The Crown-Ikarus 286 is a type of transit bus that was manufactured for the U.S. market from 1980 until 1986, under a joint venture between the Ikarus Body and Coach Works (Ikarus), of Hungary, and Crown Coach Corporation, of California, United States. Ikarus was one of the largest bus manufacturers in the world at that time, making about 13,000 transit buses per year – three times the number produced annually by all U.S. manufacturers combined – but this was its first entry into the U.S. market. The Crown-Ikarus 286 was an articulated bus, based on Ikarus's 280-series. Despite the experience of the companies involved, a number of production problems occurred, and ultimately only 243 buses were made, for nine different cities, before the partnership was dissolved and joint production ceased, in 1986.
The partnering of Ikarus with Crown Coach enabled the large Hungarian company to supply transit buses built to U.S. standards, which were much higher than those in Soviet-bloc countries at that time, and to offer amenities that were in demand by U.S. transit systems but not elsewhere at the time, such as the inclusion of wheelchair lifts for passengers with disabilities. It was also seen as a way for Hungary to obtain much-desired hard currency and to ease a trade imbalance between Eastern Europe and the West.
The first order was placed in November 1979, and production lasted from 1980 until 1986. The body shells (including chassis) were fabricated in Hungary by Ikarus, but most other parts were U.S.-made, including the engines, brakes, seats, and destination signs, among other items.For the first orders, the engines and transmissions were shipped from the U.S. to Hungary for installation there, but for later orders, this installation took place at Crown's plant in California. The partially completed buses or shells were then shipped from Hungary to the U.S. for completion by Crown Coach. The engines were supplied by Cummins, and automatic transmissions came from Allison.However, an order for Houston and five of a 40-vehicle order for Milwaukee received Voith transmissions. The axles were also U.S.-made. The Crown-Ikarus buses were the Hungarian company's first-ever wheelchair-lift-equipped buses. Sales contracts were managed by Crown Coach, so as to make it easier to ensure that the work satisfied U.S. federal "Buy America" requirements (49 U.S.C. § 5323j).
The Crown-Ikarus 286 was available in lengths of 60 feet (18 m) and 55 feet (17 m), and with two doors or three doors. All were 102 inches (2,600 mm) wide. Conventional transit-style seating was fitted in all cases, with the exception of five of Houston's 50 buses. Those five had 61 reclining seats (known as suburban-style seats), while the remaining 45 had 70 transit-style seats. Maximum seating for the Crown-Ikarus bus was 73. All buses manufactured under the Crown-Ikarus name were considered model 286, although different orders carried a seldom-noted numerical suffix, for example Portland's being model 286.02. In the mid- to late 1980s, Tri-Met replaced the Cummins engines in its Crown-Ikarus buses with Detroit Diesel DDA 6-71 engines, in an effort to improve reliability and reduce maintenance costs.
Ikarus also hoped to sell a trolleybus version of the 286 in North America, through Crown Coach, and with this in mind an Ikarus 280T3 articulated trolleybus was transported to North America and in 1981–82 was demonstrated on the Mexico City, San Francisco, and Seattle trolleybus systems. However, ultimately no orders were received, and Crown Coach did not build any trolleybuses.
Crown-Ikarus buses were sold new to a total of only nine transit systems, all located in the United States. The first buses completed were 15 delivered in 1980 to TARC, of Louisville, Kentucky.The largest purchase of Crown-Ikarus buses was made by Tri-Met, of Portland, Oregon, a single order for 87. They were all the 60-foot (18 m) version and were delivered between late 1981 and mid-1982. They had three doors, and the rearmost door was equipped with a wheelchair lift. The next-largest purchases were of 50 by Houston, Texas, and 40 by Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Only five other transit systems bought the Crown-Ikarus 286 (with the quantity each bought given in parentheses here after each location): SamTrans, in San Mateo County, California (10); the Capital District Transportation Authority, in Albany, New York (8); the Santa Clara County Transportation Agency, in California (15); Honolulu, Hawaii (8); and Jacksonville, Florida (10). Most purchased the two-door model.
Various problems were experienced with the completed buses during their use, including doors malfunctioning and windows coming out. In Portland, Oregon, which had more Crown-Ikarus buses than any other transit system, owner Tri-Met found that its 87 buses needed numerous repairs and modifications, to fix what it considered to be significant defects. The agency worked with the manufacturer to correct many of them, but carried out some of the repairs and modifications itself, sometimes at its own expense. In 1985, when the buses involved were three to four years old, Tri-Met filed a lawsuit against the manufacturers, alleging breach of contract. The suit identified 45 separate defects, including frame cracks, and charged that Crown Coach and Ikarus had been unable or unwilling to correct all of them. Tri-Met officials said the problems and frequent breakdowns of the buses led to there being days when only about 50 of the 87 buses were operational. According to Tri-Met, the issue was compounded by maintenance diagrams that were "written mostly in Hungarian". The lawsuit was later postponed, as the parties hoped to settle their differences out of courts and 17 months after the suit was filed, Tri-Met announced that a settlement had been reached. The warranties on Tri-Met's buses, which had originally been for one to two years but been extended, were now extended through 1992, but most other details of the 1987 settlement were not released publicly.
By 1986, Crown Coach had already ceased taking orders for the Crown-Ikarus 286, and production under the joint venture ended. Ikarus re-entered the U.S. market on its own in 1989 as Ikarus USA, which after a series of reorganizations became North American Bus Industries (NABI) in 1996.