John Dennis set up Universal Athletic Stores in Guildford High Street, selling bicycles and other sporting goods. He was later joined by his brother, Raymond, who helped to expand the enterprise.
Universal Athletic Stores first produced a motorised vehicle, a tricycle fitted with a single cylinder De Dion engine.
Following the first motorised vehicle in 1898, the enterprise produced their first proper car. At this time, the business became a private limited company, Dennis Brothers Limited. In 1901, Dennis also moved into their new, purpose built Rodboro Buildings which were later extended to cope with demand. Famous customers of their vehicles containing the De Dion engine included Brazilian Viscounts and Russian Dukes! Over the next three years, innovation and commercialisation were key to the company. Notable points from this period were the development of the worm drive rear axle as well as their expansion into commercial vehicles, producing their first for none other than Harrods of London.
Walter Alexander Snr. was 24 when he opened a small cycle shop in Camelon, Stirlingshire in 1902. In 1913 Walter Snr bought a chain driven Scottish built Belhaven bus, and gradually the business of Alexander’s motor service grew in Falkirk and the surrounding areas.
Following their initial success, Dennis strove to break new ground, with the development of the first bus chassis and fire engine, to the patent of the innovative worm drive axle. In 1905, commercial vehicle production had overtaken that of cars and in 1913 it was decided to discontinue making cars and focus on commercial vehicles. A selection of good chassis were made ranging from 15 cwt to 5 ton capacity and these were fitted with either lorry or van bodywork for haulage work or bodied as single or double deck buses. By 1925, the enterprise had launched their first purpose-built low framed forward control bus. The separate engine sub frame used in earlier models was discontinued at this stage.
The business was founded in Scarborough in 1907 by Frederick William Plaxton as a joinery workshop, and expanded into building contracting. As a building contractor, Plaxton built a number of notable buildings in Scarborough.
Soon after World War I Plaxton diversified and began to build charabanc bodies on Ford model T chassis.
By 1924 Walter Snr and his son had sufficient confidence in the future of the motor bus, and started building bus bodies in their Brown Street premises they had built in Camelon in 1922. Above the earliest photograph shows the interior of the Coachworks at Brown Street, Falkirk.
By 1935 Plaxton had constructed a large new manufacturing facility in Seamer Road, Scarborough. This increased production, and as a result Plaxton became popular with many independent operators throughout Northern England.
At the outbreak of World War II, all bus and coach production stopped at Dennis in Guildford and Plaxton in Scarborough and the works were turned over to the war effort. Dennis produced 700 Churchill tanks, 4500 army lorries and 3000 tracked personnel carriers, while Plaxton became a munitions factory under control of the Ministry of Aircraft Production. Bus and coach manufacturing restarted at the end of 1945.
Alexander continued to produce bus and coach bodies throughout the war, although these were more utilitarian designs than in peacetime. As the number of bus passengers rose sharply and transport capacity had to be increased, Alexander built its first double deck bodies in 1942 on the existing chassis on pre-war single deckers.
Dennis offered a low height double deck chassis, this being the Bristol Lodekka design built under licence. The licence agreement included a 2-way exchange of technical information. Dennis developed the epicyclic gearbox for this model and thus semi-automatic Bristol Lodekkas effectively have Dennis transmission.
Alexander's new Glasgow Road Coachworks at Falkirk opened in 1958. Since then this has expanded to cushion greater demand, but Alexander Dennis still operate here now.
Named for its large side windows, the trendsetting Plaxton Panorama coach body was an immediate success and ensured the company became the UK market leader for coaches by 1960. It was revised in 1964 with input from the Ogle design consultancy, gaining dramatic chrome trim, and the Panorama Elite sister model completed the range from 1968 onwards.
Alexander built its first Y Type single deck bodies. The design went on to become a classic with a production run of 21 years. In this time, approximately 3,300 Y Type bodies were fitted to over a dozen different chassis and the model became the standard bus of the Scottish Bus Group, which took more than 2,800 of them.
Inside Alexander's coachworks in 1964, with numerous Y-type single deckers for the Scottish Bus Group in production.
