Ashok Leyland's Optare eyes small bus market


After deciding to end its long-term partnership with Spanish coach-builder Ferqui, Ashok Leyland-controlled Optare, the UK-based bus manufacturer has plans to withdraw from the luxury coach market.

Optare, in which Ashok Leyland holds 75.1 per cent, said it plans to enter the small and accessible bus market this year with a new model — the Bonito.

Ferqui has been supplying a range of products for optare and Mercedes vehicles. Optare’s Chief Operating Officer Glenn Saint said, “We are in negotiation with a number of parties which may lead to the two current models, the Soroco and Toro, already available in the UK, though outside the Optare brand.”

Meanwhile, Bonito, produced in the Netherlands by Plastisol, would go on sale to British operators from June with potential export sales in other European markets. It uses a fully-integrated composite body structure with an accommodation for up to 16 passengers and no separate chassis, as said in the statement. It would be based on the Fiat Ducato Maxi light commercial vehicle, which features a gross vehicle weight of four tonnes, a 2,999cc 157bhp diesel engine, and a choice of six speed manual or semi-automatic transmission.

Optare would offer specification options ensuring that the Bonito is attractive for all major UK city operations.

Saint said, “We have been looking at a number of routes to enter the important small bus/accessible vehicle market and are convinced that the fully-developed Bonito is the right answer”.

This move is consistent with the full review and re-positioning of Optare’s product range for growth and follows on the heels of the announcements about Solo and also launch of the new Tempo SR in October last year. “We will be making an announcement about the development of the Versa for the UK and export markets in the second quarter of this financial year”.