MAN Truck & Bus


50 years of NEOPLAN Cityliner: a journey through time in a classic coach

The NEOPLAN Cityliner is the first commercial vehicle that gave rise to the concept of the modern coach. Now it’s celebrating its 50th birthday – and remains new and fresh for six generations. The premium brand is marking the range’s anniversary year with a special platinum model that is very well equipped and features numerous technical innovations.

The NEOPLAN Cityliner’s fascinating journey began 50 years ago. It was the first coach in the modern age: a towering “high decker” offering passengers a great view, lots of space for luggage, a WC, a galley kitchen and sleeping cabin beneath the high floor, a distinctive design with split windscreen and the latest drive technology. To this day, it marks the standard for a coach concept that has since become so prevalent worldwide. The coach celebrating this jubilee thus embodies the very spirit that still differentiates NEOPLAN in its over 85-year corporate and almost 70-year brand history: using passion and innovative ideas to motivate people and generate progress.

A “special platinum model” for this anniversary

On the successful model's 50th birthday, NEOPLAN is arranging a modern rebirth of the “Platinum version” from 1995, this time without any limit on numbers and available in all three lengths (Cityliner/C/L). The discreet platinum shade of the external paintwork on sides, front and rear with the original “platinum” lettering and other chrome-coloured elements is reminiscent of its legendary predecessor. The horizontal connection between A and B pillars remains coated in black and thus draws attention to the striking nose design that is underlined by the B pillar shaped as a tapered fin and the silver surround of the upper windscreen. Other areas contrasted in black like the rear diffuser or the number plate surrounds correspond perfectly with the new “angel eyes” headlights and the coated fins beneath the headlights. For the first time ever, the new “special Platinum model” will be delivered with a particular “wow effect” created by dynamic new hub caps whose unusual rotational dynamics distinguish this coach as a “sports car among coaches” even when it’s stationary.

NEOPLAN genes from the very beginning

1953 was one of the most significant years in the history of NEOPLAN. This was the year that the first NEOPLAN took to the streets. Coachbuilder Gottlob Auwärter, established as early as 1935, already demonstrated entrepreneurial courage and vision: he emphatically relied on an innovative type of bus with self-supporting bodywork and started to produce and market this under the name NEOPLAN – standing for new passenger transport vehicle or new plan. This concept substantially differentiated bus development from that of trucks, and thus enabled the subsequent success story. Other pioneering models and innovations followed, such as the “Hamburg” model in 1961 with its distinctive, sloping window spars or in 1967 the first NEOPLAN Skyliner double decker coach that even now still represents the brand’s imposing flagship.

Then in 1971 came the next highpoint in international bus construction: the NEOPLAN Cityliner was launched. “This bus was bursting with innovations that caused a sensation – be it the raised passenger compartment, lower driver’s position, underfloor toilet, galley kitchen, driver's sleeping cabin, air conditioning and double glazing on request”, says Rudi Kuchta, Head of the Bus Business Unit at MAN Truck & Bus. Yet the starting point was actually quite different: In 1970 Severin und Kühn, a Berlin sightseeing tour provider, wanted to acquire similar vehicles to the successful Skyliner (or like the former “Do-Lux” from 1964, a thesis by the last NEOPLAN owner Dr. Ing. h.c. Konrad Auwärter), albeit without two passenger decks. Swiss NEOPLAN chief engineer Bob Lee didn’t need a second invitation and developed a “city observation coach” based on the “Hamburg” model. It had a height of 3.45 metres which was unrivalled at the time, three large sunroofs and separate windows beneath the rounded side windows that extended far into the roof. A suitable windscreen for such a high vehicle wasn’t available back then, so it was unceremoniously designed in two parts, or initially even three parts – this enabled the installation of sun visors for driver and attendant and to this day remains a distinguishing feature of the Cityliner. The concept was successfully deployed, admittedly only briefly for city sightseeing tours, but even more so for long journeys with lots of luggage. As early as 1986, the two-volume standard work “Omnibus Geschichte” (Huss/Schenk, p. 324) described its success as follows: “This vehicle broke the mould. The high decker developed into the typical coach of modern times.” And the Cityliner into an evergreen.

The Cityliner’s design ensured a massive increase in travel comfort: the size of the luggage area was not only increased by the general vehicle height but also by the pedestals on which the seats were now mounted, which proved to be very comfortable for passengers – and Cityliner customers still appreciate this feature today. The wheel arches and other convenience fittings now no longer played a part in the interior design and up to 51 seats could be installed – for many years a standard in the 12-metre class. In addition to a toilet, galley kitchen and sleeping cabin, it also enabled up to 10.5 cubic metres of luggage to be stowed, which very quickly brought the vehicles up to their permissible total weight at the time of just 16 tons. Alongside the naturally self-supporting bodywork, one of the outstanding technical features was a rear axle supported on a flexibly mounted subframe. This ensured stable and at the same time comfortable handling and even early on gave the Cityliner the reputation of being an especially “driver-friendly” travel coach.

