About Optare bus group
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Formation of Optare
In September 1984, Leyland announced that it was closing the Charles H. Roe vehicle bodywork building business in Leeds. In response, Russell Richardson, a former plant director at Roe, backed by the West Yorkshire Enterprise Board and many redundant former employees, created Optare in February 1985.
The company was created at a very difficult time for the bus and coach industry, with the challenges of privatisation and deregulation meaning very few orders for new vehicles. The first orders came from the still publicly owned West Yorkshire Passenger Transport Executive (WYPTE) and South Yorkshire Passenger Transport Executive (SYPTE), keen to support the locally based company. The publicly owned but arms-length company Yorkshire Rider, as successor to the WYPTE bus fleet, also took some buses from Optare.
When Roe closed down, WYPTE had an unfulfilled order for five Leyland Olympian coach seated double decker buses in place for its Metro coach operation. These five part finished buses went from Roe to Eastern Coach Works as shells for completion, but the following ten were completed as Optare buses but to the Roe design, with the first Optare double decker completed in September 1985, the 17th Optare bus body. Five went to WYPTE, and five to its successor Yorkshire Rider. Five further standard seated Olympians were also delivered to WYPTE, two as convertible open top buses.
Optare Olympian from MrVRman
The first Optare designed bodies were fourteen Dennis Dominos for SYPTE built starting in February 1986. Optare also bodied fifteen Leyland Cubs for WYPTE. A preserved Cub later visited the Optare plant in 2005.
Dennis Domino from onthe beast
Starting in August 1986 Optare built fifteen minibuses converted from the Freight Rover Sherpa vans, for WYPTE.
A 1986 London Buses Optare CityPacer taken in the 80s
Optare Citypacer from Renown
In 1986 Optare introduced it's first true product, the CityPacer minibus. This was based on a heavier version of the MAN-VW LT55 van chassis, to which Optare made modifications. The engine was a six-cylinder 2.4-litre. The body seated 25, with space for a further 5 standing passengers, a size that met the minibus vogue of the late 1980s. While its competitors looked like the modified vans they were, the CityPacer had attractive styling notable for its large one-piece raked windscreen. London Transport bought 52, and other major operators bought small batches.
Soon after the StarRider was introduced, based on the Mercedes 811D chassis. This was a heavier chassis with a proven reliability record. The StarRider had seating for 33 passengers, although the body styling was less successful. London Transport took 123 StarRiders.
Yorkshire Rider ordered four StarRiders and a CityPacer. An attempt at exporting the StarRider came in the form of the ColumboRider for export to Colombo, Sri Lanka in 1987.
Optare Starrider from wsmtdl2499
In 1988 the first full size Optare product appeared, the Delta. This was a single-deck bus based on the DAF SB220 chassis. The Delta bodywork featured contemporary styling and was aluminium with a bolted frame licensed from Alusuisse. The Delta successfully found a niche in the full-size single deck bus market, which was very limited at that time.
Optare Delta from Deltabus
Dennis had effectively created a new market segment, known as a midibus, with the introduction of the Dennis Dart. Optare soon introduced a competitor, the Vecta, albeit slightly bigger and wider than the Dart at that time, seating 40 in a full width 2.50m body. The chassis was based on the MAN 11.190 and featured a ZF gearbox and air suspension. The body was a scaled down version of the Delta.
The CityPacer and StarRider were phased out in the years after Optare purchased the design for the MCW Metrorider in 1989, releasing this as the Optare MetroRider. This was a larger design than the CityPacer, and a heavier and more truly integral product than the StarRider. As such it became the mainstay of the Optare midi/minbus offering until the low floor Solo, and persisted for a few years after the Solo's introduction.
The Spectra double-decker set new standards in design, forcing a rethink of how a double-decker should be styled.
In 1990, Optare joined a group called the United Bus, which included DAF Bus.
Having already used a DAF SB220 chassis on the Delta, now as part of United Bus, Optare collaborated with DAF to design the Optare Spectra. It was based on the modified design of the MCW Metrobus purchased by Optare, and combined parts from it and the SB220 to form a new double deck chassis, designated DB250, with Optare bodywork called Spectra. Due to the United bus relationship and joint design, the Spectra was built exclusively on DB250 chassis. As well as having a striking front end, the Spectra was also recognisable for having no rear window. Introduced in 1990 it was described as a "partly low-floor double-decker". Despite the association with DAF, in 1991 Optare also launched a conventional height midibus in on a MAN chassis, the Vecta.
After the collapse of United Bus in 1993, Optare was again bought by a management-buyout. The reaction to the collapse of United was the release in the next two years of two Delta derived single deck buses on different non-DAF chassis, the Sigma and Prisma. The Prisma was noticeable in having a generic Mercedes Benz style front end rather than the recognisable Optare family face.
Optare acquired Autobus in 1996, which had just launched their Nouvelle luxury minicoach. Optare slightly redesigned this in 1997 and rebadged it the Nouvelle 2, and served similar markets to the StarRider/MetroRider coach versions. Also in 1997 the relationship with Ferqui started with the importing of the Solera luxury coach.
