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PUBLISHER'S COMMENTARY


2019 Outlook: Strong & Stable WRITTEN BY TONY CORPIN | TONY@STNONLINE.COM


as a fairly accurate data point of economic health. And I especially watch the publicly traded school bus manufacturers and suppliers for forward guidance. Overall, I’m happy to report that their outlook is


A


positive. At the same time, tariffs, increasing component costs and slowing global growth, signal a warning. Te trend of new bus manufacturing is also a great


measurement of our industry’s overall health. In 2018, production decreased by 6.5 percent, compared to the previous year, but all things considered, the industry is holding strong. Statistically, it is a mild twinge in the data, compared


to the long-term growth we’ve been experiencing over the past few years. Our annual school bus OEM survey reports about


36,062 Type C and Type D class school buses were built alongside another 8,719 Type A buses, for a grand total of 44,634 buses. In addition, alternative energy school bus purchases


continued on an upward tick, but volumes were relatively flat over the previous year. Propane buses remain the leader, followed distantly by CNG and electric buses. Some industry insiders I spoke with commented


that gasoline school bus buyers are transitioning over to propane school buses in 2019. Tis cannibalization will likely continue, as the VW Mitigation Trust Fund money, for which gasoline isn’t eligible, is allocated for alternative energy. As posted at the U.S. Department of Energy website,


diesel fuel prices have trended steadily lower, to a low of $2.460 reported on Dec. 17, from a high of $3.018 reported on June 4. According to a CNBC report, fuel prices are at a 15-month low, due to increased U.S. and Russian oil output, combined with fears of slowing global growth and weakening oil demand. School districts and private contractors generally take


advantage of bulk purchasing rates, but I’d recommend keeping a close eye on this line item. Tis includes the price of propane and CNG. Headlines about energy and fuel volatility were prominent again in 2018, and I’d expect to see more of the same in 2019. I predict alternative fuels will continue to take a


146


s a hobby, I enjoy looking at economic trends and predicting why and when markets will move up or down. Over the years, I’ve always used the stock market


bigger foothold within the school bus industry, with propane leading the pack. Diesel school buses are still in high demand, but the after-treatment systems are cited as a sticking point for some buyers, as they continue to consider alternative options. Blue Bird, in its recent year-end earnings report,


said that sales for alternative powered bus sales had risen 14 percent from 2017. It also said that 15 percent of its customers have purchased alternative fuel powered buses. Tat leaves a sizable amount of opportunity, with roughly 85 percent of the market yet to buy alter- native powered buses. Te appetite for information and funding methods


on new electric school bus technology seems to have accelerated quicker than most people expected. Many school transportation professionals I’ve spoken with are poised to take full advantage of the pending VW funds. Where do I see school transportation headed for


2019? I continue to see positive indicators from around the industry, such as reports this past fall by Blue Bird, IC Bus and Tomas Built Buses of anticipated flat to single-digit growth in new bus builds, despite key costs continuing to rise, due to the new tariffs. Te bottom line is, the direction I see today is a strong and stable yellow school bus industry for years to come. In the recent Blue Bird earnings report, President


and CEO Phil Horlock provided a FY2019 estimate of about 35,000 large bus units, supported by continued growth from the VW settlement and property taxes. Meanwhile, according to the latest 2019 outlook by


the National Association of Realtors, existing-home sales are expected to stabilize and price growth to con- tinue. “Ninety percent of markets are experiencing price gains while very few are experiencing consistent price declines,” said NAR Chief Economist Lawrence Yun. So, what’s on your transportation wish list for 2019?


Our recent readership study of 735 subscribers identified lots of new technology. Are you analyzing your data to help improve the safety and efficiency of your fleet? If not, it’s a great New Year’s goal for 2019. Be sure to use this ultimate resource guide of


contacts, research and data, to help your team Drive Forward and Get Inspired in 2019! ●


Tony Corpin, Publisher


School Transportation News Magazine | Buyer’s Guide 2019


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