Dennis was bought by the Hestair group. The bus industry was seeking an alternative rear engined double decker and the Dominator was developed, utilising a Gardner engine and Voith retarder transmission. This was sold both at home and overseas, being supplemented in the export market by a front engined version, the Jubilant. Eventually larger overseas chassis were also produced, the Condor and Dragon being three-axle chassis derived from the Dominator design and capable of carrying bodywork for up to 172 seats.
Before CAD was used to design buses, Alexander employees would keep 'log books' and these were often used for training purposes. Here is a sketch of the AY coach body back in 1977 from David Berrie’s Apprenticeship training log book.
In 1981, Walter Alexander Coach Builders won The Queen's Award for Export Achievement, a prestigious award for British organisations who excel in international trade and development.
The R Type was Alexander’s new style of double deck bus body. Marked by its contemporary styling, it soon became a recognisable part of the bus scene in the UK, Ireland and Hong Kong. It was adapted to a wide range of chassis and engine positions, and over 5,700 were built by the time its production ceased in 2000. Image: Chris Sampson CC by 2.0
In the words of a contemporary advert, “Progess is Paramount” and this evolution of Plaxton’s pedigree delivered on its promise with a strong durable construction. For the first time, a double deck version was offered, giving operators unprecedented high seating capacity. Image: Charlie CC by 2.0
After the deregulation of bus services in Britain three years before, operators looked for cost-effective vehicles and Dennis responded with the Dart chassis to deliver this first modern-day midibus. Combining a light construction with all the valued attributes of big buses, it was an instant success. The high-floor model sold close to 3,500 units and the low-floor version that followed in the mid-1990s added another 9,200 chassis to that tally. Image: Chris Sampson CC by 2.0
Plaxton launched the Pointer body for the increasingly popular Dennis Dart chassis. This ‘Pointer Dart’ combination would go on to become the market’s favourite and its later low-floor versions were continued by Alexander Dennis until superseded by the Enviro200 from 2006 onwards. Image: Chris Sampson via Flikr CC by 2.0
Updating the Plaxton coach look for the 1990s, the new Premiere body introduced cleaner lines. The mainstream design was supplemented by the Excalibur premium specification coach that turned heads with its steeply raked windscreen.
Having been sold by Hestair to Trinity Holdings, a new company set up by company directors two years previously, the Dennis production in Guildford moved to a new facility on Slyfield industrial estate. Alexander Dennis today continues to operate out of this site.
With the low floor revolution under way in the UK, Alexander designed a new range of bus bodies, the ALX Series. Five models eventually spanned minibus, midibus, single deck and two and three axle double deck vehicles which were recognisable by the smiling lines of their front styling. Almost 6,000 bodies were built before the Enviro family took over in 2006. They were available on a variety of chassis, but the Dennis Dart SLF midibus and Dennis Trident double decker proved especially popular.
In 1998, Dennis owner Trinity Holdings was bought out by the Mayflower Corporation, who had acquired Alexander in 1995. A joint venture with Plaxton owner Henlys Group led to the formation of TransBus International in 2001. This brought together the three brands' operations and employed 2,000 people.
The Dennis Trident was one of Britain's first low floor double deck bus when it launched in 1998, bringing accessibility to all bus services. Usually combined with Alexander’s ALX400 or Plaxton President bodies, it cemented the three manufacturers’ position as leading UK bus builders and presaged their merger in TransBus and Alexander Dennis.
The first double deck buses are exported to North America, bringing with them the benefit of high seating capacity. They find favour as transit buses in Canada and the United States as well as in open-top versions for sightseeing tours in New York and other cities. Image: Citysightsnyc CC by 2.0
Following the merger of Britain's leading bus builders in TransBus, a unified design approach is taken to new products. The Enviro300 full size single decker is the first of the new generation products to launch, offering high passenger capacity at a low vehicle weight ensuring fuel economy and low cost of ownership.
The new Enviro500 three-axle double decker continued the unified approach to the combined Dennis and Alexander businesses by designing chassis and body in conjunction with each other as a complete vehicle. It was aimed at export markets and continued the decades-long success story in Hong Kong.
In 2004 TransBus International went into administration and Alexander Dennis Limited (ADL) was established. A consortium of Scottish business entrepreneurs acquired the major part of the business previously held by TransBus International.
The Enviro200 and Enviro400 complete the transition to the all-new Enviro bus range in the UK. The Enviro400 double decker has been designed to maximise space in the lower saloon interior, giving it class-leading seating capacity.
