by John Veerkamp
Western Auto & Truck Body, Western Flyer, Flyer Industries, 1930-1986
In 1930 Western Auto & Truck Body Works was founded in Manitoba. In 1937 the company started building complete buses and in 1941 the "Western Flyer" model was introduced. In 1948 the company was renamed Western Flyer Coach, Ltd. In 1955 the "Canuck" model range was introduced which was redesigned several times over the next decade. The model 500 and 600 were the last versions. The market was too competitive for small companies, with GM dominating the industry, and in 1968 Western Flyer delivered its last intercity coach. With a production of only 693 coaches from 1946 to 1968, an average of 30 vehicles per year, Western Flyer was just a small company.
However, rather than to cease production altogether, it was decided to change the production from coaches to transit buses. In 1967 the prototype D700 was delivered and in 1968 a prototype E700 trolley bus was built. The 700-series looked very much like a GM New-Look. From 1967-1973 a total of 379 D700 and 191 E700 models were built. However, the company remained financially weak. In 1971 the Manitoba Development Corporation, a Manitoba government owned entity, stepped in to save it. The name was changed to Flyer Industries, Ltd.
Beginning of the 1970's Flyer delivered a D700 prototype to
AMG in the US, which was to build the bus under license for the
US market. AMG redesigned it, adding larger, rectangular windows
and a new front end. In 1974 Flyer adopted this design on its
own vehicles, which received the model designation D800. E800
trolleybuses were also built, among others for Boston and San
Francisco. The latter town's operator MUNI received the
substantial number of 343 E800 trolley buses, Flyer's largest
order ever. In 1978 the first 35 foot model buses were built. A
total of 561 D800, 86 of which were 35 foot long, and 473 E800
were built from 1974 to 1979.
In 1978 the 800-series received a new front end with one straight and one slanted window, similar to the Flxible Metro and Orion V. The new model was called the D900. The D901, introduced in 1980, had a slightly curved windscreen. This was to reduce glare for the driver and to improve wind flow around the left corner of the bus in order to avoid mud to be deposited on the windscreen in rainy weather. San Francisco received the D902 with double-width front doors. The D901 was also built in a 35-foot version. For Vancouver 200 trolley buses model E901 were built in 1982-1983. The model D900/D901 was built from 1978 until 1987.
From 1967 to 1987 Western Flyer, Flyer Industries and New Flyer built over 3000 transit buses of the 700, 800 and 900 series.
New Flyer, since 1987
On July 15, 1986, Den Oudsten of the Netherlands bought Flyer Industries from the Manitoba Development Corporation. The company was renamed New Flyer Industries. The Den Oudsten experience in bus building goes back to 1926 and the company has become the largest builder of intercity buses in the Netherlands. However, Flyer was not bought by the Den Oudsten factory but by the Den Oudsten family, so there are no institutional linkages between the two companies. Still, the Dutch factory has helped Flyer to modernize its production and to introduce the low floor and articulated vehicles. A number of New Flyer buses were finished in the Netherlands during a period when the Dutch factory had a lack of orders and New Flyer lacked capacity. Unfortunately, Den Oudsten Bussen went bankrupt in November 2001. Volvo has shown an interest in New Flyer Industries, so Den Oudsten may sell its Canadian interests.
Den Oudsten set out to modernize production and developed a new range of vehicles under the New Flyer name. At first the normal, high floor model D40HF was launched in 1987. This later developed into the shorter D35HF. In 1990 the long, articulated D60HF was introduced. New Flyer clearly aimed at making large inroads into the US market as in 1987 an assembly plant was opened in California, which was moved to Grand Forks, North Dakota, in 1990. In 1996 the plant moved again to Crookston, Minnesota, while in early 1999 a new factory was opened in St.Cloud, Minnesota.
A prototype low floor vehicle was built by Den Oudsten in the Netherlands, based on a model introduced in 1984. Interestingly this model was not continued in Europe, but a completely new, structurally different low floor integral bus, the Alliance, was developed around 1990. New Flyer used the Den Oudsten bus as the basis for their own low floor model. A vehicle was tested in 1988 and in 1989 the first 40-foot production vehicles were delivered. The New Flyer low floor bus has become a success and a trendsetter in North America. Logical developments were the introduction of 35 ft and 60 ft articulated versions of the low floor vehicle. Even a 30-foot version is available. These vehicles are called the D30LF, D35LF and D60LF.
Another area in which New Flyer has invested is alternative fuels. In 1993/1994 articulated high-floor trolleybuses, E60HF, were delivered to San Francisco. More experimental but unsuccessful, were the Ballard hydrogen fuel cell buses, F40LF, built in 1994. Less innovative, but widely accepted, are the CNG buses introduced in 1994, the C30LF, C35LF, C40LF and C40HF. The low-floor CNG version can easily be recognized by the large gas tanks on the roof. Smaller numbers of the LNG versions L35LF, L40HF and L40LF were built. Yet another new concept was introduced with the diesel-electric hybrid buses for Orange County in 1999.
Two completely new models were developed by the end of the
century. A suburban bus, the D45S, was introduced in 1998 and
sold to Houston. This 3-axle high floor vehicle competes
directly with the MCI and Neoplan suburban vehicles. A shorter
40-foot version is also available.
More innovative is the "Invero", a new low floor model with a much more stylish bodywork than the traditional North American transit bus. The design includes many new features such as the use of composite materials, electronic controls, and a modular construction. The result is a lighter vehicle, easier to maintain, driver and passenger friendly, and less costly to operate. Three prototypes are currently being tested in Canada.
Since 1987, when the New Flyer range was introduced, over
10,000 vehicles have been sold, making New Flyer one of the
major transit bus builders in the US and Canada. Around 60% of
these were low-floor versions, which clearly indicates the
success of this concept.
Externally virtually indistinguishable from the Flyer buses are the US built AMG (American Motors General) buses, which is the reason why they are treated under this chapter. AMG only produced buses from 1974 to 1979 but had considerable success, delivering 5,212 diesel buses and 219 trolley buses of the same model. In addition, AMG finished 410 articulated coaches under a contract with MAN from Germany in 1978-1979 and built 4 diesel prototypes.
AMG was never a bus builder, but was interested in large (federal) contracts. AMG had been invited to participate in the construction of prototypes for the 1970's "Transbus" project, together with GM and Rohr Industries. As the models were being tested, AMG wanted to assure that it would have the capacity to participate in possible future acquisitions. It turned to Flyer of Canada for collaboration. Flyer's production was aimed at Canada as the "buy America" policy prevented it from entering the US market without finishing the vehicles in the US. There thus was a mutual interest. Flyer delivered a D700 prototype to AMG, which AMG set out to redesign, resulting in larger, rectangular windows and a redesigned front end. Flyer then started using this model to replace the 700-series and called it the D800. The AMG was built in 3 series, with some minor external differences, and in four variations: 96" or 102" wide and 35 ft or 40 ft long. These were called 9635, 10235, 9640 and 10240. The second series received an A suffix and the third series a B suffix. The B series, introduced in 1976, had a rounded instead of a pointed rear roofline and was called the "Metropolitan". By the end of the 1970's the Transbus project was cancelled and AMG pulled out of the bus business. After finalizing the last diesel buses, it built the 219 trolley buses for Seattle and Philadelphia in 1978-1979, and it entered into a contract with MAN for the production of MAN articulated buses in 1978-1979. AMG looked for other lucrative contracts and became the builder of the famous Hummer vehicle.