Chapter 18: Danish Bus Builders

by John Veerkamp and Kim Løvenskjold

1. Introduction

Like in other European countries, Denmark's bus industry has been very much a national affair until the 1990's, when European Union rules forced an opening up of the market to other European bus builders on the vehicle supply side, and to private European operators on the operational side. As a result, independent Danish bus production came to an end by the end of the 1990's. Bus operations are shifting from government owned enterprises and small private Danish operators to large international operators through a process of privatization and tendering.

2. Buses

Denmark had several small bus body building firms after the Second World War, but finally two large ones emerged. DAB, which was linked to British Leyland from 1953 onwards, mainly constructed buses using Leyland chassis and components. It was the main supplier to the Copenhagen system. The other major builder was Aabenraa, which mainly produced bodywork on Volvo chassis and was the chief supplier for DSB (Danish State Railways) during the 1960's and 1970's. Other builders were Ringsted, using FIAT chassis, and Ørum, building on Scania chassis. Several other small companies are mentioned below. Danish bus builders were very much oriented at building buses, leaving coach building to foreign companies. Only Ørum had some success with its coaches in the 1970's, and Ringsted imported FIAT coaches marketed as Ringsted.

Imported buses were relatively few until the mid 1990's. Some Scania with Scania or Finnish Lahti bodywork, Norwegian built Volvo -VBK, German Mercedes and Setra, and Belgian built Volvo -Van Hool were the most obvious ones. An interesting introduction was the Yugoslavian TAM to full Danish specification, almost looking identical to the 1980's DAB and Aabenraa buses. Even nowadays Volvo and Scania chassis are still by far the most popular makes. Coaches were mostly imported, with the German models of Mercedes, Setra and Neoplan being popular. British built Plaxton and Duple coaches were popular for a short while during the 1970's. But also Belgian Van Hool, Dutch Berkhof and BOVA, and Finnish Carrus coaches have become widespread.

Danish bus models were qualitatively very good but conceptually rather conservative. The high floor model with the engine between the axles under the floor was the standard until around 1990, though a few hundred rear engine Volvo B59/B10R and Scania BR112 were also built, mainly for Copenhagen. Most buses were full size, 12-meter vehicles. Smaller vehicles and larger, articulated buses, were rare. Only during the 1990's DAB and Aabenraa were forced to compete with other European bus builders and developed rear-engine low floor vehicles. However, it was too late and both factories finally were taken over by Scania and Volvo, respectively. Interestingly, Copenhagen introduced double deckers in 2002, using Volvo chassis and UK built Northern Counties bodywork.

None of the Danish bus factories were really large by any standards. DAB and Aabenraa mostly produced less than 200 vehicles per year each, the other companies much less. The national market's demand was just too small. Ascan Bus (Aabenraa) had an output of 240 buses in 1985 and 117 in 1986. DAB sold 188 buses in 1985. The production capacity of both Aabenraa and DAB was around 250 vehicles per year during the 1980's.

3. Public transport operations

Electric tramways were operated in Copenhagen (1898-1971), Odense (1911-1952) and Arhus (1904-1971).

Denmark had small trolleybus systems in Copenhagen and Odense. The Odense system operated from 1939 to 1959 and never had more than 7 buses, one of which was acquired secondhand from Copenhagen. Copenhagen had two systems. NESA (North Sjealland Electric Railways) operated trolleybuses from 1927-1971. It had trolleybuses 1-19 built in 1926-1947 and 31-50 built in 1953. The other Copenhagen system was operated by KS (Copenhagen Tramways) from 1938-1963 with 14 buses.

In 1993 HT (Copenhagen) started an experiment with two dual-mode Mercedes Benz O405G-E buses, for which a few kilometers of overhead wire was strung. However, the buses mostly ran in diesel mode and after a few years the experiment ended.

Danish State Railways operates main rail services and a city rail network around Copenhagen (S-Baner). The latter is electrified, while the rest of the network used to be diesel operated, though recently some lines were electrified. As Denmark consists of several islands and a large peninsula, ferry services have always been a major part of public transport. However, over the last decade major road and railway bridges and tunnels have been built replacing the main ferry services, including the one from Copenhagen to Malmö in Sweden. The bridges are among the largest worldwide. While DSB operates the main line rail services, there are 13 old privately owned branch rail lines, all operated with diesel railcars.