While part of United, Optare also for a time became the exclusive UK dealer for the distinctive full size Bova Futura coach.
Optare began introduction of low-floor buses in the UK in 1995 with the launch of its first, the Optare Excel full size single decker, in the same year that Dennis launched the Dennis Dart SLF (Super Low Floor) midibus which would go on to dominate the market, although low floor single decker buses had begun to appear as early as 1993. The Excel used Cummins engines and Allison gearboxes to start with and had a fairly poor reputation for reliability. Later examples had Mercedes engines and were better although the reputation of earlier models did nothing to help sales. The Excel marked the start of sustained period of selling integral bus products rather than body on chassis combinations, which continues until the Darwen merger brings in East Lancs models to the range.
Optare Excel fromdwb photos
With modifications of the DB250 chassis to become the DB250LF, in 1997,the Spectra became the first fully low-floor double decker bus on offer in the UK.
Also in 1997 the Solo was launched and became a success for Optare. With a unique design of a front axle forward of the door, it allowed a low-floor layout in a very short bus, and also came equipped with kneeling suspension for even greater access. It competed against both the shorter Dart SLF models and high floor minibuses. Its styling and innovation led to a Millennium Products award and the Queen's Award for Innovation. A US export version of the Solo also found success at airports.
Optare Solo from emdjt42
In 2000, Optare was bought by Hungarian owned North American Bus Industries for £21.5million. This gave Optare products exposure in the North American market. The Excel continued in the US after being discontinued in the UK.
The NABI era saw the introduction of the Alero low-floor minicoach in 2001, filling a gap in the market for a low floor vehicle for use on low usage services such as demand responsive transport, already covered at the higher capacity by the Solo, which was made into longer and narrower variants in 2004 to further capture the market. Also in 2004 was the first new bus model since the Solo, the Tempo, a full size single decker with another striking design, even when considered in the environment of an increasingly stylish competitor products.
On 1 August 2005, North American Bus Industries got into financial difficulties, and speculation about the future of Optare was ended with the announcement that Optare had, once again, been bought by its management, headed by managing director Bob Coombes, for £11.8million. This change did not seemingly affect the further roll out of the new range, leading to the Versa and radically restyled Solo (as the Solo SR), both clearly resembling the same common in house styling as the Tempo, with a distinctive raised part of the body towards the front of the bus.
Optare Solo SR from Wigan Airways
Optare Tempo from Mr. pants1
On 12 March 2008 Optare Group was purchased by Jamesstan Investments, an investment company controlled by the Darwen Group's parent company chairman Ron Stanley, for £10.5m. Jamesstan Investments immediately sold the former Roe Crossgates factory in Leeds to developer Manston Lane Investments for £2.8m, and leased it back for up to 3 yrs at a rent of £280,000 a year. Optare initially remained an independent company but by 17 July 2008, a reverse takeover of Jammesstan by Darwen Group had been completed. It was a reverse takeover as Darwen was the much smaller company, but its AIM listing sees the enlarged Optare gain a stock exchange listing itself. Optare was then renamed Optare Ltd, and the Darwen Group became Optare plc.
In the short period that Darwen Group existed since taking over East Lancs (a mere 144 days), Darwen had lost £2.67m from a £4.4m turnover. It had in this time however paid £2.1m for East Lancs, spent £315,000 to acquire Darwen LPD, and spent £881,000 on restructuring the business. By comparison, Optare had made £812,000 pretax profit on a £57.8m turnover in the last year, down from £1.02m from £54.2m in the previous year.
To complete the takeover, the Darwen Group raised £16m in new shares, which valued Optare at £6.75m, with the balance going to service loan facilities of Optare.
The Optare website was relaunched with a new logo, and with the Olympus and Esteem ex-Darwen models listed as Optare products.
Old Optare badge from Sir Duares
New Optare badge from Sir Duares
Andrew Brian was installed as the first plc Chief Executive, with Roy Stanley as Chairman, with two other directors. On its creation, Optare plc was 52% owned by its directors. It was unclear what role if any there might be for Russel Richardson, founder of Optare, in the enlarged group.
On the bus manufacturing side of the business, the merger brought together the single deck and below size portfolio of Optare, with the primarily double deck order book of Darwen.
In its short existence, Darwen had essentially not produced a new model since the East Lancs models were rebadged by Darwen, although these were very new designs. However, it had been working with the LPD division on producing a hybrid diesel electric semi-integral version of the Olympus, with a prototype due for completion by July ready for exhibition at Euro Bus Expo in Birmingham in November 2008. This model would use regenerative braking to become the most fuel efficient and lowest emitting model on the UK market.
On the takeover, the new Chief Executive stated that the plc would now capitalise on the opportunity presented by the merger to make hybrid products for a wide variety of customers. Darwen had previously had 90% of its current business with 3 customers, with Optare's equivalent figure at 43%.
Optare Olympus from DennisDartSLF which partially replaced the Optare bodied Omnidekka in 2008
Information sourced from Wikipedia
Pictures are from Flickr.
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