Dawn of a New Age 1991 - Present
The late 1980’s had seen a major change in the bus market, division of the National Bus Company and it’s subsequent privatisation together with de-regulation in 1986, had been a massive upheaval resulting in a drop in new bus orders as the companies sought to establish themselves under the new regime. One angle of attack adopted by many operators had been with minibuses, lower cost and increased frequency had seen passenger numbers rise and by the end of the decade, the minibus was a victim of it’s own success on many routes. With limited funds available, what was needed was a midi-bus with the same attributes of low purchase cost, economy of operation and passenger appeal but with an increase in capacity over the minibuses. Enter the Plaxton Pointer, a body designed for a new generation of chassis from manufacturers such as Volvo and Dennis. The Pointer took the buoyant market for this type of vehicle by storm, rapidly growing to become the UK’s best selling bus and enjoying significant sales success in Far Eastern markets.
Pointer was undoubtedly the most significant model in Plaxton’s history to date, it quickly re-established Plaxton in a bus market which grew in leaps and bounds as operators were forced into updating their ageing fleets. Production of Pointer commenced at the former Reeve Burgess plant near Chesterfield before transferring to Scarborough in 1990 where it continued until 2001, by which time close to 8000 had been produced. Plaxton themselves had gone through a change of ownership in this period, following 80 years of family control, latterly as a stock exchange quoted company, a merger with Kirkby, one of it’s largest distributors, had ushered a new management regime into place and subsequently the company merged with Henlys, the well known motor trader which enlarged the group further. 1989 saw the demise of Duple, Plaxton’s long time rival and several Duple assets, including the service depots in Barrhead and Blackpool together with the design and manufacturing rights to the Duple model range. Plaxton announced plans to offer the Plaxton 321, a redesigned Duple 320 incorporating a number of Plaxton elements, mainly the interior, and manufactured in Scarborough. Also launched was the Plaxton 425, based on a Duple integral design. Production of this was transferred to Plaxton’s plant in France, acquired in 1989.
The next generation to replace Paramount was launched in the autumn of 1991, the most radical development ever for Plaxton, CDP as it was codenamed, was a three model line-up consisting of base line 3.2m and 3.5m high models, known as the Premiere 320 and Premiere 350 respectively, and for the first time, a premium 3.5m high model known as Excalibur with a distinctive raked-back frontal appearance and a luxurious interior. With one eye on export markets, styling was very much in a pan-European mould, with shallower side windows than had hitherto been adopted. Despite the radical changes, there was little doubting that Premiere and Excalibur were Plaxtons. The evolution of the model range continued, albeit with it’s biggest single change to that point in time.
Plaxton had acquired Northern Counties of Wigan in 1994, producing a largely double-deck bus range which added a new dimension. In 1998 this range was replaced by the Plaxton President, a sleek and stylish double decker which was rapidly accepted into many mainstream fleets and for the first time, put the Plaxton name on a red London bus, an icon recognized the world over.
The small bus range was also undergoing change, production was by now based at Anston, near Sheffield on the same site as the coach sales, service and parts division.
Beaver underwent it’s first metamorphosis in 1997 when the Beaver 2 was launched, a stylish new appearance based on the new Mercedes Benz Vario chassis but continuing the same theme of simplicity and rugged dependability that had made it a favourite.
Beaver 2 remains in production today. Later the same year, the Beaver coach was replaced with the Cheetah, a striking new small coach, evolved from Beaver but catering for a new generation of customers who were seeking a vehicle suitable for smaller parties but with all the attributes of the larger vehicles. Cheetah was a great success and sales grew steadily, still in production it has now sold almost a thousand making it the most successful small coach of it’s generation.