"The first Cityliner in 1971 was bursting with innovations."

Rudi Kuchta
Head of Business Unit Bus at MAN

Side view of a pearl-coloured NEOPLAN Cityliner with the inscription "50 years of NEOPLAN" from 1985.
Red right arrow

50th company anniversary To celebrate, Gottlob Auwärter GmbH & Co. KG launched a spectacular special series of the permut-coloured Cityliner N 116 of the fourth generation (design 07) with purple seat covers in 1985.

"Its silhouette can be seen from a distance."

Michael Streicher 
Long-time NEOPLAN designer

Three-axle vehicles, Highliner and Spaceliner

The first year saw 30 NEOPLAN Cityliners being delivered, by 1973 it was already a total of 100 vehicles. The company won first prize for the coach with the “Grand Prix d’Excellence” at the Omnibus Week in Nice – the start of a long series of successes. This year also saw the first three-axle vehicle that was equipped with a self-tracking third adhesion axle without being critical in terms of weight, which meant that it could also be equipped with air conditioning, double glazing and a Telma continuous service brake. This substantially extended the baggage compartment. The current one-piece upper windscreen was from then on bonded in a frame-stabilising manner, and the height of the bus grew to 3.55 metres. The classic design of the third NEOPLAN generation was aligned with that of the new subordinate Jetliner model and still featured the wide laterally angled chrome bumper, which was a significant aspect of the model's charm. By 1979, NEOPLAN had further advanced the successful concept behind the high decker, with vast amounts of space for passengers and luggage. This was derived from the Cityliner and became the largely independent Spaceliner, which had its sunken driver's enclosure with Recaro sports seat located separately beneath the central aisle and could thus offer at least one more row of seats – with double-decker forward view. This concept didn’t really catch on for safety reasons, but it still had its backers until the fifth generation of vehicles was phased out in 2005. Even the front design of the current Cityliner model is still significantly reminiscent of the popular versions of old. There were also a further five vehicles that were introduced in 1978 as 18-metre articulated vehicles called “Highliners”.

Porsche 911 of the bus sector

By 1980, NEOPLAN was able to look back on sales of 1,000 Cityliners. The bus design was in each case only cautiously adapted, which quickly earned it the reputation of the “Porsche 911” of coaches – not merely because of the shared Stuttgart history that ultimately manifested itself in the “Rössle” (horse) in the two brand logos. The beginning of the 1980s saw a striking model improvement with the chrome bumper becoming history and being replaced by a plastic component. In general the Cityliner was the first NEOPLAN where modern materials like glass fibre reinforced plastic (GRP) were used in many areas for anti-corrosion purposes.

Fourth generation and a USA version

The 50th anniversary of Gottlob Auwärter GmbH und Co. KG in 1985 was the occasion for presentation of the fourth generation of NEOPLAN Cityliners. The outer skin was significantly more smooth-surfaced, the front revealed itself to be largely uninterrupted and edgeless, the lower windscreen was inclined slightly forward, as is still evident today. The upper screen was inclined even further back and now transitioned directly into the roof. A modern, electrically controlled air conditioning unit now operated in the rear that still remained windowless. 1986 saw the first Cityliners being built in the US plant in Lamar, here as a typical 45-foot (13.70-metre) long three-axle vehicle. In addition to the German plants in Stuttgart, Pilsting and Plauen and nowadays also in Ankara, Turkey, Cityliners have over the years also been manufactured under licence in Mexico, South Africa and China. To this day, large fleets of the vehicles can be seen all over the world, especially in Eastern Europe; and they are still providing reliable service.

Extending even higher: the H-versions

There’s no doubt that the path taken was the right one from the start. By 1990, the time had come to further develop it in a consistent manner and to continue with the high decker concept: the two Cityliner H-versions now additionally available grew by a further 16 centimetres to 3.78 metres and for the first time offered practical storage compartments above both axles, even full-length ones at the rear for storing skis and other long items. These three-axle vehicle’s luggage compartments grew to 15 cubic metres. Delivery of the 3,000th Cityliner could simultaneously be celebrated in Möhringen. Three years later new headlights and a new dashboard made their appearance and the bumpers were now coated in the same colour as the vehicle. The driver’s compartment presented in 1993 had a distinctive semicircular housing around the driver and has to this day shaped all driver workplaces from a design and ergonomics perspective. For the first time, vehicles with a standard dimension of over 12 metres were also being built, like the N 118/3 (H) at 15 metres long, for which NEOPLAN had previously campaigned with the legislator on behalf of the entire sector. Extra long buses are now the rule rather than the exception.

