DesignLine Corporation is a coach, bus and speciality vehicles manufacturer founded in Ashburton, New Zealand. Currently, DesignLine Corporation has three business divisions, in the USA, New Zealand and the Middle East. Initially a manufacturer of tour coaches, it later diversified into urban buses in the early 1990s, and then to hybrid urban buses in the late 1990s.
In 2006, DesignLine was acquired by American interests. DesignLine corporate headquarters were relocated to Charlotte, North Carolina. The builder is especially known for hybrid and electric vehicles using innovative technologies and futuristic body designs.
DesignLine was established in September 1985 in Ashburton, New Zealand by local entrepreneur John Turton. The company initially manufactured standard diesel vehicles, adapting their bodywork to chassis from various builders such as MAN, Scania and Volvo. DesignLine eventually grew to become one the biggest bus builders in New Zealand.
DesignLine is now best known for its hybrid buses, running on battery power and using a small microturbine engine and generator to keep the battery charged. This trend started in the late 1990s with the Olymbus, a diesel-hybrid midibus prototype designed as a response to the international tender for ecological buses to be used during the 2000 Sydney Olympics. Although DesignLine’s proposal didn’t win the tender, development of the bus continued and soon the diesel engine was replaced with a Capstone microturbine, still today DesignLine’s technology of choice.
The first production Olymbus were introduced in 1998 on the inner-city bus shuttle in Christchurch, New Zealand, first as diesel hybrids, and then converted to gas-turbine hybrids in 2000. The Olymbus has since sold in a limited fashion in Japan (2003), Hong Kong (2003) and England (2003-2005), as well as in Australia (2007) where the all-electric Tindo version was unveiled.
From New Zealand to North America
In 2006, DesignLine was acquired by American interests. Founder John Turton brought in a group of oversees investors, two of whom, Buster Glosson and his son, Brad are now chairman and CEO respectively of DesignLine Corporation. Turton’s role is now director of research and development and business development.
In 2007, two Olymbus demos were sent to the United States and started on a tour of major transit authorities including the CTA and New York MTA. This tour stirred some interest and soon US orders for the EcoSaver IV (as the Olymbus had been rechristened by that time) trickled in. What DesignLine hoped to be a watershed event was the award in late 2008 of an order by the New York MTA for up to 90 microturbine 40-foot diesel-hybrid buses.
In order to satisfy US-built requirements, a new assembly plant in Charlotte NC was opened by the end of 2008. Ever since, the company has been focusing on manufacturing and testing buses for the New York and Baltimore transit authorities.
Financial and technical woes
Orders scheduled to be filled in early 2010 have been delayed by various technical and financial issues, and there are concerns regarding the long term viability of the company. As of January 2010, DesignLine owed Wachovia bank a large sum of money for various loans which they had trouble fully paying back. In 2009, former batter supplier Atairnano filed suit alledging DesignLine owed the company for a battery order. DesignLine claims defect in the battery components that were delivered in 2008. DesignLine counter sued for cost of redesigning the battery packs. Allied Electronics also filed suit against DesignLine the following year claiming they owe $44,929.06 for parts and equipment.  In December 2010, DesignLine announced they have secured a financing from a consortium of major financial institutions led by Guggenheim Venture Partners and ORIX Venture Finance. This places DesigLine in a better financial situation than they were earlier this year and allow the company to complete production on contracts totaling $300 million.
In January 2011, the City of Baltimore ended its agreement for the delivery of 21 35-foot EcoSaver IV buses and will gradually phase out the already delivered 13 buses. In February 2011, the New York City MTA announced the cancellation of the DesignLine order for 90 40-foot EcoSaver IV buses, and returned the 5 delivered buses to the builder.
In August 2013, DesignLine filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in the midst of orders from the Denver Regional Transportation District, New Jersey Transit, and the Société de transport de Montréal. New Jersey and Montreal subsequently cancelled their orders. Denver is still waiting for approval to cancel their order.
Wonderland Investment Group purchased the assets of DesignLine in October 2013 for $1.6 million. The company was renamed Environmental Performance Vehicles (EPV Corp.) in 2014 and has a workforce of 40 people.
- Ashburton (1 Range St, Ashburton, New Zealand) -- original plant now closed, production moved to Rolleston in 2009.
- Rolleston (63 Detroit Drive, Rolleston, Christchurch, New Zealand) -- main manufacturing plant, divested in 2011 to Designline Bus Pacific.
- Charlotte (2309 Nevada Blvd, Charlotte, North Carolina, USA) -- North American assembly plant.
Most DesignLine products are available in custom-tailored body styles and lengths. Body styles used in North American production are the ‘Olymbus’ body with asymmetrical windshield and the ‘Citybus’ body with rounded windshield.
- ECOCoach (CNG-hybrid coach)
- ECOSaver (diesel-hybrid or CNG-hybrid bus, formerly known as Olymbus / EcoSaver IV)
- ECOSmart (electric bus, formerly known as Tindo / Eco-Smart I)
- Citibus (diesel or CNG bus, available on MAN, Scania, Volvo or DesignLine chassis)
- Citibus Trolley
- Macrotech (by Designtech)
- Twin Deck
- designline Vehicles Turning More And More People Into Passengers, nzine.co.nz, retrieved on 2010-07-10
- DesignLine Olymbus MK-IV HEV Demonstrator, thebergennetwork.com, retrieved on 2010-07-08
- DesignLine USA Announces a Contract with MTA New York City Transit, designlinecorporation.com, retrieved on 2010-07-08
- DesignLine International opens hybrid bus plant in Charlotte, charlottechamber.com, retrieved on 2010-07-08
- DesignLine goes public, faces deadline on debt, bizjournals.com, retrieved on 2010-07-08
- DesignLine files to delist, bizjournals.com, retrieved on 2010-07-08
- DesignLine battle with a supplier headed to court, bizjournals.com, retrieved on 2010-07-08
- DesignLine faces another suit from former vendor, bizjournals.com, retrieved on 2010-07-08
- DesignLine Corp. Secures Financing from Consortium of Major Financial Institutions], masstransitmag.com, retrieved on 2010-12-22
- DesignLine gains financial partners, bizjournals.com, retrieved on 2010-12-22
- Circulator marks a year on the streets, Baltimore Sun, retrieved 2011-01-12
- End of the DesignLine for new buses, secondavenuesagas.com, retrieved on 2011-02-04
- DesignLine’s growth brings demand for extra staff, engineeringnews.co.nz, retrieved on 2010-07-08