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The history of Setra: an idea becomes self-supporting


  • From body-on-frame to today's buses and coaches
  • Setra: a construction method becomes a brand name

The Setra brand is celebrating a double anniversary in 2011. The first Setra S 8 was launched to bus operators 60 years ago this year, while the company that originally created the brand, Kässbohrer, introduced its first bus, built on a Saurer chassis, exactly 100 years ago.

From body-on-frame to today's buses and coaches

The brand name Setra comes from the German word "selbsttragend", meaning self-supporting. This construction principle, dating from the early 1950s, brought about a revolution in bus construction in Germany and throughout Europe. Although Otto Kässbohrer did not himself invent the self-supporting concept, he was very familiar with it, having spent many years building passenger car bodies and learning the principles behind the self-supporting vehicle body.

1951: the beginning of the Setra era

The decision was made in the spring of 1950 to develop a bus built along self-supporting design principles. Launched at the IAA show of 1951, the Setra S 8 was the first bus to feature a self-supporting body, rear-mounted engine and direct rear-axle drive. In the 60 years that followed the introduction of the first Setra S 8 in 1951, the long-established Ulm company would launch a total of five bus and coach model series.

1951: the 10 series

The 10 series comprised the models S 6 to S 15. The S 10 to S 14 models were also built in touring bus, rural regular-service and urban bus versions. The model series 10 marked the introduction of the modular construction system, whereby vehicles could be built very cost-effectively in varying lengths. The letter S still stands today for the Setra brand, the number for the maximum number of seat rows, thus indirectly also for the length of the bus.

1967: the 100 series

1967 brought the introduction of the 100 series, comprising the five models S 100, S 110, S 120, S 130 and S 150. The first digit in the model designation from now on indicated the model series. The transition from the Setra 10 series to the 100 series represented a further step towards industrial-scale bus manufacturing at Kässbohrer. All nine models were built according to the modular system and shared numerous common parts. The buses in the 100 series were characterised by their more angular shape as well as by improved comfort levels, the the outcome of the larger passenger compartment and increased interior standing height. In addition, independent front suspension and air suspension were included in the standard specification.

1976: the 200 series

Setra's 25th anniversary was marked by the introduction of the 200 series with its six different models: S 211 H, S 212 H, S 213 H, S 215 H and the high-deck versions S 213 HD and S 215 HD. This series also set other technical milestones. Among its features included the use of disc brakes as standard on the front axle, while a new cross-flow ventilation system was also introduced as standard in this series. Both passengers and drivers of the 200 series buses benefited from their excellent road holding and suspension.

1991: the 300 series

The year 1991 brought the launch of the 300 series and thus of the S 309 HD, S 315 HD and S 315 HDH models. The most striking features of the new buses included the distinctive sweeping line behind the cockpit area and the newly developed integrated mirror system, which gave the 300 series its unique "face". The down-curving mirror arms, originally nicknamed "bug antennae" were heated and could be adjusted from inside the bus. In conjunction with an A-pillar that had been optimised to allow good visibility, these gave the driver an excellent view of both sides of the bus. A further key feature of the new 300 series was its ergonomically designed cockpit. And as far as safety was concerned, once again only the best was good enough for the 300 series. Anti-lock brakes and acceleration skid control (ABS/ASR) were fitted as standard, along with a retarder made by either Telma or Voith.

To make it somewhat easier to understand the full product portfolio, the launch of the 300 series also brought the introduction of new vehicle groupings. These are still used today, their names clearly defining the vehicles within them:

  • The luxury touring coaches bear the name TopClass
  • ComfortClass stands for the economical GT and GT-HD models of touring coach, including right-hand-drive versions and
  • as a reflection of their multi-purpose functionality, the rural regular-service and straightforward dual-purpose buses are grouped together under the MultiClass name.

2001: the 400 series

With the TopClass 400 of 2001, Setra introduced a whole new dimension to touring bus manufacture, guaranteeing travel at its most luxurious for both passenger and driver. The ComfortClass 400 range of touring buses was added in 2004, while the MultiClass 400 rural regular-service buses were the last to join the portfolio in 2005. All in all, the 400 series comprises more than 20 models, among them two versions for the US and two right-hand-drive ComfortClass models.