Chapter 14: Renault Buses

by John Veerkamp

Introduction

The Period from 1898 to 1940

The French vehicle manufacturer Renault can trace its roots back to 1898. After his military service, Louis Renault, 21 years old, builds his first vehicle. Given the success of his creation, he and his two older brothers decide to create the Société Renault Frères. The company starts its business in Billancourt on February 25, 1899. Their enterprise flourishes and in 1905/1906 Renault delivers 1500 taxis for Paris. The same taxis are exported to, amongst others, New York. From 1906 onwards Renault also offers trucks and buses. In 1908 the company changes its name to Société Automobiles Renault, Louis Renault Constructeur, leaving Louis Renault alone at the head. In 1909 Renault delivers its first buses to the city of Paris. Just before the First World War, which struck France very hard, annual production was already 10,000 vehicles.

During the First World War, production was aimed at the military, leaving Renault with a large production capacity after the war. In 1922 the company becomes Société Anonyme des Usines Renault. In 1925 the famous company logo is introduced. Renault does well until the depression of the 1930's, and manages to become and stay the largest French vehicle builder with a market share of 40% for commercial vehicles. At the onset of the Second World War Renault produces 30.5% of French buses, just ahead of Citroen with 30.1%. During this period Renault's most famous bus model was the TN-series for Paris, of which 2800 were built from 1931 to 1937. The last ones were only withdrawn in 1971. These dark green buses with their open rear platform would for decades be associated with Paris in the same way as red double deckers were associated with London. But Renault produced a large range of other buses, from small vehicles to coaches. All had, however, a front engine. From 1925 onwards Renault also built its own diesel engines, which were available on many models.

The Period from 1945 to 1955

The Second World War was, again, a period where production was aimed at military needs. The Renault factories were under German military command. By the end of 1944, when the war in France was almost over, more than half of Renault's factories were destroyed. Luis Renault was accused of collaboration with the Germans and imprisoned. He mysteriously died in prison in October 1944. The Renault factory was nationalized and became Régie Nationale des Usines Renault.

Bus production resumed in 1946 with model 215D, a prototype having been presented in December 1945. This inter urban bus is a modernized version of the pre-war ZPD. Most bus bodies are built by Scemia, a company with which Renault already had a close collaboration before the war. A longer version is produced, which receives the new name R4150, or R4151 in bus version. Renault however looses its leading position to Chausson, which has designed a completely new, modern lightweight vehicle. Other bus builders respond with rear-engined models and Renault also builds some rear-engined prototypes. However, in 1949 Renault presents the R4190 with a centrally located underfloor engine. The reason for not choosing a rear engine is that Renault wanted to use the same basic model for city buses, inter urban buses and coaches. As in France at the time passengers entered buses at the rear where a lowered platform permitted easy access and where a conductor was seated, a rear engine was not feasible for city buses. The R4000 series was further developed and in 1950 the R4191, R4210, R4230 and R4200 were offered. The R4191 was the coach/inter urban version, the R4210 a city bus for one man operation, and the R4230 a city bus for two-person operation. The R4200 was a shorter version. In 1952 the models are modernized and become the R4192, R4211, R4231 and R4201. In total 2717 vehicles of the R4000-series were built between 1949 and 1957.

But in spite of the modernization of its models, Renault's market share further drops and in 1954 only 270 buses and coaches are produced, representing 8.5% of national production. In November 1955 a reorganization of bus production takes place. The heavy vehicle division of Renault merges with Latil and Somua to become the L.R.S. group. The new name SAVIEM (Société Anonyme de Véhicules Industriels et d'Equipements Mécaniques) is introduced. In 1957 SACA, a collaboration of Floirat and Isobloc, is integrated into SAVIEM, followed in 1959 by Chausson.

The Period from 1955 to 1965 and Van-Derived Buses

The Renault name disappears from buses, except for some smaller truck-derived models which retain the Renault name until 1965. The Renault Goelette (Tern) is the very characteristic 1950's-1960's Renault small truck. This vehicle and its Citroen counterpart, the H, are to be seen in any 1950's-1960's French movie, together with the Citroen Deux Chevaux, Citroen DS and Renault Dauphine cars. Many are used as buses in French (former) colonies, as is its successor, the SG2, or Super Goelette 2. From 1965 until 1980 the SG2 was marketed as SAVIEM. This model is still built under license by Avia in the Czech Republic. After 1965 only small van-derived models are marketed as Renault. The old one is called the Alouette (swallow), while modern versions are the Trafic and the larger Master.

