Solaris marks 20 years of growth

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With its distinctive styling, the Solaris Urbino is instantly recognisable wherever it operates. SOLARIS
With its distinctive styling, the Solaris Urbino is instantly recognisable wherever it operates. SOLARIS

Polish manufacturer has built a reputation for green technology innovation and established its credentials in international markets

POLAND Solaris Bus & Coach has marked the 20th anniversary of the first low-floor city bus leaving its factory at Bolechowo near Pozna?. The company employed just 36 people in 1996 which compares to around 2,500 now and just 56 vehicles were built during the first year. Over two decades Solaris has turned into a large, mature enterprise that has now supplied 14,000 buses, trolleybuses and trams to hundreds of customers worldwide.

Established by Krzysztof and Solange Olszewski, what was then Neoplan Polska had won an order for the supply of 72 buses to Pozna?, the first of which was delivered in March 1996. Krzysztof, an engineer, had been running the Sales Bureau of Neoplan since 1994.

Nearly 700 vehicles had left the Bolechowo plant by 2001 and the ever-expanding range on offer was one of the firm’s main competitive advantages. However, towards the end of the 20th century the Olszewskis had devised a completely new city bus based on a bodyframe made of stainless steel. Called the Urbino, it was launched in 1999 and quickly became a top seller in Poland.

The company had entered the new millennium under a new brand, Solaris Bus & Coach. It has always been owned solely by the Olszewski family, and the factory in Bolechowo has produced only Solaris vehicles. The following years brought about numerous contracts, including some large ones of strategic significance for the company’s development. Up until 2001 the firm had sold just seven buses to customers abroad, but by the end of 2005 over 1,000 were running in 17 European countries. An order for 260 Urbinos was taken from BVG, Berlin in 2003, considered one of the most important deals in Solaris’ history.

Solange and Krzysztof have consistently grown the Urbino family, adding buses of various lengths, but also with increasingly innovative drivelines including embracing CNG propulsion. It was during this time that Solaris made its first step on the path towards electric mobility, presenting the low-floor and emission-free trolleybus, Trollino. Because of its willingness to accommodate different customer requirements, it managed to become one of the main suppliers in the European bus market within a decade of starting production.

In 2006 Solaris launched its first Urbino hybrid, an accurate reflection of how the city bus market was evolving. At its debut, Krzysztof said: “Diesel has died. Long live electricity!” Three years later Solaris presented its first tram, the Tramino and in 2011 the first completely electric bus left the plant in Bolechowo. By the same year, the Urbino with its characteristic asymmetrical front windscreen had been sold in 21 markets including Dubai and the La Reunion island near Madagascar. The Olszewskis have always maintained that environmental-friendly drives are the future of city transport. Apart from developing battery vehicles, Solaris was also working intensely on the next generational change of the Urbino. In 2014, exactly one decade after the premiere of the second generation Urbino, the company revealed its completely redesigned successor with distinctive eye-catching looks. Solaris buses, trolleybuses and trams are now running in nearly 600 cities.