Originally known as Dennis Brothers Ltd, the company was founded in 1895 by John (1871–1939) and Raymond (1878–1939) Dennis who made Speed King bicycles which they sold from their shop, the Universal Athletic Stores, in Guildford. They made their first motor vehicle in 1898, and in 1899, their first car; though shown at the National Cycle Show, it was never produced or sold. They entered car production around 1900. About this time John Dennis built the Rodboro Buildings, the first purpose-built motor vehicle factory in Britain, to manufacture motorcars in the centre of Guildford. Larger models followed with a 35 hp (26 kW; 35 PS) model in 1906 powered by a White and Poppe engine; this power unit soon fitted to all their models. Commercial vehicle activity was increasing with the first bus being made in 1903 and fire engine in 1908. Cars soon took second place and it is doubtful if any were made after about 1915. In 1913 Dennis moved to a larger factory at Woodbridge, on the outskirts of Guildford. In 1919 Dennis bought White and Poppe and transferred engine production from Coventry to Guildford.
The Karnataka Fire and Emergency Services owns a pumper that was built by Dennis Brothers and delivered to the erstwhile Kingdom of Mysore in 1925 from England.
In 1972 the company was acquired by Hestair Group and renamed Hestair Dennis after a few years of financial difficulties. It was sold to Trinity Holdings (formed from a management buyout from Hestair Group) in 1989 and then to Mayflower Corporation in October 1998.
As of the 1990s, the company was no longer a single integrated whole, but was three independent businesses which their parent company is Dennis Group plc, namely:
• Dennis Fire – manufacturer of fire appliances.
• Dennis Bus – manufacturer of buses and other public transport vehicles
• Dennis Eagle – manufacturer of dustcarts/refuse lorries (municipal vehicles). This company also incorporated the remains of the Eagle Engineering and Shelvoke and Drewry concerns.
Dennis Group plc also owned Duple Metsec, the bus bodywork builder which usually supplied body kits for assembly overseas.
Mayflower Corporation sold Dennis Eagle in July 1999 and purchased by Ros Roca in 2006. Dennis Bus and Dennis Fire were incorporated into Transbus International (now Alexander Dennis) in 2001.
Alexander Dennis was formed as TransBus on 1 January 2001, after the merger of Mayflower Corporation-owned Dennis and Alexander, and Henlys-owned Plaxton, all based in the United Kingdom.
TransBus had a variety of factories around the United Kingdom from all three merged companies: the former Alexander factories at Falkirk, Scotland and Belfast, Northern Ireland, the former Plaxton factories at Anston and Scarborough, the former Northern Counties factory at Wigan, and the Dennis factory at Guildford.
At the height of TransBus, the company produced a range of both bus & coach chassis and bodies as well as fire engines. Included among its range of chassis were the Dennis Dart, one of the all-time best-selling buses in the UK, and the Dennis Trident. TransBus also produced export variants for service in New York City, Hong Kong, and other locations. The Dennis Trident is the most common bus model in service in London.
Since the creation of TransBus merged both Plaxton and Alexander, the TransBus range included Plaxton coaches as well as two double-decker bodies (the Plaxton President and the Alexander ALX400), the Alexander ALX300 citybus and the Pointer body built in quantity on the aforementioned Dennis Dart chassis, which replaced the Alexander ALX200 body built previously on a Dart chassis.
On 31 March 2004, the Mayflower Group was put into administration and by default TransBus also entered administration. On 17 May 2004, the Plaxton coach business was sold to its management and returned to its separate Plaxton identity (TransBus had been in the process of eradicating the traditional company names from the vehicles). Four days later, on 21 May 2004, the remaining part of TransBus (Alexander and Dennis) was bought by independent business men (one of whom was Brian Souter, owner of the Stagecoach Group, although the acquisition was kept separate from the bus and train operation). The new company became Alexander Dennis. The sale did not include the former Alexander Belfast plant, which later closed down.
On 26 January 2005, Alexander Dennis’s Wigan plant was closed after finishing the orders of its President body.
Since the administration period and restructuring of the former TransBus International, Alexander Dennis has secured a number of major orders from UK operators, and is the favoured manufacturer of the Stagecoach Group. The company has also continued to find success in its predecessors’ traditional markets of Hong Kong and the Republic of Ireland, with the Enviro500 securing orders in both markets, and the ALX400 double-deck body remaining the Dublin Bus standard vehicle until production ended in 2006.
Alexander Dennis is also building its share of the North American market, securing £25m worth of orders in 2005 for its Enviro500 model from customers in Victoria, British Columbia, New York City (open top models), San Francisco and Las Vegas.
The order book remained strong in the first quarter of 2006 and the company unveiled two new models, the Enviro400 double-decker and Enviro200 Dart midibus.
In early 2007, Colin Robertson replaced Jim Hastie as the CEO of Alexander Dennis. In May of that year Alexander Dennis purchased Plaxton, thus reuniting the two former TransBus businesses.
Alexander Dennis saw reduced orders due to the Financial crisis of 2007–2010, the company laid off almost 100 employees in Falkirk in spring 2009 and introduced short-time working in late 2009. But between 2009 and 2010, bus operators in England and Scotland received awards from the Green Bus Funds to encourage the purchase of more environment friendly buses, and several hybrid buses were ordered by organisations such as Stagecoach and Transport for London.
In May 2012, New Flyer Industries and Alexander Dennis Limited announced a new joint-venture to design and manufacture medium-duty low-floor bus (or midi bus) for the North American market. New Flyer will handle production and marketing, and Alexander Dennis will handle the engineering and testing.
Photos curtesy of AlexanderDennis Library
In 7 June 2012, Alexander Dennis Limited acquired Custom Coaches, the Australian bus bodybuilders and bus seating manufacturers.