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Plaxton Primo unveiled

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Hot on the heels of its announcement that it is re-entering the bus market with the Centro midibus, Plaxton has unveiled a new low-floor minibus which boasts 28 seats and 16 standees in a 7.9m long vehicle that offers big bus styling in a small package.

Weighing in at 5.6t unladen and 8.8t GVW, the short-wheelbase Primo has a turning circle of 13.8m, according to Plaxton.

The new Primo minibus is already in production and the first model will be on show at the NEC next month.

The Primo has the entrance in the front overhang and offers six easily accessible inward-facing seats over the wheel arches due to the use of 17.5in wheels. The vehicle is bodied by Plaxton on a chassis frame manufactured in Hungary by Enterprise Bus, a former TransBus International operation that was acquired after receivership by former TransBus executives.

The rear-mounted transverse engine is a 135bhp Cummins ISBe - to be replaced by a Euro 4 version in due course – drives through an Allison 2000 series gearbox and Raba Z-driveline. “The Primo revolutionises the small bus market in terms of space, manoeuvrability and passenger comfort,” says Plaxton sales director Kevin Wood. “We looked very carefully at the packaging of the drivetrain and the layout selected makes for a compact installation while still preserving ease of access to all the main components.

“The really big benefit is that it maximises the step-free low-floor area, with 70 per cent of the Primo’s 28 seats providing step-free accessibility.”

Mistral has placed an order for 25 Primos which will be delivered by April 2006. The first two are going to TM Travel during October.

Mistral Group chairman Simon Fawcett says: “The Primo is an important new development in the service bus market. We first saw the vehicle about six months ago and realised that it was revolutionary in its design and represented a real opportunity to raise the standard of buses available to UK operators.

“Plaxton is a company transformed; it has the right culture and a workforce totally in tune with its management. Together they have managed to create a stunning new product that I am sure will be very well received by our customers.”

The roomy interior layout includes a wide gangway with minimal wheelarch intrusion and tidy roofline to increase the perception of generous interior space. Esteban Urban 90 seats are fitted and the vehicle is available initially with bonded glazing, although Plaxton will respond to any customer demand for gasket glazing.

The external appearance has a family resemblance to Plaxton’s forthcoming Centro midibus and places the product squarely in the same market as Optare’s Solo and as a strong competitor to other front-engined small buses.

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A single-leaf Tamware electro-pneumatic entrance door is fitted to provide an improved seal and reduced noise. Plaxton has good experience of the door in coach format and believes it will prove to be popular in its bus range. Options available include Mobitec digital destination gear and cab air-conditioning. The vehicle is due to be tested for seat belts at a later stage.

The Primo has a stainless steel structure with aluminium panels and GRP mouldings. The GRP is to a higher specification than normal, comprising vacuum resin inject moulding (VRIM) which is common in the automotive sector but has previously been too expensive for lower volume markets such as buses. Plaxton says that VRIM provides a much better and more consistent paint finish and has sourced it competitively from a Hungarian supplier.

The development of the Primo is a joint venture between Plaxton and Hungary-based Enterprise Bus. Plaxton is responsible for bodying and selling the vehicle in the UK. Enterprise has already had one two-door left-hand drive vehicle bodied in Budapest which has completed more than 60,000km. It is currently on passenger service with an operator in Szolnek under a special dispensation from the Hungarian transport authorities. The Plaxton team were involved in the initial build and a further left-hand drive vehicle is being built at Scarborough for a continental customer of Enterprise. Because of the close cooperation between Plaxton and Enterprise Bus, the chassis frames delivered to Scarborough are ready for build with no further cutting or welding required.

The first four chassis frames have been delivered to Plaxton with vehicle number one ready to leave for testing at Mira and vehicle number two to be completed in Mistral’s colours for the NEC show.

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To support the vehicle Plaxton is assembling a bus aftersales team headed by Paul Wilkinson. Plaxton will act as the first line contact for Primo service although support will be outsourced to component suppliers including Cummins and Graysons.

The Primo project has moved ahead of the Centro midibus with the first of the latter now in build on a VDL SB120 chassis at Scarborough. Plaxton will shortly move all bus production into its new facility on the Eastfield site, as announced earlier this year. An additional 50 jobs are likely to be created for bus manufacture. The Centro will be available at 10.2m, 10.7m and 11.8m with between 37 and 43 seats.

Elsewhere, Plaxton has supplied 18 of the 24 accessible Profile coaches for First and has a further order for 25 from Stagecoach. The accessible Profile uses the U-Lift arrangement which Plaxton developed in order to meet National Express’ desire for a front-end solution to wheelchair access. However, National Express has now announced that it is standardising on the PLS Magic Floor lift which has been developed with Caetano. Whilst Plaxton was understandably knocked back by this development, it is now working on a Magic Floor-equipped Panther for National Express to trial alongside the Caetano. The U-lift, which enables a driver’s door and screen to be fitted - will continue to be available on the Profile however.

At the NEC show, Plaxton will also display a high specification Panther for Truronian which is destined for a contract with the rugby team, Cornish Pirates.

Plaxton chief executive Brian Davidson reports that the company is targeting 600 new sales in 2005-06 and 225 used. The new vehicles comprise 260 Pronto, Beaver and Cheetah; 280 Profile, Paragon and Panther; and 60 Primo and Centro.

www.plaxtonlimited.com



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