The Period from 1980 to 2001

In 1974 the remaining other large and old French heavy vehicle builder, Berliet, is taken over by Renault, but continues producing under its own name until 1980. In that year, after an absence of 25 years, the Renault name re-appears on buses when the SAVIEM and Berliet range are fully integrated and brought under the Renault banner. From 1978 onwards the Renault logo had already been introduced. The new company is called Renault Véhicules Industriels.

Renault continues producing the various Berliet and SAVIEM models for several years, but immediately starts developing a new bus and a new coach. Both predecessor companies had bus and a coach ranges that were conceptually quite different. Berliet had the rear-engined PR100 city bus and PR14 coach or inter urban bus, SAVIEM had its front-engined SC10 bus, the underfloor engined S45/S53/S105 series bus or coach, and the rear-engined E7 bus or coach. SAVIEM did not have its own articulated bus, but marketed the German MAN standard articulated bus in France.

The Renault SC10

The SC10 is a typical French bus with a unique lay-out. It has the engine located under the driver's seat which is, as a result, placed rather high, but also permits a relatively low floor. It also has single rear wheels, another feature not too common on buses, but which also frees up space inside the bus. The SC10 was SAVIEM's answer to the standard bus specifications of the mid 1960's. Similar vehicles were produced by Berliet (PCM) and Verney. While Verney only built a prototype, Berliet built its bus in series, but replaced it a few years later with the rear-engined PR100. The SC10 became popular in France, but export was limited to a small number for Italy. It was produced during 24 years, with the last vehicle being delivered in March 1989. A total of 11,004 SC10 were built by SAVIEM and Renault, more than half of which went to Paris alone.

The SC10 is 11 meters long and has a floor height of 62 cm. It has a manual gearbox. During its life various improvements were made. In 1975 it became the SC10U, characterized by one large rear window, serving as an emergency exit. In 1980, when it became the Renault SC10, several improvements were made, and it was renamed the SC10U/O. During the second half of 1981, however, it was completely re-designed and received a much squarer appearance. This last version was called SC10R, with R standing for restylée (restyled).

A rather famous version of the SC10 is the open rear platform one. With the SC10 the last open platform pre-war TN-series buses disappeared from Paris' city streets. To accommodate nostalgic feelings, RATP, the Paris transport undertaking, decided to order small batches of open-platform SC10's. This version was subsequently also used by some other towns.

The Renault PR100-series

As mentioned above, Berliet also built a standard bus similar to the SAVIEM SC10 from the mid-1960's onwards. They even developed a smaller version, a double decker and an articulated bus, none of which were successful. Berliet decided to replace its standard bus by a rear-engined model, which was much more in line with European developments of the period. The Berliet PR100 enters in the same category as the Mercedes Benz O305, MAN SL200, DAF SB200 and Leyland National, all 11 to 12 meter long city buses with a rear engine, a relatively low floor and a wide front entrance. The first PR100 was delivered in 1971 and the last PR112, the modernized version, left the factory only in January 1999. Over 13,500 buses of the PR100 range were produced in France. While Renault initially wanted to replace the PR100 with the new R312, many customers requested that the PR100 remain in production. One reason was that an articulated version of the PR100 was available, which was not the case with the R312.

The original PR100 received a slightly altered front end in 1984, along with some technical improvements. This new model was called the PR100.2. In 1993 the bus is again modernized with a new front end designed by Safra, a company specialized in rebuilding and components production. This version is called the PR112.

In 1980 an articulated version of the PR100 is introduced, called the PR180. The modernization follows the same steps as with the PR100, the PR180.2 being introduced in 1985 and the PR118 in 1993. Double articulated buses were built for the city of Bordeaux. These were modified from the articulated bus by Heuliez.

Already during Berliet times a trolleybus version was produced, called the ER100. Berliet and Renault built the ER100 for Limoges, Marseille, Grenoble, St Etienne, and Lyon. The articulated trolleybus, really a bi-modal vehicle, is the PER180, which was the first to have the series 2 front end. These buses went to Nancy, Grenoble and St Etienne. One was demonstrated in Seattle, but none were ordered.

Since 1985, some PR100 models using CNG were tested. The results were used in the Agora CNG range.

