Dawn of a New Age 1991 - Present
By the end of the 1990’s, the next generation of Plaxton coaches were already on the drawing board. The coach 2000 project set out to produce a generation of coaches for the twenty first century and was destined to become one of the most carefully researched and thoroughly developed coaches the UK had ever seen.
Opinions of customers on both style and function were sought at every stage of the process, this yielded the order of priority for the design features. Practicality in day to day operation was a high priority and maximizing the available space for passengers was deemed the most important factor. To achieve this, the basic design moved the body as far back on the chassis , effectively moving the driver forward and shaping the rear panel to allow the rear seats to be moved right to the rear. There would again be two styles, Paragon positioned as a mainstream coach, and Panther with a raked back frontal appearance, creating a striking profile for the premium model. The most radical departure for the new range came in the construction material, the entire structure was to be in stainless steel to combat corrosion and extend the anticipated lifespan of the vehicle.
Both were launched to great acclaim in the autumn of 1999, becoming established as the best selling, full-sized coaches in the UK, based on chassis from Volvo, Irisbus-Iveco, Dennis and latterly MAN.
2000 was to prove an eventful year for Plaxton, August saw a merger announced which would marry Henlys UK bus and coach interests with those of the Mayflower Group, primarily Alexander and Dennis, under the banner of Transbus International. The new company finally came into being in January 2001 amidst much euphoria, but this was short lived when it was announced in April of the same year that Plaxton’s Scarborough plant would close, single-deck bus production, including Pointer, being concentrated on the Group’s Scottish plants and coach to transfer to an as yet undecided location.
This dealt a devastating blow to Plaxton, the future of the name was in serious doubt. A scenario arose where Scarborough could remain in production on a smaller scale, retaining coach production only. This developed and the plant underwent a major re-modelling, re-opening in August with full scale production being up and running by late September. The plant as it is today, came about largely as a result of the changes made at this time and is generally recognized by some of the most knowledgeable commentators as ranking among the best in Europe.
There were several new models launched during the succeeding couple of years, Profile was the first, an entry level 3.2m high coach to replace the Premiere 320 and Prima models. This was followed by Pronto, a 16 seat accessible minibus which took Plaxton into a new market for the first time. Finally the Paragon Plus was the first vehicle allowed on the UK’s roads which was longer than 12 metres. These were special 12.8m long versions of the Paragon, equipped with a lift and therefore fully wheelchair accessible for use on National Express routes. Special dispensation was granted to allow them to be used on designated routes.
The latest chapter for Plaxton opened in April 2004 when the parent TransBus Group were placed in administration and elements of the group, including Plaxton were offered for sale. The inevitable uncertainty was concluded six weeks later when a management buyout of Brian Davidson, Mike Keaney, Kevin Wood and Julie Globe successfully bid for Plaxton and the company was once again in independent hands.
Since then, Plaxton have moved ahead with almost breathtaking speed. A new range of single deck bus models, the Centro, was announced in May 2005 followed by a revolutionary new Minibus, the Primo, in September 2005. This had been developed and introduced to production completely unnoticed by the Industry and took the market by storm when it was launched in October 2005. The first examples were in service just a few weeks later and offered a low-floor bus capable of operating the types of route which Plaxton Beavers and Pointers had dominated in years gone by.
Together with the launch of Centro, a new bus plant to build these two models was officially opened on February 8 2006, situated alongside the main coach plant, this has a potential capacity of up to 300 vehicles annually. Centro has now sold over 100 vehicles and by the close of 2006 be available on six chassis from three manufacturers.
Finally, the latest addition to the range is the accessible Panther range. This was developed to meet the needs of express coach operations where wheelchair access is through the front door, under the supervision of the driver. The NX lift is ingeniously concealed inside the step and lifts the wheelchair up to saloon. The system has met with much acclaim and led to the ultimate Plaxton, the Panther 15 metre, the longest single unit passenger vehicle ever built in the UK and destined to revolutionise inter-city travel in the UK and perhaps beyond.
The Plaxton of today is much changed but in a sense, little different to that which Frederick William Plaxton started a century ago. The business is still every bit as vibrant, responding to it’s customers needs with innovation, efficiency and style. It retains same vision which has ensured it’s prosperity thus far and is set to guide it on the road into it’s second century.
Page 1 : 2