Since 2018, the all-electric eCitaro city bus with a battery pack has been assembled at the Mercedes-Benz plant in Mannheim. From 2022 onwards, a variant with fuel cell technology for generating on-board electric power from hydrogen is planned as a range extender. These buses with their alternative propulsion systems play a key role in Daimler’s transition toward CO2-neutral passenger transport and bring things full circle. As on 12 March 1895, 125 years ago, automotive manufacturer Benz & Cie. ─   also in Mannheim ─   delivered the first bus with a combustion engine (an alternative drivetrain at the time) to Rheinische Gasmotoren Fabrik.

The vehicle was based on the Benz Landauer. This model was the largest car offered by Benz & Cie. and was based on the four-wheeled Benz models Victoria and Vis-à-Vis featuring a double-pivot steering system built from 1893 onwards. The bus had a total of eight seats. By comparison, the modern Mercedes-Benz CapaCity L articulated bus for popular routes in large cities can accommodate up to 191 passengers.

World premiere for scheduled regular service

The first Benz combustion engine bus was used by Netphener Omnibus-Gesellschaft. The company ordered it from Benz & Cie. on 19 December 1894 and used the vehicle from 18 March 1895 on the Siegen-Netphen-Deuz route. On 29 March 1895, the company ordered a second bus, which Benz & Cie. delivered on 26 June 1895. Both buses were powered by a horizontal, single-cylinder engine in the rear with a standing flywheel and a displacement of 2.9 litres. The engine featured an automatic intake valve and controlled exhaust valve and was rated at 3.7 kW (5 hp). Cooling took the form of evaporative cooling, and a battery-powered high-voltage buzzer ignition was used for the ignition system.

A period description of the first bus with an internal combustion engine referenced a lattice roof for luggage, the “Siegen-Netphen-Deuz” lettering on the sides and numbered seats. The equipment configuration also included solid rubber spare tyres for the rear wheels and one front wheel. The second bus was similarly equipped but also has a signal bell. Other Benz combustion engine buses based on the Landauer were delivered to Vegesack (Schild & Cie.) and Nordenham (Johann Janssen). Additional customers came from Tyrol and Bitterfeld.

Historical turning point

The premiere of the scheduled regular service of a bus with a combustion engine operated by Netphener Omnibus-Gesellschaft lasted only until the winter of 1895/96, at which point line service was stopped in part due to the high demands placed on vehicles by the slippery winter roads.

12 March 1895 nevertheless became a turning point in the history of passenger transport as it marked the start of a technical transformation in bus transport service, whereby people said goodbye to horse-drawn buses and steam-powered drives and hello to the combustion engine. Today, the bus industry is once again in the midst of a technical transformation ─ this time, however, electric power is the game changer.

Bus trip through the Mercedes-Benz Museum

The delivery of the first Benz combustion engine bus marks the beginning of the highly successful 125-year history of Mercedes-Benz buses and coaches with their numerous and varied highlights. Included among them are the Mercedes-Benz O 321 H, which was assembled from 1954 to 1964 and celebrated its 65th birthday in 2019.

Numerous exhibits at the Mercedes-Benz Museum also bear witness to this multifaceted development. An authentic reconstruction of the Benz combustion engine bus, for example, which was built using OEM parts, can be taken in by museum visitors in Legend Room 1: Pioneers ─ The Invention of the Automobile, 1886 to 1900. The two buses delivered to Netphener Omnibus-Gesellschaft have not been preserved. A Mercedes-Benz O 303 coach from 1979 is one of the exhibits on display in Legend Room 5: Visionaries ─ Safety and Environment, 1960 to 1982. This model series set the standard in vehicle safety for buses. Not only was the O 303 the first bus used to conduct systematic rollover tests, but it was also the first bus model worldwide to be equipped with an ABS anti-lock braking system.

The Mercedes-Benz Museum showcases six buses in Collection Room 1: Gallery of Voyagers. The line-up ranges from the British Milnes-Daimler double-decker bus from the early 20th century and the Mercedes-Benz O 2600 all-weather touring bus from the 1930s to the O 3500 all-weather touring bus from the 1950s and the brightly painted Brazilian LO 1112 from 1969. An O 305 standard regular-service bus from 1980 and a Mercedes-Benz Travego from the 2009+ generation round off the exhibition in this room.

Last but not least, the Mercedes-Benz O 10000 city and long-distance bus from the late 1930s, which was converted into a mobile post office in Austria, is on display in Collection Room 2 ─ Gallery of Voyagers, as is the Mercedes-Benz O 302 coach in Collection Room 4 ─ Gallery of Names. This vehicle corresponds in great detail to the team bus used by the German national football team during the 1974 Football World Cup held in Germany. It is one of only two vehicle exhibits at the museum in which visitors can take a seat!

Source: Mercedes-Benz Classic