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Wayne Wheeled Vehicles
|Also called||Welles Lifestar (Canada)|
|Assembly||Richmond, Indiana (1986–1992)
Marysville, Ohio (1992–1995)
|Body and chassis|
|Body style||school bus|
|Successor||Wayne RD-9000 (prototype only)|
The Wayne Lifestar is a school bus that was manufactured and marketed by Wayne Corporation and its successor company Wayne Wheeled Vehicles from 1986 to 1995. Based on a front-engine transit-style body configuration, the Lifestar was the first transit-style school bus produced by Wayne in over 10 years and the first front-engine example in several decades.
Overview and development
In the late 1960s, Wayne Corporation produced a rear-engine transit-style school bus similar to other major school bus manufacturers. As Wayne did not have the manufacturing equipment or capacity to build the chassis in-house, it sourced its rear-engine chassis from Chevrolet. When General Motors discontiuned its Chevrolet/GMC rear-engine bus chassis production in 1973, Wayne was forced to end production of its transit-style school bus in favor of the Lifeguard conventional introduced that year. Beyond 1973, all transit-style buses from Wayne became special-order vehicles for military and GSA (federal government) purchases with chassis outsourced from other manufacturers; the transit-style buses were too expensive to produce at a competitive price as a school bus.
As the 1970s became the 1980s, the school bus industry was in a period of relative turmoil: along with the struggling economy, fewer Americans were school-age than in years past. Innovation and low cost were key to attracting school bus orders. To do so, Wayne Corporation was necessitated to develop a transit-style school bus that could be sold at a lower purchase price; for larger fleets, their higher capacity theoretically allowed for fewer buses per students transported. Named Lifestar, the new vehicle would feature the continuous longitudinal interior and exterior panels of the Lifeguard for the sides and roof, both for safety and for parts commonality.
Identification of an appropriate chassis design from an outside supplier to meet engineering, volume, and cost considerations was essential to the project and the future of Lifestar. In the prototype stage, Wayne developed both front- and rear-engine versions of the Lifestar, as the majority of manufacturers (with the exception of Ward, Crown Coach, and Gillig) offered both configurations.
At the Welles plant in Canada, where many Wayne experimental projects had been done over the years, a rear-engine prototype was constructed, while a front-engine prototype was constructed in Richmond. The final decision was to produce the Lifestar only in the front-engine body style, primarily for cost considerations.
The front-engine bus program proved more successful than rear-engine development efforts, and saw production with several different chassis. The initial production run of Lifestars were of a front engine (FE) design; production began in 1986. A rear-engine model would have been more costly than a front-engine model, and likely would have achieved lower production volumes. Competitors in that market were the Thomas Saf-T-Liner ER and Blue Bird All American RE. Each bus was a premium product; although Thomas built its own chassis for the Saf-T-Liner ER at the time the Lifestar was introduced, production volume for the All American RE was low enough that Blue Bird outsourced its rear-engine chassis until 1988.
First generation (1986–1990)
When introduced for 1986, Wayne Corporation selected the all-new General Motors S7 front-engine bus chassis; Lifestars would wear Chevrolet and GMC steering wheels and would be serviced at the respective dealerships. The standard powertrain was a Chevrolet 366 6.0L gasoline V8 according to 1987 GMC Chassis Borchure, with a Detroit Diesel 8.2L diesel V8 in either naturally aspirated ("Fuel Pincher") or turbocharged configuration. Unlike most transit-style school buses, the body of the Lifestar was designed with flat front bodywork and a two-piece flat windshield (to lower replacement costs).
From its launch, the S7 product line was plagued with supply problems; along with the Lifestar, it underpinned similar products from Carpenter and Ward/AmTran. In 1989, Wayne suffered a setback when General Motors announced discontinuation of the unprofitable S7 product line. As a temporary solution, one of the larger Wayne bus dealers, Milton H. Smith, a truck and bus dealer and school bus contractor based in Plaistow, New Hampshire, began to import chassis from South Korea. Essentially gliders with an American-sourced powetrain (a Caterpillar 3208 diesel and an Allison MT643 automatic), the chassis were fitted to the Lifestar with redesigned engine covers to fit the larger Caterpillar engine. Branded "Asia-Smith" chassis, the venture was ultimately not well-received in U.S. markets and many sat at Wayne's Indiana plant for an extended time awaiting body orders. Due to the supply issues of the GM S-7 affecting other manufacturers, some surplus Asia-Smith chassis were sold off to other manufacturers to be fitted with bus bodies; some were purchased by Ward/AmTran (for the Ward President) and from short-lived startup New Bus Company from Oklahoma (for the New Bus Chickasha FE).