The PR100 was also exported, among others to Algeria and Morocco. The design was used by Jelcz in Poland under license, and large numbers were delivered to most Polish cities. The PR100.2 chassis was also assembled in Spain, where it received Hispano Carrocera bodywork in which the PR100.2 front end was retained. Later Spanish buses, including PR180.2 artics, had Hispano Carrocera, Unicar and Castrosua standard Spanish bodywork without the Renault front end. A left-hand drive PR100 was built as a demonstrator in 1980 for Singapore Bus Service, but was first displayed and demonstrated in the UK. It never went to Singapore but was stored. When Renault became the majority shareholder of Mack Trucks, the unit was upgraded to PR100.2 standards and demonstrated in Australia in 1985. This led to substantial orders from Perth and Canberra for PR100.2 and PR180.2, all with Australian bodywork, but retaining the typical PR100 front-end. Later Canberra models, marketed as PR100.3, had R312-type front ends. The Canberra units were initially badged as Mack, the Perth ones as Renault. In total 650 Renault PR100-series buses were delivered, with bodies by Ansair, Austral Denning, Bolton and Howard Porter. In the UK, 2 PR100's were built up by Northern Counties. Even the Canadian and US markets were tried. A specially "americanized" PR100 was demonstrated in Montreal in 1980, and two PR100 were in revenue service in New York in 1982. An articulated PR180 was demonstrated in Montreal in 1986 and the articulated trolley bus was shown in Seattle. However, no buses were ordered for North America.

The Renault S45/S53/S105

The underfloor engined Renault R4000-series of the 1950's was further developed by SAVIEM, first as the ZR20, then as the SC1 and SC2, and finally as the very popular S45-range of buses since 1964, all characterized by single rear wheels and their centrally located engine. In France they were mainly used as an inter urban, school and army bus, lesser so as a city bus. The S45 was a shorter vehicle, about 10.7 meters, while the S53 and S105 were around 11.4 meters long. The S105 had a city bus interior and mostly double width doors. It also had a different rear end to accommodate a standee platform on the rear door version. The model designations indicated the nominal capacity, which included standing passengers in the S105. The range had been modernized by SAVIEM with larger windows and a new body design in 1977 as the S45R, S53R and S105R. Renault introduced yet another modernized version in 1988, called the S45RX, S53RX and S105RX. However, new European Union rules required that all large buses from 1991 onwards would have ABS and less-polluting engines. As installing ABS proved impossible on the existing single rear wheel design, Renault did not want to invest anymore in modernizing the existing S-range. Instead an exemption was obtained and the S-range continued in production until 1993, when it was replaced by the new Tracer.

One interesting aspect of Renault was its policy of investing in public transport companies in Africa, together with local governments. In the 1970's and 1980's city bus companies were established in this way in Cameroon (Douala and Yaounde), Ivory Coast (Abidjan), Senegal (Dakar), Zaire (Kinshasa, Lubumbashi), Guinea (Conakry), Liberia (Monrovia), Egypt (Cairo and Alexandria), Algeria (Algiers, Blida, Constantine, Oran), Central African Republic (Bangui), Congo (Brazzaville), and Gabon (Libreville). The SAVIEM and later the Renault S105 formed the mainstay of these fleets. Most often a standard green and cream livery was used, which was changed to light green and white on the S105RX. The last 50 S105RX are built in Abidjan by the local public transport company SOTRA. A special bus for bad roads was developed, using the S45/S105 bodywork on a truck frame, called the G45 and G105. These were immediately recognizable by their double rear wheels. Later, Heuliez built this type of bus in a simplified version.

Total production of the R4000, ZR, SC and S-range from 1949 until 1993 was 38,000 vehicles. Of these just over 12,000 were of the SR range produced from 1977 until 1987 and just over 3,100 of the SRX range produced from 1988 until 1993.

The Renault E7

The least successful vehicle of the SAVIEM range continued by Renault was the E7 coach or inter urban bus. Introduced in 1969, it had an MAN engine, replaced by a Renault one after the merger. Renault gave it a small facelift with a new front grille similar to the other models, but its production was discontinued in 1983. It was available in different lengths.

The Renault PR14

The PR14 was Berliet's coach or inter urban bus. The range was introduced in 1974 as the Crusair and subsequently modernized. There were various versions with different engine ratings and lengths, one model being called the PR10. Renault continued the PR14 and modernized it, some luxury coaches even received bonded windows. It was replaced by the new FR1 coach. It was by far more popular than the E7 range.

