MAN Truck & Bus

NEOPLAN as cult

The NEOPLAN brand, now part of MAN Truck & Bus, is a byword for innovative technology, exclusive travel and outstanding design. Hans-Joachim Pilz was previously the advertising manager at NEOPLAN and is a former managing director of MAN Truck & Bus Germany. His book "Auwärter NEOPLAN Omnibuses" reflects on NEOPLAN's eventful history.

Portrait of the former Managing Director of MAN Truck & Bus Germany Hans-Joachim Pilz

NEOPLAN as cult

The NEOPLAN brand, now part of MAN Truck & Bus, is a byword for innovative technology, exclusive travel and outstanding design. Hans-Joachim Pilz was previously the advertising manager at NEOPLAN and is a former managing director of MAN Truck & Bus Germany. His book "Auwärter NEOPLAN Omnibuses" reflects on NEOPLAN's eventful history.

Hans-Joachim Pilz

The book's author joined NEOPLAN as advertising manager in 1979, followed by positions as marketing and sales manager and as company and press spokesperson. After NEOPLAN was acquired by MAN, he ultimately became managing director of MAN Truck & Bus Deutschland GmbH where he was responsible for the MAN and NEOPLAN bus business. His book "Auwärter NEOPLAN Omnibuses", which he wrote jointly with co-author Andreas Schneider, was recently published.

Mr Pilz, you have written a book about the history of NEOPLAN – why?

Pilz Konrad Auwärter, who was managing director and chairman of the supervisory board at NEOPLAN prior to its acquisition by MAN, provided the impetus for this book. My various functions at NEOPLAN meant I had close contact with the family, so I know Konrad Auwärter very well. At some point we determined there was not yet a comprehensive work on the entire NEOPLAN story. That was what prompted this extensive project. It is firstly a business biography, but the "model compass" also makes it a comprehensive overview of the NEOPLAN vehicle models. Konrad Auwärter and I are contemporary witnesses who can report on these phases of corporate history because we experienced it at first hand.

NEOPLAN - Portrait Konrad Auwärter, dem ehemaligen Vorsitz des Verwaltungsrats von NEOPLAN

Konrad Auwärter: this engineer was born in 1940 as the second son of Gottlob Auwärter. He trained as a car mechanic and then, like his brother Albrecht Auwärter, studied at Wagenbauschule Hamburg [the carriage construction college in Hamburg]. After the unexpected death of his brother Albrecht in 1994, he assumed chairmanship of the newly formed supervisory board at NEOPLAN.

Which vehicles from the company's history are in your view the most significant?

Pilz The first bus of its own, the "NEOPLAN" from 1953, was a milestone for the company and signalled the transformation from body maker to bus manufacturer. Commercial success and international acclaim then followed in 1961 with the "Hamburg" bus model. Four years later came the double-decker coach with which NEOPLAN was unrivalled in the market for a long time. The market penetration of low-floor coaches in 1987 also resulted in sectoral upheaval, as did the Megaliner five years later thus enabling the approval of longer coaches. The Metroliner presented in 1988 had the first self-supporting passenger compartment made of fibre composite materials, which was then realised by NEOPLAN.

Which coach was ultimately the most successful?

Pilz The high-deck Cityliner coach has decisively shaped the company's history. The lowered driver's seat and raised passenger compartment suddenly meant that passengers had an unrestricted forward view. The coach also featured an underfloor toilet, an underfloor galley and a large luggage compartment. The Cityliner made travel more comfortable than ever before. That is why this was surely the most successful NEOPLAN model, which has also been in production since 1971.

Were there also moments when the company had to adapt to changed market conditions?

Pilz NEOPLAN was always the junior sparring partner in comparison to its then competitors, such as MAN. The company therefore always attempted to occupy market niches and provide new impetus in order to exist alongside the giants. Bob Lee, who Albrecht Auwärter brought into the company, was responsible for design – and had a real knack for it. NEOPLAN was only able to tread water with its major competitors and their massive development departments because the company was simply faster and more creative in many areas.

NEOPLAN Skyliner 1967

The flagship: on 26 April 1967 the first NEOPLAN Skyliner rolled off the production line. In the meantime the seventh generation is on the market.

In addition to Bob Lee, the Auwärter family also played a significant role for the company. Both Auwärter sons have developed a vehicle model and assumed high positions. Was there also a time when the Auwärter family influence was less pronounced?

Pilz No. The Auwärter family was, together with Bob Lee and other well known employees, the heart of NEOPLAN. Founder Gottlob Auwärter was a typical representative of the Swabian generation of company founders. He was a family man, hard working and frugal. His sons Albrecht and Konrad Auwärter then took NEOPLAN forward as representatives of the second generation and substantially expanded the company.

What did that mean for the brand?

Pilz Albrecht Auwärter, who unfortunately died in his late 50s, was the visionary between the two brothers. He was very talented, both in business and technically, and progressed the company's expansion. His brother Konrad Auwärter is an outstanding engineer and laid the foundations for the double-decker models. Konrad is also the one who built the plant in Pilsting into a real picture book business – that was his lifetime achievement. Then it is also important to mention Else Auwärter, who was responsible for the finances.

NEOPLAN also had the right ideas in the 1990s. That was the time when sustainable drive options were being investigated.

NEOPLAN was really into everything in the 90s: from pure battery vehicles, vehicles with gas engines, hybrid vehicles with diesel-electric drives through to fuel cells or hydrogen engines.

Were their sustainable vehicles successful at that time?

Pilz Partly. The gas buses for instance were an absolute success story in the USA or in the Bavarian Forest, as were the diesel-electric buses. We would certainly be further forward by now if NEOPLAN had enjoyed the opportunity of progressing these alternative drive concepts.

NEOPLAN was acquired by MAN in 2001. What changed?

Pilz NEOPLAN is no longer an independent company, but rather a brand of MAN Truck & Bus, indeed a premium brand. MAN pursues a two-brand strategy, it builds MAN buses and NEOPLAN buses that are differently aligned. NEOPLAN continues to be innovative, open to new technologies and thus capitalises on exclusive travel experiences and top-class design – absolutely core competencies.

In your book you also highlight the Auwärter museums in Stuttgart and Pilsting, as well as the vintage scene – is NEOPLAN a cult nowadays?

Pilz The vintage scene surrounding NEOPLAN is very energetic. There is a large list of companies that are proud of their NEOPLAN buses. The technical milestones developed by NEOPLAN certainly have a cult following. That this scene is flourishing in this manner is above all down to Konrad Auwärter. He opened the museum in Pilsting last year and has dedicated himself to maintaining the tradition. Konrad Auwärter celebrated his 80th birthday on 24 August – wishing him congratulations, continued creativity and great recognition for his lifetime achievement.

NEOPLAN Skyliner 2017

Smart edge design: the NEOPLAN Skyliner, here built in 2017, is considered a classic in bus design.

Interview Richard Diesing
Photos NEOPLAN Archiv

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