Second generation (1991–1992)
For its 1991 production, Wayne Corporation was forced to update the Lifestar; the supply of S7 chassis had run out and Caterpillar was discontinuing the 3208 engine in the United States, leaving the Asia-Smith chassis without an engine. In addition, the introduction of the Blue Bird TC/2000 and the Thomas Saf-T-Liner MVP series introduced new competition for the Lifestar. To adapt, Wayne replaced the S7 chassis with the International 3900FC, introduced in 1990. Although Wayne would have to share the 3900 with Ward, Carpenter, and Canadian bus manufacturer EMC/Corbeil, it was a reliable source of chassis production. The new chassis required modifications to the Lifestar's bodywork; the most visible changes were a 4-piece wrap-around windshield, quad headlights, and a change in the placement of the entry door. The powetrain included an International DT360 or DT466 inline-6 diesel with an Allison automatic transmission.
This generation of the Lifestar was only produced for two years, as Richmond Transportation Corporation, then the parent company of Wayne, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and Wayne Corporation was liquidated and sold.
Wayne vs. AmTran
Other body manufacturers also expressed interest in the 3900, and AmTran (still selling buses bearing the Ward brand name) developed a product based upon it, the Ward Senator (which later evolved as the AmTran Genesis); however, AmTran was also working on a rear-engined model using the 3900 components to be fully assembled at its Conway, Arkansas plant utilizing Navistar mechanical components; this saw production as the 1996 AmTran RE. The rear-engine concept promised substantially lower costs than chassis assembled at the Navistar plant at Springfield, Ohio, and in comparison, would put the Wayne Lifestar with the Springfield chassis at a significant price bidding disadvantage in the marketplace.
Third generation (1993–1995)
After Richmond Transportation Corporation's bankruptcy filing and liquidation in 1992, Wayne was sold to Harsco Corporation and began to do business as Wayne Wheeled Vehicles (WWV). After relocation to Marysville, Ohio, Lifestar production resumed at the end of 1992. One major change to the Lifestar that happened during this transition was the change of chassis supplier from Navistar to Crane Carrier Corporation. Unlike the previous supplier change, few changes were made to the Lifestar's body inside or out; aside from the removal of the Navistar-supplied components, it is difficult to distinguish a 1990-1992 Lifestar from a post-1992 version. 1993-1995 Lifestars are powered by a Cummins 5.9L diesel inline-6 and an Allison automatic transmission.
For the 1988 model year, competitor Blue Bird introduced its TC/2000, a Type D model much less costly than its famous All American, which had always been marketed as a premium product offered with front engine and rear engine models. AmTran officials projected that by middle of the 1990 model year, the TC/2000 alone was projected to capture a full 10% of the U.S. school bus market.
Wayne continued to struggle for market share in 1990. In mid-June 1990, the Welles plant in Canada was closed.
In early 1991, Navistar International announced that it had purchased a one third of AmTran, the manufacturer of Ward school bus bodies, and one of Wayne's long-time competitors. This was seen by many industry observers as an ominous sign for Wayne's future, as Navistar was its largest supplier of both conventional and Type D chassis. Wayne had no major alliance to guarantee a source of chassis, nor any in-house capacity to do so.
In August 1992, Richmond Transportation Corporation (RTC) was forced to declare bankruptcy. Assets were sold by a federal bankruptcy judge at auction that fall. Wayne, essentially in name only, lived on as Wayne Wheeled Vehicles until 1995 under different ownership.
- AmTran Genesis
- Blue Bird TC/2000 FE
- Carpenter Cavalier FE
- Carpenter Counselor FE
- Thomas Saf-T-Liner MVP EF
- Thomas All-Star EF
- Ward Senator