ELBO C93800 Europe (1993), Thessaloniki
ELBO (standing for “Elliniki Biomihania Ohimaton”, or Hellenic Vehicle Industry), is a Greek vehicle manufacturer. Although it certainly is neither the oldest, nor the most “Greek” in its original technology (it was founded in 1972 after an agreement with Steyr-Daimler-Puch of Austria), it is one that managed to survive the evolutions that basically wiped out the Greek motor industry in the 1980s and 1990s, as it was the only state-owned company in its field.
It was founded in Thessaloniki with the name Steyr Hellas S.A. and until the early 1980s the Austrian company owned a significant part of its capital. The Greek state acquired a majority of the company in 1986, when it was renamed ELBO. Its original activity in the 1970s was assembly, with progressively increasing local content, of trucks, motorbikes and farm tractors (all Steyr and Puch models) on a scale rarely seen before in Greece. Orders by the Greek state soon gave momentum to the company as it undertook huge orders for trucks and buses by the Greek military and a number of state and city authorities (some say, at the expense of other Greek companies). The tractor division declined in the 1980s, after thousands of Steyr designs, and a much smaller number of models based on also foreign designs - but modified by the company - had been produced.
The Greek company's first original design was a military bus introduced in 1981. In the same year it undertook the construction of “its own” ‘Leonidas’ Armored Personnel Carrier (in fact Steyr’s 4K 7FA model built with minor modifications, again with progressively increasing local content). In 1987 ELBO introduced Leonidas-2, this time with significant modifications of its own. Hundreds were built, while a number of different versions were proposed.
In the years that followed ELBO became a major producer of military and civilian trucks for a variety of uses (all based on Steyr models), engines (Steyr types, many for export to the Austrian company itself), military jeeps (Mercedes Benz’s G-model under licence), customized vehicles and machinery, and buses, with significant exports. Production of buses usually involved body construction on imported chassis; only a few models actually included complete ELBO chassis design and construction, among them the ‘Midas’ and ‘Europe’ models of 1993. ELBO-bodied buses exported to Singapore in 1996 were welcomed by that country’s press as the first low-floor buses in the wider region.
A number of ambitious plans for company development and new products were not realized, as the state character of the company linked it to effects from government changes and mismanagement. Although it pulled out of a 1988 agreement with Steyr for an Armored Infantry Fighting Vehicle Development, ELBO rather surprised many in 1998, introducing an extremely advanced Armored Infantry Fighting Vehicle of its own design and development, named Kentaurus. However, the vehicle to this date has not been ordered by the Greek military due to reduced budgets. Another step towards original developments was its initiative for the creation of a light sports car, which was assigned to TWT, a German-Greek engineering company. The prototype of the 'ELBO Aletis', an attractive car designed by Pininfarina with Volkswagen engine, was introduced in the Internationale Automobil-Ausstellung in Frankfurt in 2001, but was never produced.
In 2000 ELBO was partly privatised, when the Greek Mytilineos metal and engineering group acquired 43% and undertook the company management. The fate of this company in a new age of globalism and intense international competition, anymore depends on its own creativity and resources.
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