Adolph Saurer AG based in Arbon, Switzerland was a manufacturer of trucks and buses under the Saurer and Berna (beginning in 1929) brand names, active between 1903 and 1982.
Saurer was very well known all around Europe in the years between World War I and World War II (1918–1939).
Especially, in World War 2 a modified version of Saurer trucks was sponsored by the Nazi and used to gas people in Chełmno
In 1853 Franz Saurer (1806–1882) from Veringenstadt in Germany established an iron foundry for household goods near the Swiss town of Sankt Gallen. In 1863 he started a production of Jacquard sewing machines in Arbon, from 1869 together with his sons as company associates of F. Saurer & Söhne. In 1896 his eldest surviving son Adolph Saurer (1841–1920) took over the company, he and his son Hippolyt (1878–1936) developed the enterprise as a joint-stock company.
From 1896 Saurer also manufactured petrol engines and the next year Hippolyt Saurer initiated the production of a phaeton body automobile run by a one-cylinder opposed-piston engine. In 1902 a first four-cylinder T-head engine model with touring car and sedan chassis was built.
From 1903 onwards Saurer concentrated on the production of commercial vehicles which soon gained a good reputation. The company ran subsidiary companies in Austria (1906–1959, in the end taken over by Steyr-Daimler-Puch), France (1910–1956, taken over by Unic), the United Kingdom (1927–1931, taken over by Armstrong Whitworth), and in Germany (1915–1918, taken over by MAN). In Italy, the Officine Meccaniche (OM) manufacturer was for many years licensee of Saurer engines and other mechanical units, which they used in their own ranges of truck and buses. In Poland the state-owned Państwowe Zakłady Inżynieryjne produced license-built Saurer engines (powering, among others, the 7TP and 9TP tanks) and coach chassis used in the Zawrat bus.
In the United States, the Saurer Motor Truck Company, headed by C.P. Coleman, had the rights to manufacture and sell heavy trucks under the Saurer brand name at its plant in Plainfield, New Jersey (which commenced operations in November 1911). On September 23, 1911, the Saurer Motor Truck Company merged with the Mack Brothers Motor Car Company of Allentown, Pennsylvania, headed by J. M. Mack, to form the International Motor Truck Company (IMTC). IMTC would continue to make and sell trucks using the Saurer name until 1918. In 1922 IMTC would become Mack Trucks, Inc.
In 1929 Saurer acquired its Swiss rival, Motorwagenfabrik Berna AG of Olten, but the Berna name was allowed to continue, badging the very same Saurer models.
From 1932 on, trolleybuses were a very significant segment of Saurer production. Typically Saurer, or Berna, trolleybuses featured Brown, Boveri & Cie or Société Anonyme des Ateliers de Sécheron (SAAS) electric equipment and Carrosserie Hess bodies. Saurer trolleybuses operated in most of Central Europe countries, and still do it in several of them.
In World War 2 a restructured type BT 4500 and 5 BHw of Saurer trucks were used to gas people in the Nazi extermination camp of Chelmno.
In 1951 Saurer and its Italian licensee, OM, reached an agreement by which Saurer would market in Switzerland OM’s light and medium-weight trucks and buses, using Saurer-OM and Berna-OM badges. This was successful and lasted until Saurer closure.
Declining sales in the early 1980s saw the two leading Swiss truck makers, Saurer and FBW (Franz Brozincevic & Cie of Wetzikon, Switzerland), forming a joint organization calledNutzfahrzeuggesellschaft Arbon & Wetzikon, proceeding with motorbus and trolleybus production under the NAW brand, while the last Saurer-badged truck sold in the open market was delivered in 1983. Four years later, in 1987, a model 10DM supplied to the Swiss Army meant the very last Saurer truck produced in history.
In 1982 Daimler-Benz had acquired a major shareholding in NAW and soon took full control; and in a short time dropped Saurer, Berna and FBW brands, while using NAW premises to assemble heavy haulage versions of Mercedes-Benz trucks.
Eventually NAW went into liquidation in early 2003.
The textile and automotive spin-offs
In 1995, Ernst Thomke, reputed Swiss Manager, took over the leadership of Saurer AG in Arbon as Chairman of the Board. To restructure this conglomerate, he had previously abandoned his position with its then major shareholder: BB Industrie Holding AG (22%). The previous major shareholder, Tito Tettamanti, of the conglomerate, founded in 1853, specialized in textile machinery and “propulsion technology”, had acquired the main competitor in each field, Schlafhorst, with a large manufacturing capacity excess and Ghidela.
Thomke led actively Saurer AG until 1996, when he retired to the direction of the Board until 1999. In his years he promulgated transparency at all levels, flexible working hours, optimized the production and refined accounting systems. In 1996, the group Saurer AG went back into financial results showing profits. More than half of the revenues originating from Schlafhorst, upon its positive restructuring.
Saurer also produced the YS-2 and YS-3 aero-engines, closely related to the Hispano-Suiza 12Y series of engines designed and built in France, to power the Doflug D-3802 and Doflug D-3803 fighters.
Since 2007, the conglomerate Saurer AG, which meanwhile had reached a worldwide leading status in textile machinery, has been integrated into the Oerlikon Corporation (see: Oerlikon Textile )
Oerlikon-Saurer Textile is a manufacturer of systems for spinning, texturizing, twisting and embroidery.
Oerlikon-Saurer “Graziano Trasmissioni
Also since 2007, the remaining Saurer AG automative part, “Graziano Trasmissioni”, a manufacturer of gear, gear groups and complete transmission systems for agricultural, earth moving and special vehicles as well as for four wheel drive passenger cars and luxury sport cars has also been integrated into the Oerlikon Corporation. (see:  Oerlikon Drive Systems)
Gallery of Saurer, Berna and NAW vehicles
A Saurer coach in Northern Spain in 1923
Saurer 4TIILM trolleybus in Gdynia, 2006
Carrosserie Hess bodied NAW trolleybus in Schaffhausen
Saurer Tramway Lausanne (TL)
Saurer 4H 1941
Saurer Autobus 1930
Saurer Autobus Salzburger Hauptbahnhof
Altstätten Bahnhof-Stadt (1984)
Trolleybus Saurer 411LM
Trolleybus Saurer 415
GT 560/640-25 Winterthur 2005
© R.J.M.v.d. Zant
© R.J.M.v.d. Zant