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Suddenly, the world of large school buses has expanded. Te industry once saw as many as a dozen manufacturers of the big yellow bus at any given time

during the past century before the consolidations and marketplace exits of the 1980s and 1990s. By 2002, the list was down to only three. But on June 16, news broke of the latest entry to the market following a similar announcement two years ago. Spartan Chassis, known in the commercial vehicle space for its production of fire trucks, Class

Competition Stiffens in the Large Bus Market

By Ryan Gray

A motorhomes and RVs, announced it was executing a supply agreement to develop a new Type C conventional with Lion Bus out of Montreal, not to be confused with Red Lion Bus Company in Pennsylvania that has historical ties to school bus contractor Krapf School Bus. We first heard rumors of the new Type C conventional line dating back to 2009, as contacts in

Canada at the time indicated they had seen or at least heard about schematics being developed by executives from the first iteration of Corbeil Bus before that Type A line was acquired by Collins Bus Corporation in 2007. Tis came on the heels of Starcraft Bus causing a stir with the announcement that it was partner-

ing with Hino Trucks to produce the first, brand-new Type C conventional make and model going back to the turn of the century when AmTran was relaunched as IC Bus. Tat venture is the first by Toyota into the school bus space, as Hino has been a division of the Japanese automaker’s global group since being acquired in 2003. But since the 9.0 Japan earthquake in March and resulting tsu- nami, roughly the same time the Starcraft Type C was scheduled to go into production, there have been more questions than answers as there has been a slowing of imports from Japan ever since. A prototype of the new bus was originally expected last summer but was delayed until October, when Starcraft unveiled the bus at its national dealer meetings in Orlando, Fla. Long gone are Carpenter Body Works, Gillig, Superior Coach Company, Wayne Corporation and

Ward Body Works. But with Lion Bus and Starcraft joining Blue Bird, IC Bus and Tomas Built Buses, the industry is once again being turned on its ear. So don’t be surprised to also learn that China is getting in on the act. We also learned in June that this industry should pay attention to the Qingdao municipal government in Shandong province along the China Sea for more reasons than the beer Tsingtao that is produced nearby. Zhengzhou Yutong Group Co., Ltd., is reportedly manufacturing a yellow, “classic Western-style” school bus for the province that seats up to 52 students. Domestically, an underlying issue threatens to spoil the competition party, as highlighted in this

month’s edition. While it’s certainly promising to hear in this economy of large bus options growing by essentially two-thirds, supply challenges are keeping manufacturers on their toes. While compe- tition is generally good for the marketplace, school bus customers can’t assume that an increased selection will draw down prices. To a tee, representatives from the large bus manufacturers are cit- ing ever-increasing costs tied to raw materials and supply bottlenecks, especially as medium- and heavy-duty truck production is also ramping up. In fact, year over year, new school bus prices are at least rising at the rate of inflation. Factor in the increases tied to EPA emissions requirements for diesel engines and costs are up by at least $25,000 per bus over the past seven or eight years. When we turn the calendar to 2012, School Transportation News will be publishing its latest

Buyer’s Guide, which will include the annual, total school bus production output, not actual sales. After a slight rebound in the 2009-2010 production year, which is measured from Nov. 1 through Oct. 31 of the following year, signs point to another increase for 2010-2011, despite extremely bull- ish projections from all school bus manufacturers that manufacturing would fall again by more than 45 percent. With many states and school districts approaching the end of school bus life cycles, new orders are necessary, as could be inferred by several state legislatures this spring opting to not cut student transportation procurement budgets despite the continuing slash and burn of education dollars. Ultimately, market conditions will prevail, and the customer and entire industry are positioned

for a big win. Despite the fact that prices for large school buses will continue to increase, school bus operators are gaining a stronger voice and will be dictating the direction in which bus manu- facturers go. Undoubtedly, the manufacturers will continue to push each other, and there will be additional interest shown by others in joining the party. An era of a more robust, dynamic school bus industry dawns. While many unknowns remain, things are sure to get (even more) exciting. ■

12 School Transportation News Magazine August 2011

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