Platinum edition for the company’s 60th anniversary

There was to be something very special for the company’s 60th anniversary, which in 1995 also included celebrating delivery of 4,444 Cityliners: a limited number of 60 buses in an especially elegant “Platinum edition”. Externally she drew particular attention to herself due to the 900-millimetre high stainless steel cladding reminiscent of the first Cityliner, but she also had a lot to offer in terms of technology. In addition to one of the first GPS satellite guidance systems from Philips, it was mainly the laser-based distance warning and control system that was well received. The system was called “Contralaser” and scanned a safety zone about 150 metres ahead around ten times a second and accordingly adjusted the cruise control and retarder in the event of an obstacle – similar to today's ACC cruise control. The safety equipment was rounded off with ultrasonic rear parking sensors, lap belts as standard and other interior design features.

Eye-catcher of the 6th generation

Approaching the new millennium

The 5,000th NEOPLAN Cityliner was built in 1997 and a year before the new, 13.70-metre long three-axle version had been presented. At the same time, the legendary NEOPLAN Starliner started the company’s high decker and super high decker models, which took modern travel to unprecedented levels of luxury. Both buses will be closely linked technically and visually for a long time to come. NEOPLAN presented its “Cityliner 2000” study at the IAA 2000 in Hanover. This adopted many design features of the Starliner, such as its headlights and strip-free design. Another significant date in NEOPLAN history is 20 June 2001: this was the day that MAN Nutzfahrzeuge AG in Munich took over Gottlob Auwärter GmbH & Co. KG and thus set an important course for the future. NEOPLAN became the international Group’s premium bus brand and could now benefit from synergies at MAN. This development led the Cityliner 2001 into its fifth generation, which not only brought a renewed design, but also many safety systems that are taken for granted today. The modern design of the triple round headlights were to become the brand's hallmark for years to come, the raised rear section was cleverly optimised and visually enhanced by opposing curves.

New length as a new standard

In 2003, NEOPLAN was the first European manufacturer to present the popular HC (“high comfort”) models with the “new European length” of 12.84 metres on three axles, and thus set another trend for coaches. The advantages of the higher capacity NEOPLAN high deckers were optimally combined with the manoeuvrability of the 12-metre class: given a permissible total weight of 25.5 tons there were no longer any weight problems when it came to being weighed on the motorway. This was made possible by means of electrohydraulic steering on a trailing axle with independent wheel suspension (elektrohydraulisch gelenkte Nachlaufachse mit Einzelradaufhängung – EHLA). This design enabled moving the drive axle far to the rear and thus realise a very large wheelbase – a real customer advantage from which the Cityliner still benefits today and that imparts balanced proportions to the vehicle. In its last years as the fifth generation, this “short three-axle vehicle” was certainly one of the best-selling versions. The then 35-year career of the Cityliners was commended at Busworld 2005 in Kortrijk with a “2006 Edition”, which had numerous special features. A total of around 6,300 Cityliners in generations one to five rolled off the production lines at German plants, some 5,800 of these as the popular N 116 two-axle vehicle.

Sixth generation with a sharp-cut design

The brand’s bus programme was also put on a completely new technological footing after MAN Nutzfahrzeuge AG took over NEOPLAN. The sixth generation of the Cityliner was the first complete redesign of the evergreen. This further development was convincing due to the innovative technology in the NEOPLAN Starliner, which is still considered one of the most exclusive coaches ever. The Starliner also gave rise to the basic design features, such as the sharp-cut front and rear design and the “diamond cut” of the upper side windows, which are visually extended into the roof. Retained from the Cityliner was the typical “cockpit look” of the front of the vehicle, which is reminiscent of the Spaceliner with its sunken driver's enclosure. This new bus was the focal point of IAA 2006 in Hanover, but the model celebrated its première at Lake Wolfgang where it was staged on a pontoon with fireworks. The new Cityliner set visual and technical standards in its class and thus continued the long NEOPLAN tradition of designing buses that are not only functional, but also extremely attractive. Its elegant lines also meant that the NEOPLAN Cityliner received the “red dot: best of the best” design award in 2007.

Michael Streicher, a long-standing NEOPLAN designer and creator of the sharp-cut design, explains the philosophy as follows: “The Cityliner has managed to be seen as the coach par excellence for over 50 years – and that was also always a design theme. Sharp-cut is something like an original Cityliner formula. It’s one of the few buses whose silhouette is recognisable from afar on the motorway, not as a well-known square box, but rather as the sports car among buses. This ultimately means that everything that is unnecessary is simply cut away from the bus body in sharp cuts. The bus is not over-designed, rather exactly on point. This gives the Cityliner its characteristic, unique proportion that makes it so unmistakable.”

Text   Felix Enzian
Photos   MAN

Black arrow up