The re-acquisition by ADL of Plaxton Holdings Limited, which had been independent since TransBus International's demise in 2004, created Britain’s largest bus and coach manufacturing operation, providing a platform for entry into new European and global markets.
Assembly of ADL buses begins in the Chinese city of Zhuhai in partnership with a local manufacturer. The Enviro family buses are produced for Hong Kong, located just 100 miles away by road on the other side of the Pearl River Delta.
ADL brought hybrid power to the mainstream market in the United Kingdom with the Enviro400H. It uses a series hybrid system from technology partner BAE Systems. Cutting fuel consumption and emissions by up to 30%, it quickly found favour with operators in London and provincial cities who built up sizeable fleets with the support of the government’s Green Bus Fund.
A specially adapted Enviro400 took centre stage at the closing ceremony of the 2008 Olympic Games. As the Olympic Flame was handed over to the next host city London, the upper deck of the red double decker unfurled to reveal Leona Lewis and Jimmy Page performing together just as David Beckham aimed a football from the top of the bus into the Beijing night sky.
The stunning new Plaxton Elite flagship coach model was launched, setting new standards for styling and energy-efficient aerodynamics.
Building on its continued and growing success in the Asia Pacific market, ADL teamed up with a partner in Malaysia to start production in the region. The single and double deck buses are assembled locally or shipped for final assembly in China and New Zealand. No fewer than 1,800 units were produced in the first five years alone.
A landmark order from New Zealand heralded the start of a partnership with local partner Kiwi Bus Builders, who assembled the first Alexander Dennis buses for the country. The initial contract grew to no fewer than 400 Enviro200 over the following years as the versatile midibuses excelled in New Zealand.
ADL unveils its first biogas bus, the Enviro300CBG. Developed in partnership with chassis maker Scania, the single decker is fuelled by sustainably produced bio-methane and drastically reduces emissions wherever it operates. It was followed three years later by the Enviro400CBG, the UK’s first ever gas-fuelled double decker, paving the way for the adoption of biogas technology on even the busiest of services.
ADL’s major model change programme reaches a landmark milestone with the presentation of the new Enviro400. It is the culmination of a three-year customer engagement programme that saw input from over 70 operators to result in a bus designed by the industry, for the industry. Innovations include the compact ‘squarecase’, the patented Quick Release Glazing system and a completely redesigned cab that gives drivers their best ever workplace. Using the same design philosophy, the new Enviro200 midibus followed just half a year later.
ADL unveils its City design package on an Enviro400H City double decker. It emulates the classic design lines of London buses and combines these with a stunning glazed staircase and the SkyView wrap-over rear window. The City styling finds favour not only in the British capital but also with operators in provincial towns and cities across the country who seek to turn heads with their buses.
ADL leads the way towards sustainable mobility with the widest range of low and zero emission buses. Efficient low emission diesel buses feature smart accessories and engine stop-start technology, which ADL was the first bus manufacturer worldwide to introduce. This year sees the launch of the electric Enviro200EV as well as the Enviro400CBG, the UK’s first ever gas fuelled double deck bus, which has been developed in partnership with Scania. A multi-year, £31m research and development programme, part funded by Scottish Enterprise, is launched to further develop innovative low and zero emission technologies for ADL buses.
51 full electric Enviro200EV single deckers begin service in London, forming Europe’s largest electric bus fleet. Together with its vehicle technology partner BYD and energy supplier SSE, ADL delivered the fleet and took care of the complete conversion of their depot from diesel to electric operation. This is another European first, and the successful project delivery attracts international attention after it was completed without reducing operational performance during the transition.
Plaxton’s top of the range Elite coach receives a makeover. Its new front styling gently updates the family look, but many improvements are less visible as new safety technology is introduced and improved aerodynamics give the Plaxton Elite the lowest in class drag coefficient, improving fuel economy.
ADL’s North American subsidiary Alexander Dennis Inc. takes full control of body assembly operations in Nappanee, Indiana, which had previously operated as a joint venture. Multi million dollar investment immediately improves facilities for staff. Together with the company-operated chassis assembly in Toronto, this gives ADL the capacity to grow the popularity of its double deck and midibuses in the USA and Canada.