New Cannon Bus midi coach chassis

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Cannon Bus, the Northern Ireland-based chassis manufacturer, has announced its newest venture into the midi coach market, some 15 years after the launch of its first midi coach chassis, the Cannon Softline.

Cannon produced a limited number of the midi coach chassis at the time, given the dominance of the Mercedes Vario in the sector, but the chassis nonetheless made a lasting impression on its operators. A 33-seater Cannon Softline, manufactured in 1998, was exhibited at Coach and Bus Live 2013. The vehicle had clocked up an extraordinary 1.2 million kilometres. Indeed, the vehicle is still going strong and continues to be operated today by J&M Coaches of Antrim, Northern Ireland, having been supplied by Drew Wilson Coach Sales.

Cannon Bus is, however, best known for its Hi Line coach chassis, which enjoyed considerable success after its launch in 1999.

The London Borough of Redbridge Council, one of a number of Cannon’s public sector customers, procured seven Cannon Hi Line coaches which were delivered between 1999 and 2001. The council just recently sold off their Cannons after some 15 years of continuous service. The majority of these coaches were purchased by an operator in the Channel Islands, who subsequently had the vehicles converted from a community transport specification to that of a luxury touring coach.

Cannon, however, are now turning their attention back to their original Softline midi coach chassis. After the shock exit of the Mercedes Vario from the market, management at Cannon felt the time was right for a reboot of the Cannon Softline, which despite its limited production run had proven itself in terms of quality and longevity. Cannon felt that its chassis is a natural replacement for the Vario chassis and will fill the void left by the immensely popular chassis model.

The Cannon team of engineers have, over the past two years, been designing a chassis to supersede the Softline. The new model, the Cannon Variant, will comprise a Cummins 180HP Euro 5 or 6 engine, a five-speed ZF transmission, Albion axles, full air brakes, rear air suspension, a 123-litre fuel tank, a wheel base of 4.815mm and a one year driveline warranty – all as standard.

Cannon is committing to the ongoing development of the Variant chassis cowl and will offer an advanced specification which includes four-cylinder 210 horsepower engine, a ZF AS Tronic six-speed transmission, a mid-mounted retarder and support brackets for an engine-mounted air-conditioning compressor, again with full warranty.

The first Variant chassis cowl has recently been delivered to J. O’Donnell Travel of Letterkenny, County Donegal, Ireland. Mr O’Donnell specified that he needed to retrofit a Cannon Variant chassis with a Plaxton Cheetah body. The company had previously been running a Plaxton Cheetah on a Mercedes Vario chassis. Following an incident in which the chassis was irreparably damaged, Mr O’Donnell, unable to source a replacement Vario chassis cowl, approached Cannon in an effort to source a suitable chassis cowl.

Cannon provided Mr. O’Donnell with a pre-production Variant chassis but he still was faced with the task of supplanting a Cheetah body from the damaged vehicle and mounting it on the Cannon Variant chassis. What was expected to be an arduous process was in fact a very seamless transition and the transfer was carried out with little engineering work and very limited modification. The vehicle is currently undergoing the certification process. Upon completion, the vehicle will potentially be used as a demonstration vehicle which will help Cannon gauge reaction and feedback from its prospective customers.

Cannon will offer their vehicle as a standalone chassis and cowl to other body builders. Variant customers will have the option of having their preferred body builder fit the Cannon Variant chassis with a body of their choice.  Possibilities range from Eurocoach to Plaxton to Sitcar, UNVI and Moto, among others.