Bus transport used to be provided by municipal operators in the major towns, and the state railways DSB as the large national bus operator. The small railway companies and dozens of small regional, mostly privately owned, bus companies supplemented the railway system and national bus system. In Copenhagen KS was the largest bus operator. In 1974 HT (Hoverstadsomradets Trafikselskab, Capital City Regional transport) was formed, amalgamating the operations of KS with 645 buses with those of 10 other operators in the region, among which DSB's operations with 132 buses was the largest. More companies were taken over later. Thus, during the 1960's through to the beginning of the 1990's one would see the yellow HT buses around Copenhagen, the red DSB buses all over the country, and a wide variety of different liveries with small operators and municipal companies.

This stable system, with (private) operators running the same services for decades, was upset during the 1990's, when privatization of public services and tendering became mandatory under European Union rules. This meant that HT was reduced to a supervisory body, the bus division was made independent as Bus Danmark, and several rounds of tendering have seen a large part of the network go to private (foreign) operators. DSB was also hived off as a separate company, Combus, but is still government owned. The country has been divided into 11 regions (including Copenhagen), where regional authorities are responsible for supervision and tendering. In order to guard the impression of an integrated system, all buses in a region are painted in the same colors, irrespective of operator, and carry the fleet name of that region. Less prominently, the operator's name is also applied. As Combus (ex DSB) and Bus Danmark (ex HT) take part in the tendering process, one can now see Bus Danmark and Combus buses in different colors in various parts of the country. The main losers in the process have been the small, long established local operators. Because the operating licenses are short (4 years), buses now often change hands or are moved from one area to another. Some international operators even move buses between countries. Thus, specifications (floor height, length, door layout, capacity, fuel use) as determined by the tendering authorities have become more important than make and provenance of vehicles.

4. Bus builders

In the following, Denmark's main bus builders are treated. The emphasis is on the period from 1960 onwards.

4.1. DAB

DAB (Dansk Automobil Byggeri A/S, Silkeborg, = Danish Automobile Building) was founded in 1912 in Silkeborg by a Mr. J.W.Darr, a German. Initially he built trucks, but very soon also started mounting bus bodies on truck chassis, such as Audi, Krupp, and Bussing-NAG. They became a pioneer in building metal bus bodies. After the second world war a greater variety of makes was used. In 1953 DAB started collaborating with Leyland Motors of Great Britain and as a result DAB used Leyland components for its buses. In 1964 a new factory was built in Silkeborg and at the same time the new integral range using Leyland components was launched. In the 1970's Leyland bought a majority stake in DAB and renamed the factory Leyland-DAB. Still, buses on other chassis were built. Around 1972 DAB built a number of Volvo's for DSB (Danske Statsbanner, Danish State Railways), when it's usual supplier Aabenraa could not deliver as they were building new Volvo B59 for the HT (Copenhagen). From 1979 until 1987 DAB also built on Scania BR112 rear-engine chassis for Copenhagen.

Articulated buses were unknown in the UK and as a consequence Leyland did not offer them. To be able to offer an alternative for Volvo's articulated chassis, DAB turned to Saurer in Switzerland, which resulted in the Leyland-DAB-Saurer articulated bus, using a Saurer 240bhp underfloor engine and Allison fully auomatic transmission instead of the Leyland components. Other parts, like axles and the steering mechanism, were from Leyland. Later deliveries employed all Leyland components again. A few of the articulated buses were even exported to the UK. South Yorkshire PTE bought 13 in 1985.

DAB also built Leyland underframes. The model LI-BRT12 is known to have been exported to Belgium during the 1970's, where it was bodied by Jonckheere from Belgium and Den Oudsten from the Netherlands. An underfloor engined chassis for double deck buses was also built for Leyland in 1986 and exported to the UK. It was called the Lion. A medium size bus, called the Tiger Cub, was developed for sale in the UK in 1984. This integration with the Leyland range came to an end in 1986.

