Neoplan celebrates 75 years

In 1927, Gottlob Auwärter qualified as a master coachbuilder. Eight years later he founded his own company and began building bus and coach bodywork on high frame truck chassis with the driver sitting behind the engine.

The Second World War hit the young business hard, and the early post-war years were extremely difficult, but the business got back on its feet. Auwärter was one of a small group of German manufacturers to realize they needed to design vehicles around the needs of passengers.

The company launched its first integral coach in 1953. It featured a partial monocoque design with a steel tube skeleton, reinforced by full-length steel panels welded to each side from floor to waist level. Relocating the engine to the rear helped to reduce the interior noise level.

As the first model to carry the Neoplan brand, new developments came rapidly, such as air suspension, introduced in 1957 and patented one year later. It was a major step forward in ride and handling.

By 1961, Neoplan was ready to launch the first full-size integral coach, the Hamburg, which was a sensation at the time. Gottlob’s son, Albrecht Auwärter, and Bob Lee, a Swiss national, designed some of the most important features as part of their dissertation at Hamburg University. Their design included fresh air ventilation for each passenger, delivered through long ducts, to airline style nozzles.

Most contemporary coaches featured rather rounded styling, but the Hamburg had a near-vertical frontal aspect with a large one-piece screen. Another first was the use of panoramic side glass that curved at the top into the roofline for excellent passenger visibility.

In 1964, Albrecht’s brother, Konrad, developed a design for a double-deck bus that had extremely low weight and could carry more than 100 passengers. A novel feature of the project was a low frame front axle with independent front suspension. The top of the center section was only 14-inches above the ground, with the floor in the lower deck only one step above ground.

When Gottlob retired, Albrecht took over management of the company and Bob Lee became head of engineering and design. Konrad joined the company after college graduation.

In 1967, Neoplan launched the first Skyliner double deck coach. With a Deutz V12 engine that produced 340bhp, it was the highest powered coach on the European market. Built to the maximum length of 40-feet, it featured the drop center front axle with independent front suspension, a conventional rear axle and a third steering trailing axle. The space above the engine and rear axles beneath the upper deck became luggage storage space.

Neoplan took the full-size integral single deck concept even further with its launch of the Cityliner in 1971. This model was of greater overall height, which permitted space for a cloakroom and toilet beneath the main deck. This was an upper segment coach with greater luggage capacity more suitable for international touring.

The ultimate double-deck came in 1975 when Neoplan introduced the Jumbocruiser, an articulated double-deck coach built to an overall length of 59-feet with the turntable built between the upper decks of the front and rear sections. The engine remained at the rear of the front section.

With demand for Neoplan buses on the rise, the company acquired a factory in 1973 at Pilsting in southeast Germany to build volume runs of city and interurban vehicles while continuing to build higher specification models in the Möhringen plant.

Neoplan was an active exporter, but even so it came as a surprise when the company opened a factory in Kumasi, Ghana, in 1974 to support a large order for more basic, tropical specification buses. That factory is still active, building buses and the Tropicliner coach.

The Spaceliner launched in 1979. This coach was higher than the Cityliner with a full-length deck for passengers. The driver and courier sat below in a separate compartment. The concept provided four additional passenger seats and an enormous space for luggage.

Further expansion came in 1981 when Neoplan opened a factory in Berlin. Its products included the Uniliner, the smallest-ever Neoplan. Following that the company established factories in the United States in Lamar, CO, and in Honey Brook, PA, which Neoplan sold off that later became licensees.

Neoplan continued to expand overseas. Konrad Auwärter went to Beijing, China, around 1980 and returned with a contract for Beijing North to become a licensee of Neoplan.

The company launched the Metroliner-in-Carbon in 1988, a complete monocoque structure made entirely from composites. The unladen weight was much lower than a steel-framed bus, which could accommodate a lighter driveline. Neoplan built around 300 before facing the decision of ceasing production or completely replacing the tooling. The latter was not viable without the promise of substantial orders. The composite buses generally sold in smaller numbers for operation in places that were difficult or inaccessible for full- size buses.

In 1992 at the Hannover show, Neoplan stunned everyone by launching a four-axle Megaliner coach, based on the Skyliner. European regulations still permitted a maximum overall length of 40-feet, but this vehicle was around 49-feet long. Neoplan somehow persuaded the authorities in Germany to grant permission for the vehicle. Gradually other German states accepted, then it became legal in quite a number of other European countries.

The Megaliner concept also caught on in export markets as far apart as South America and Japan. South American companies bought a number of units for the very arduous, high-mileage Trans-Andean routes.

In 1996  Neoplan launched a stunning new coach at the top of its range. The Starliner featured dramatic styling and luxurious interior appointments and was available with two or three axles.

By the turn of the century Neoplan had great ambitions to build 2,000 vehicles in the year 2000, putting 2000 employees to work. It therefore came as a surprise during a Neoplan press conference at the Frankfurt Show in 2000 to see several senior executives of MAN in the audience. MAN acquired Gottlob Auwärter GmbH and Co., the parent of Neoplan, and set about integrating the two product ranges.

Today it is the MAN brand that is responsible for city buses and interurban coaches. Neoplan is an important coach brand with the Tourliner, Cityliner and the Starliner probably the most highly specified coach models currently available in Europe.

Happy birthday, Neoplan.

Doug Jack is with Transport Resources in the United Kingdom.