Not dead but resting

Plaxton, as a coach brand, possibly faces a long road back to production should it decide, in 2026, that it wants to build coaches again.

Alexander Dennis has already announced the news that, as from this year, coach production in Scarborough has been suspended for two years, for the perfectly sound reason that it has a burgeoning order book for its new and impressive ‘NextGen’ electric buses. With both Falkirk and Scarborough buzzing with buses, to devote a line to Leopard in a depressed and competitive coach market would not make sense.

It’s doubtful that sales of Leopard – in a niche contested by Turkish-built Temsa, MOBIpeople from Portugal and others – would get much beyond 50 or 60 vehicles a year

The truth is, the Leopard and the Panther were its only remaining coach products in regular production, and the Panther – though a much-liked coach – is rather long in the tooth, with origins going back to 1999. It’s doubtful that sales of Leopard – in a niche contested by Turkish-built Temsa, MOBIpeople from Portugal and others – would get much beyond 50 or 60 vehicles a year. Would that volume justify the factory floorspace and inevitable redevelopment of the model?

It saddens me that the Panorama failed to get the traction which – in my opinion – it richly deserved but the sales numbers were never going to be high for an expensive tri-axle ‘decker of its type without a left-hand drive export version for express networks, and Volvo’s 9700 ‘decker now fills that niche in Europe. So I strongly suspect that the handful built will be the first and last.

There are additional challenges. Part of the appeal of Plaxton’s coaches in the last decade has been the umbilical connection to Volvo chassis, favoured by many operators. I understand that relationship has been fraught, and Volvo in the UK does, of course, have its own range of coaches including the B8R MCV eVoTor, built in Egypt, which could be viewed by a Volvo devotee as almost a straight swap for Leopard.

Then there is Euro VII, new GSR regulations from the EU, and ultimately electrification. All of these changes face AD and its Canadian parent company, NFI, with development costs for European coach designs which I feel are unlikely to be ploughed into the current product range. I wonder whether there is a case for designing a diesel coach from the ground up in two years’ time, or whether – especially with its new expertise in electric vehicles – it might just go direct to zero-emission coaches?

Alexander Dennis has stated adamantly that its decision to end coach production is a suspension; and never say never. I am heartened by the knowledge that AD’s two new buses took just two years to go from concept to production, but with most other coachbuilders in lower-waged economies pouring development and production into the sector, my concern is that Plaxton will be left so far behind in the diesel coach race that it will be too expensive to catch up.

There’s a huge parc of Plaxtons on the road and the excellent AD24 aftersales support network to keep them serviceable, so owners need not be concerned on that score. What is uncertain is when there might be another new Plaxton coach. I can’t countenance the idea of its 117-year history ending with a whimper.

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