Leyland had gone so much in decline that the company was sold to Volvo in Sweden (the bus division) and DAF in the Netherlands (the truck division) in 1986. Initially the Leyland name was retained, with DAB remaining a subsidiary of the truck division. As a result DAF engines were used from 1988 onwards in the Leyland-DAB buses. In 1990 a reorganization led to the creation of United Bus, in which DAF Bus (which was split off from DAF Trucks), BOVA and Den Oudsten from the Netherlands, Optare from the UK and DAB from Denmark worked together. United Bus bought 70% of the shares of DAB, the 30% remaining were held by DAB's original owners. Fortunately they were able to buy back the 70% of United Bus when that venture failed in 1992. Thus DAB became a wholly Danish owned factory. However, open competition on the European market meant Danish operators bought foreign buses and DAB were forced to sell their factory to Scania from Sweden. Due to bad sales, Scania sold the production line to Vest/Busscar of Norway in 2002, bringing to an end 90 years of DAB history.

From 1964 to 1970 DAB's main customer was Copenhagen Tramways, who bought close to 600 buses during those years. Other customers were private companies in Denmark. In 1970-1972 Aabenraa managed to take over 50% of the Copenhagen market for new buses with the introduction of the Volvo B59 rear-engine city bus. As DAB's own range was based on underfloor engined chassis, they could not supply a low-floor rear engine bus. As a result they built buses on Scania BR112 chassis for Copenhagen in 1979-1986.

Relying on one main customer also meant that there was a high standardization of buses. Several periods can be distinguished. Model I was built for Copenhagen from 1964-1967. It was superseded by the very similar looking model II in 1966, which was built until 1975. In 1973 a new model was introduced which would become the most widespread. It was built from 1973 until 1982, with several technical and small external changes between models III to VI. The difference between series III and IV concerned the windscreen. The series III windscreen was derived from the Leyland National, built by Leyland UK. This design proved to create too much reflection from interior lights. In the series IV the windscreen was made more rounded, which reduced reflection. In 1982 a new bus was presented, model VII, featuring among others a very large destination display. This model lasted well into the 1990's. Alongside these standardized models, DAB also built some non-standard vehicles for private operators in the 1960's. DAB's buses were alloy-bodied and of modular construction. It maintained close technical links with Alusuisse of Switzerland. DAB's buses were mid-engined and were built in two lengths: 12 and 11.5 meters. Various door and seating layouts were available for urban, suburban, regional, and intercity use.

Since the mid 1950's all DAB's models had been based on Leyland's very reliable Royal Tiger Worldmaster underfloor-engine concept. Also the articulated buses, a small number of buses built on AEC (which was owned by Leyland) and the Volvo buses for DSB used underfloor engines. Only in the 1990's the call for low-floor buses forced DAB to develop a completely new concept. DAB developed the Travelator, later sold as the Servicebus. This was a full low floor short bus with hydrostatic propulsion, a rear power pack and wheels placed at the 4 corners, permitting a full low-floor. This meant that the doors were placed behind the front wheels. The rear wheels could either be fixed small double wheels or steering single wheels. This model received some acclaim as a "servicebus" for routes operated with fully-accessible vehicles, with export orders coming, among others, from the Netherlands and Spain. The Servicebus was only available in its short form, though the intention apparently was to develop a full length 12-meter version. DAB did also developed full-length low-floor buses, but to a more common concept with a rear diesel engine and a normal door lay-out. These buses were also available with LPG or CNG engines. A high-floor version for inter-urban use was also offered. It received a face-lift in 1996.

After Scania took over the factory in 1995, the DAB models were initially continued. In 1997 DAB Silkeborg was renamed Scania A/B, Silkeborg. In 1999 it was decided that the plant would no longer produce DAB's series 12 and 15-buses, but would built Scania's own models Omnilink and Omnicity. Orders would be divided between the Silkeborg and Katrineholm (Sweden) factories according to capacity and needs. Only the special propulsion versions of DAB's own range were being offered as long as there was a demand, but the last ones were delivered in 2001 or 2002. Apparently sales did not live up to expectations and Scania sold the factory to Vest/Busscar of Norway in 2002.

