The Optare Group unveiled its new Alero small bus at a special launch ceremony held at the NEC in Birmingham, U.K. last month. The bus was specifically designed for rural and community market segments, particularly for dial-a-ride services, which are expected to grow rapidly in the wake of Britain’s new disability rights legislation.
Principal features of the Alero include:
16-passenger capability, in any combination of seats and wheelchairs, plus driver and courier
Ultra-low floor height, with an entry step height when kneeling of just 180 mm (7 in.)
Roll-on wheelchair access via on-board ramps
Fully programmed air-conditioned, electronic climate control
Excellent ride and handling
Safety features including rollover protection, ABS brakes and seat belts
One-piece color-impregnated composite body for long life and more attractive, “MPV-like” styling
Heavy-duty drivetrain including 122 hp, 2.8 liter Iveco 4-cylinder turbo diesel engine meeting Euro 3 emissions standards; ZF 6-speed manual gearbox (with automatic available as an option); Albion/RVI rear-drive axle; Meritor beam front axle with medium-duty independent front suspension; front and rear disc brakes; and full air suspension.
“The Alero truly is a revolutionary product; revolutionary in its choice of components and materials and in its packaging of them to offer an ultra low floor bus at an affordable price,” said Russell Richardson, managing director of the Optare Group, at the launch ceremony. “It will revolutionize transport and mobility for some of the most disadvantaged passengers in our society, and it will carry the Optare Group a significant step further along the road to producing 1,000 vehicles a year.” Optare is now owned by North American Bus Industries Inc., of Anniston, Ala.
Richardson said he began looking at a new model targeted at these markets as soon as it became apparent that the U.K. government would enact the Disability Discrimination Act. This law will accelerate the replacement rates for buses and coaches in the U.K. and in particular create a demand for low-floor midibuses that can accommodate wheelchairs, he added. Although other manufacturers are said to be developing smaller buses targeted at these segments, Alero appears to be the first such model.
Optare will offer Alero in four different model variants, ranging from a simple seat layout in Model 1, to longer-distance local/rural service configuration (Model 2), dial-a-ride configuration (Model 3) to higher-ended product aimed at the transfer coach market (Model 4). Price has been set at between £50,000 and £55,000 (US $85,000-$94,000), depending upon customer specifications. The 7.2m (24 ft) long Alero has a gross vehicle weight of 6.1 tons.
Following completion of a comprehensive prototype test program at the Millbrook (U.K.) proving ground, Optare says that pilot production should begin this winter, with full production out of the company’s Rotherham plant in the first half of 2001.