plauen. Albrecht Auwärter's vision: In the year 2000, Neoplan will have a workforce of 2000 and build 2000 buses.

1992 and a small sensation set to cause yet another upheaval in the world of bus design debuts at the IAA when Neoplan presents the first homologation-compliant four-axle Megaliner measuring 15 metres nose to tail. It is the upshot of Albrecht Auwärter's ceaseless efforts to have buses over 12 metres in length allowed on the roads in Germany and Europe, and it earns itself the coveted "Innovationspreis der deutschen Wirtschaft" prize awarded by German industry for achievement in innovation. Justly so, because in the last years of the 20th century no other development has altered the public perception of buses as radically as the fifteen-metre class. The Megaliner again impressively underscores Neoplan's justification to its pioneering claim, and again leaves the competition with no option but to tag along with models designed to match up to this megaclass size.


At the IAA 1992 Neoplan presented the first four-axle, 15m Megaliner with regular German licence plates. This was a result of Albrecht Auwärter's persistent efforts to have buses with an overall length of more than 12m registered in Germany and Europe. No other development changed the bus sector in the outbound 20th century as deep as the 15m class. Nowadays, the 12m limit is a thing of the past.

Albrecht Auwärter
Bob Lee

The establishment of this bus category is Albrecht Auwärter's last achievement: After a short, severe illness, he dies at the age of 57 on March 16, 1994. His death is a bitter loss for Neoplan and for the bus industry as a whole. With his innovative developments and his business acumen, Albrecht Auwärter made an enormous contribution to the success of Neoplan. His death leaves a gap that is difficult to fill. The third generation of the Auwärter family is not yet ready to take over control of the company, so at the start of 1994 Bob Lee becomes the new Chairman of the Management Board.

These management changes are followed two years later by the start of a new era in coach design, rung in by the bus specialists at Neoplan. The 1996 IAA sees a new star appearing in the Neoplan range – the Starliner. The luxury coach uniquely combines superlative passenger comfort with groundbreaking bus technology. The futuristic design, the innovative safety concept and the enhanced comfort of the passenger compartment earn unqualified acclaim right down the line. The advanced design rapidly establishes the Starliner as image bearer and flagship of choice for many fleet operators.


Neoplan Starliner

As the successor to the Transliner, in 1998 Neoplan presents a new multipurpose series – the Euroliner. The key is the platform concept with standardised modules so that numerous versions can be produced at costs geared toward attractive pricing. CAN bus, a special-steel floor assembly to help prevent corrosion and integral components for front, rear and roof make the Euroliner a worthy member of the Neoplan family.

Sales figures throughout the bus sector are low and the overall market conditions are difficult, so major challenges confront management at Neoplan. The economic situation of the family-owned company is not looking good: the moderate income level – in the mid-nineties profit on sales is running at a shade under one percent – is not enough to balance debit entries in the form of high outlay for research and development into alternative drives, for example, and the high costs inevitably incurred when new models are introduced. The wide range of products, the high proportion of customer-specific special solutions and experimentation into hybrid and electric vehicles, rail buses and hydrogen fuel-cell technology have eaten up the company's financial reserves. The new millennium approaches, and the banks are urging the family to look for a buyer to take over the company.


Neoplan Euroliner N 3316 K

A new era begins

Year 2000 and at the IAA the Auwärter family announces to a startled public that their company is to be taken over by MAN Nutzfahrzeuge. The EU competition authorities are in no rush to announce their decision on the deal, however, and Neoplan's workforce and customers have to wait through several months of uncertainty. However, final approval is forthcoming in June 2001: Neoplan is integrated into the NEOMAN BUS Group as the premium brand alongside MAN Bus GmbH. The manufacturer of commercial vehicles with headquarters in Munich and the omnibus builder from Stuttgart are old acquaintances. The two companies have maintained close supply relations for some years. The reliability and economy of the MAN engines and drive technology and the innovative strength of the Neoplan brand are perfect complements: the merger into MAN Nutzfahrzeuge and rigorous utilisation of the synergies engendered in this way ensure the survival of the Neoplan brand.

Now under new management, Neoplan is not long in delivering innovative developments in bus technology well up to the familiar high standard of quality. The Tourliner is introduced in 2003 and Neoplan is right on target. The new model offers great economy and total reliability, plus a compellingly attractive price/performance ratio. As successor to the legendary Euroliner and the Jetliner, it is an all-rounder and a peerless combination of aesthetics and cost-efficiency.


Neoplan Tourliner N 2216 SHD

At the 2004 IAA in Hanover Neoplan presents the new Starliner. Its sensational "sharp cut" design is a highlight of the show. The biggest curved windscreen ever to be seen in a bus, the forward-inclined window columns and the smooth transition from the side windows to the roof give the Starliner its unmistakeable character. The comprehensive safety package includes the new development ACC (Adaptive Cruise Control), plus LGS (Lane Guard System) and Comfort Drive Suspension (CDS), rounding off the advanced overall concept and demonstrating once again that Neoplan remains a key player in the industry as a whole.


Neoplan Starliner SHD

In 2003/2004, MAN Nutzfahrzeuge starts restructuring production at Neoplan. The Stuttgart plant is closed in the course of this reorganisation and in 2006, Pilsting becomes the new headquarters of Neoplan for the time being. In 2008, finally, Neoplan production is focused on Plauen. The production of niche products and customer bodies for coaches is shifted to Viseon Bus GmbH, a company founded by former MAN managers that takes over the plant in Pilsting from MAN with a workforce of about 200 in April 2009.


Neoplan Cityliner N 1216 HD

2006 and once again the IAA showcases the new generation of a true Neoplan evergreen – the Cityliner. It has the keenly attractive sharp-cut lines of the Starliner plus much of the latter's reliable and innovative technology. Right from the start, these new Cityliners come with modern MAN common-rail engines compliant with the Euro 4 emissions-control standard. Selling more than 30 units even before the IAA closes, the Cityliner proves that customers and professional designers alike are much taken by this new-generation vehicle. Following on from there, in 2007 the Cityliner wins the coveted "red dot: best of the best" design award for its superior, innovative design.

In 2008, NEOMAN Bus GmbH, the company founded after the merger of MAN and Neoplan, is fully integrated into MAN Nutzfahrzeuge AG and enjoys the full benefit of the group-wide synergies of an international key player.


Text:
MAN Nutzfahrzeuge Gruppe
Photos:
MAN Nutzfahrzeuge Gruppe
Omnibusarchiv
Video-Clip:
BusTV




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