The take-over of CBM, the Renault R212

In 1986, Renault takes over Car et Bus Le Mans, CBM, of Le Mans, in the West of France. CBM itself was created in 1976 when Verney, one of France's largest bus operators, split off its vehicle building division. CBM produced an interesting range of buses and coaches, some in three-axle configuration, though they were not widespread. When CBM was taken over by Renault, the bus building activities were stopped and CBM became Car et Bus Maintenance, concentrating on maintenance and repair of buses and coaches. One mid size model, the CBM 220, however, filled a gap in Renault's bus range and it was produced for several more years and sold as the Renault R212. While sold as a Renault, the production was subcontracted to Heuliez, with whom Renault had an agreement since 1982. Heuliez became, and still is, a Renault subsidiary. After a few years the R212 was replaced by a new Heuliez model of the same size, the GX77, but this one is sold as a Heuliez.

A New Coach: the FR1

The Renault PR14 and E7 coaches were becoming outdated, so a new model was developed. In 1983 the rear-engined FR1 coach was presented. It was available in two heights, two lengths (10.6 and 12 meters) and different configurations, from an inter urban bus to a luxury coach. Like other major European builders, Renault did not offer any special configurations, such as double deckers or an underfloor-cockpit. This market was left to specialized, German, builders like Setra, Neoplan, Drögmöller and Ernst Auwärter. The FR1 became widespread in France, but relatively few were exported. After Renault and the US builder Mack joined forces, an effort was made during the mid-1980's to introduce the FR1 in the US as a Mack coach. Several demonstrators were built, among which one 3-axle vehicle. Only 25 Mack FR1 were sold. Interest apparently was low because a Mack drive train was used, which in the US was unknown in the bus world, as Detroit Diesel and Cummins are the standard. After a short time the vehicles were bought back, shipped to France and transformed into normal FR1's. By the end of the 1990's the FR1 was replaced by the Illiade.

A New City Bus, the R312

Both Renault city buses, the SC10 and the PR100, dated from the 1960's and needed to be replaced. Design of a new French standard bus commenced in 1977. In 1984 the new bus was presented, marketing began in 1986, but it was only in December 1987 that the first series R312, as the new bus was called, was delivered. The R312 was a 12-meter bus with a relatively low, completely flat floor over its whole length, with only one step, and a standing rear engine. It was constructed with a large rear platform, which made it necessary to use a standing engine and create an engine compartment that took up the rear part of the bus. Most builders use a horizontal engine and put seats over it. The R312 was sold all over France, but as was the case with the FR1 coach, there were few exports. When Heuliez introduced a full low floor bus, sales of the R312 plummeted and when the true low-floor Agora went into production in 1995, the R312 was taken out of Renault's range, after less than one decade. Plans to develop an articulated version of the R312 never materialized. It is also interesting to note that the R312 did not replace the PR100 series, which remained in production until 1999! Reasons were customer demand for the reliable PR100 and the fact that it was also available as an articulated bus.

A Successor to the S45 Series, the Renault Tracer

The S45-series buses and semi-coaches were very successful and Renault had modernized them several times. As mentioned before, the end of the model was due to new European Union rules. The successor was called the R322 during its developing stages, but when launched in 1991 it had been christened the Tracer. It kept the proven concept of a midship underfloor engine, but had normal double rear wheels. Some family resemblance with the FR1 and R312 was, naturally, visible. The Tracer, however, never managed to find the acclaim the S45-series had, and by the end of the decade it was discontinued, being replace by the rear-engined Ares and the Czech-built Axer.

The Low Floor Bus, Agora

In 1994 Heuliez presents its low-floor bus, the Acces'bus GX317. Until 1991, Renault was the majority shareholder in Heuliez, but since then the company had been jointly owned by Volvo and Renault as the result of the intended but finally aborted merger between these two companies. The Heuliez GX317 immediately found widespread acclaim and sales of the R312 plummeted. Renault, however, was not ready with its own low-floor bus. As an intermediate solution and as a measure not to loose its customers, Renault contracted Heuliez to build the GX317 with Renault components. Renault then sold it as the Renault Citybus. A total of 159 vehicles were sold this way, mainly to Paris. In spite of being sold by Renault, they are also badged Heuliez.

Spring 1995 Renault's own low-floor bus was launched, called the Agora. It uses the same engine configuration as the R312, with a separate engine compartment at the rear, permitting a full length low floor. It is available with 2 or 3 doors. This bus immediately became popular. Renault also developed an articulated pusher version, the Agora L, with a length of 17.5 meters and available with 3 or 4 doors. The latest version of the Agora is the Agora Line, a peri-urban version. Externally it can be distinguished from the standard Agora by a different rear end, developed by specialized body builder Safra. This version too is available with 2 or 3 doors. Finally, versions using CNG of the Agora and Agora L are offered.