DAB had limited success with export. Small numbers went to countries like Israel, Poland, Romania, Iceland and Switzerland during the 1950's-1970's. Some articulated buses were sold to the UK, as mentioned above. In the 1990's the Servicebus met with some export success.

4.2. Aabenraa and Ascan Bus

A Mr. Peder Pedersen started a small truck body building workshop in the city of Aabenraa. His products became known as "Aabenraa". Buses became an important part of the product line in the late 1940's, early 1950's. Initially they were built on different makes of chassis, but from around 1953 Volvo became the most common make. DSB (Danish State Railways) bought their first aluminum Volvo B617 -Aabenraa bus in 1953. From 1960 until 1979 DSB bought all their buses from Aabenraa, with the exception of a few batches in 1972 when Aabenraa were building Volvo B59 for Copenhagen and could not supply.

With the introduction of Volvo's B58 model, and later the B10M, the normal situation became that a Volvo bus in Denmark had an Aabenraa body. Of course there were Volvo B58 with other bodywork, for example from VBK (Norway), VBK/Carlsen (DK), Van Hool, Jonckheere (only coaches), DAB, and Stautrup (DK). But the 100% Aluminum built Aabenraa bodies were preferred by most companies. A small number of the articulated version were also built by Aabenraa.

Aabenraa was the only supplier in Denmark constructing on the rear-engine Volvo B59 and B10R city buses. They developed a special body model for these vehicles, most of which went to Copenhagen. From 1970-1978 255 Volvo B59 were built, followed by 114 Volvo B10R from 1978 until 1981. The Volvo B10R was also sold to Malmö in Sweden, just across the Øresund from Copenhagen.

In 1976 Skandia (a Danish train factory) became involved in Aabenraa, but the Peder Pedersen logo stayed in the front-door stepwell until 1980. In 1986 the name of the factory was changed to Ascan Bus. However, that name had a short life as Skandia sold the factory in 1988 to Kassbohrer-Setra of Germany, who renamed it to Aabenraa, but with the Kassbohrer K logo in front of the name.

Setra used the Aabenraa factory to mount the short S309 coach model, with parts coming from the Setra factoy in Ulm. Setra also intended to gain an entry into the Danish market for buses. Through Setra, Aabenraa supplied around 80 Volvo B10M library buses to the former Eastern Germany in 1990-91, a major entry for Volvo into the very protective German market. In 1995, after Setra had merged with the Mercedes bus division to become EVO-Bus, the Danish Aabenraa factory was sold to Volvo.

Aabenraa only exported buses to very few countries. Sweden was the largest costumer with at least 250 buses. Swedish Railways (SJ) was the biggest client for over ten years, buying buses on Volvo B10M, Scania BR112 and BR113 chassis. Malmö Lokaltrafik was also a good client with Volvo B10R and Scania BR112 mounted buses. There was even one on a DAF SB220 chassis. Severel Aabenraa's on Mercedes and DAF chassis, were sold to Norwegian operators and Finnish operators bought a few B10R. DAF-Aabenraa buses were never sold in Denmark. In addition to buses, Aabenraa also built library buses and apron buses for Copenhagen airport.

During the 1960's through the 1980's, Aabenraa's models were very similar to DAB's, often to the point where it was very difficult to distinguish between the two. Models also changed at the same points in time: around 1964, 1967, 1973 and 1982. Aabenraa built a low-floor bus on Volvo B10B chassis in the mid 1990's. However, when Volvo bought Aabenraa in 1995, it was decided that the factory would start using Volvo's standard Säffle 2000 system, which meant the end for Aabenraa's own designed bodies. The first Säffle 2000 system bus was shown in May 1996, and since then only Säffle 2000 and later the new Volvo types have been built. From 1997 onwards all bodies were mounted on Volvo B10L, B10BLE and B10M chassis. With production of the same buses divided between Volvo's factories in Sweden, Poland and Denmark, Aabenraa has de facto disappeared as a distinguishable bus builder.