The Iliade Coach

The FR1 coach shows its age and is replaced by the Iliade during the second half of the 1990's. The main external difference with the FR1 is the new front end. The Iliade is available in 7 versions; as an inter urban or excursion bus (TE, 12 meters, standard height), as a coach (RT = standard height, 12 meters, RTC = standard height, 10.6 meters, RTX = high floor, 12 meters) and as a luxury coach (GT, GTC and GTX, with the same meaning as in the R-series).

Ares

Renault's new "combi" bus and coach is the Ares, a rear engined vehicle replacing the traditional mid-engined Tracer. The Ares can be used as an interurban bus or as a coach for shorter trips. Renault finally followed the trend for longer buses by introducing the 15-meter version of the Ares in 2001.

Recreo and Axer

Renault's collaboration with Karosa from the Czech Republic lead to the introduction of the Agora in Czechia unde the Karosa banner. On the other hand, standard Karosa buses are adapted for the French market and sold there as a cheap alternative. The Renault Recreo is a schoolbus made by Karosa, while recently a slightly more upscale version has been introduced as the Axer, an interurban bus or low-specification coach. The Axer has bonded windows, while the Recreo has windows in normal rubber fittings.

The Irisbus period

In January 1999, Renault Vehicules Industriels and IVECO decide to merge their bus and coach activities in one company, called Irisbus. IVECO, based in Italy was the result of the merger of FIAT, OM (Italy), Magirus (Germany), and UNIC (France), with Pegaso from Spain joining the group later. Renault and IVECO hold equal shares in Irisbus. Irisbus operational headquarters is in Lyon, France, its legal base is Madrid, Spain.

Part of Irisbus is also Heuliez Bus in France, the Volvo held shares of which had been bought back by Renault in 1998. Irisbus immediately started expanding and bought Ikarus from Hungary, including the EAG (Special Factory). Karosa from the Czech Republic also became part of Irisbus. Ikarus, now known as Ikarusbus, continues developing and marketing its own products, but Karosa is more closely integrated into the Renault part of Irisbus, as mentioned above.

In the meantime the discussion between Renault and Volvo Trucks about a merger continued and came closer to conclusion. However, as a condition for European Union approval, Renault had to sell off its bus division. As a result, IVECO has taken over the Renault shares in Irisbus, effectively marking the end of Renault as a bus builder. However, it has been agreed that for a period of four years the IVECO and Renault names will be retained, though only as an addition to the Irisbus logo on the back of the vehicles. Renault has agreed not to re-start bus production in the meantime. Outside Irisbus remain the small Renault Master and Trafic van-derived buses. Of course, this is not the first time Renault does not produce buses.........

The first vehicles marketed under the Irisbus brand name, the Civis and the Cristalis, are developed by Renault. The Civis is a guided bus system, while the Cristalis is a new, high tech trolleybus. The design of both brakes completely with traditional bus design, so it is appropriate that the Renault story ends here, and Irisbus inaugurates a new chapter.

Chassis

While in the above the various Renault integral vehicles were treated, it should be mentioned that Renault also produced bus and coach chassis to which other companies added the bodies. Especially for the smaller, mid-sized buses this has been the case, as Renault itself did not offer complete mid-sized vehicles apart from the short spell with the CBM-inherited R212. Amiot, Chardon, Gruau, Trouillet, Heuliez are names one can find on these buses. For export to, mainly, Africa, Renault also produced truck-derived chassis on which French or local companies could build. In Morocco, Renault builds various special chassis for the local market in the former Berliet factory in that country. During the 1980's Renault collaborated with Gangloff from Colmar to produce a high-floor luxury coach.

In 1983 Renault took over Chrysler's European industrial vehicle division. As a result Renault entered the UK market with small vehicles. In Spain, the Barreiros/Dodge factory became RVI España. The PR100 was assembled there and received local Hispano Carrocera bodywork. This combination was a logical continuation of a close collaboration between the former Barreiros factory and Hispano Carrocera's predecessor Van Hool España. The factory also further developed Barreiros coach chassis and sold them as the Renault A290 and A320. These received bodywork of various Spanish builders, such as Ugarte, Unicar and Ebrocar.


Sources:

  • Tellier, Nicolas. La fabuleuse Avonture du S45 ou 40 ans d'histoire de cars Renault. 1993
  • Oliver Meyer's site on French buses
  • Plachno, Larry. Modern Intercity Coaches
  • Alfredo Guttierez, Spain, personal communication
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