4.3. Ringsted

Ringsted was a small factory in Ringsted (75 km South East of Copenhagen). They built small numbers of buses along with lorries and some other products. Ringsted used FIAT chassis for its buses and for a while imported complete FIAT 370 coaches, which they also badged Ringsted. During the 1960's and the 1970's Ringsted had it's own quite recognizable bus design, though some buses were also built in accordance with the standard Danish bus specifications. Beginning of the 1980's a modern looking bus on FIAT chassis was produced, but few were sold.

After VBK Herning closed down, Ringsted started selling Scania buses for the Danish market, but no more than 20 to 30 a year were sold and soon they got competition from Finnish builder Lathi. As the market for FIAT buses remained very small, Ringsted closed down the production line in the beginning of the 1990's and concentrated on selling Setra buses on the Danish market. Later Setra bought Ringsted and after Setra and Mercedes Benz merged to become Evobus, the former Ringsted factory became the main Evobus office for Denmark.

4.4. J.P. Ørum

J. Ørum Pedersen was a small bus factory which sold its products to private operators in Denmark. Their models were readily distinguishable. They were also the largest builder of coaches in Denmark, as Aabenraa and DAB concentrated on the bus market. Ørum coaches and Ringsted marketed FIAT coaches were the only Danish built coaches normally seen on trips in Europe. The factory was sold to VBK Norway in the 1970's and stopped producing its own models in 1982. Ørum built its buses on Scania chassis.

4.5. Brdr Carlsens Karosserifabrik, Humlebaek

The Carlsen Brothers factory built small numbers of buses on Volvo chassis. During the mid 1960's it started assembling Norwegian VBK bodies on Volvo chassis for the Danish market. The model was VBK's standard Norwegian bus. Carlsen had acted as the agent for VBK before. In 1982 VBK transferred its production to Denmark, which meant the end for the Carlsen activities.

4.6. VBK (Vestfold Bil & Karosseri A/S)

From 1958 to 1981 this Norwegian bodybuilder sold 81 buses in Denmark through its Danish agent Brdr Carlsen Karosserifabrik in Humlebaek, who also assembled these buses from the mid-1960's onwards. All were Volvo, with two exceptions: 1 Scania Vabis in 1972 and 1 DAF MB200 in 1978. Most buses were sold to operators in the Humlebaek area. VBK bought the Ørum factory in the 1970's and transferred its production facilities to Herning in Denmark in 1982, thus becoming a Danish bus builder. It started building buses on Scania chassis, thus competing with a different chassis make with the Leyland-DAB, Volvo-Aabenraa and FIAT-Ringsted combinations. However, sales remained too low and the factory concentrated on ckd kits for export before closing down after a few years.

4.7. Other bus builders

Alubus of Aabenraa received quite some attention when it introduced its all aluminum buses in 1980. The factory was specially established for this product. It was owned by a former sales director from the Aabenraa factory! After some years at Aabenraa he decided to try and build buses himself, he already had the inside information on how to do this! He made a deal with MAN, allowing him to sell MAN buses in Denmark with his Alubus body. It was never a success, only 12 buses were built from 1980 untill 1982, 7 or 8 on a 12-meter MAN chassis, and 4 or 5 on VW LT chassis. MAN Danmark now ownes one of the 12 meter Alubuses.

Nordisk Karosserifabrik of Svendborg only built buses until 1967. They built quite a number of buses on Büssing and Volvo chassis. The Volvo B655 and B656 were most common. Most vehicles were city buses and were sold in the greater Copenhagen area.

They were in competition with Aabenraa during the 1960's. They also adapted three prototype German Bussing Prafekt buses for NESA in Copenhagen in 1966/1967. These were meant to replace the NESA trolleybuses. However, the Leyland-DAB product was preferred.

Two other names that have appeared in bus building are Stautrup (on Volvo B58) and Roslev (on Mercedes midsize chassis). Stautrup built truck bodies and special vehicles. Buses were only a secondary product. Roslev was a bodybuilder mainly adapting Mercedes vans for the Danish market. They built some bus bodywork on Mercedes front engined truck-derived medium range chassis.


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