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DATA, STATISTICS AND TRENDS


School Bus Production Rebounds Slightly Annual manufacturing survey shows ever-so slight uptick in new builds amid slowdown in larger truck sector. But it also it indicates orders are still not


keeping up with need to replace aging vehicles in service. WRITTEN BY RYAN GRAY | RYAN@STNONLINE.COM


W


hile growth in school bus production over the last year was relatively flat, the nearly half-percent increase in newly manufac- tured yellow vehicles spells some good


news for the industry when compared to an eroding truck market tied to weakened freight volumes. Speculation about the effect of U.S. and China recip- rocal tariffs as the main culprit is unfounded, said Steve Tam, vice president at heavy- and medium-duty com- mercial vehicle analyst ACT Research Co. But the indi- rect impacts of tariffs are a different story. At this report, the U.S. and China reached a partial trade deal. “The U.S. economy has arguably been in a freight


recession for the past nine months. It is our belief that this is, at least in part, due to tariffs and the uncertainty in the trade environment,” he commented. “However, the effect appears to also be impacting the medium- duty space.” Demand in the overall medium-duty truck market was down 25 percent through September, but a mere fraction of the 70-percent downturn affecting the heavy-duty segment, which Tam pointed out has much more exposure to the freight portion of the economy. “In general, the consumer is holding up very well, so the medium-duty market is faring better,” he continued.


“Reliance on the services sectors of the economy is a large portion of the better performance.” The service of transporting students to and from school is a big reason, and why many suppliers view school bus as the most recession-proof bet. That said, and despite growth in alternative fuel and power, the industry continues to have its work cut out for it in injecting youthful optimism in the form of new school bus purchases. Last year, the Buyers Guide reported that the gap


between older and newer school buses was widening. Against the advice of fleet management consultants, the


44,854


School Buses Manufactured Nov. 1, 2018 - Oct. 31, 2019


majority of school districts continue to sink money into aging assets that require more maintenance rather than buying or, better yet, financing new vehicle purchases. School Transportation News surveyed 10 school bus


manufacturers in the U.S. and Canada, as well as Type A chassis producers General Motors and Ford in No- vember to gauge their production figures for the period of Nov. 1, 2018 through Oct. 31, 2019. The companies in total reported only 250 more units were built, compared to the same period in 2017 and 2018. This miniscule increase does little to lessen the gap in replacements. The silver lining is a 9-percent uptick when factoring in MFSABs, commercial buses and GSA contract vehicles. Meanwhile, alternative power took a bite, albeit a


relatively small one, out of diesel’s market share and even, marginally, that of gasoline. But statistically, the numbers were significant in that they demonstrate the increasing appetite for alternative power that reduces emissions as well as maintenance and operating costs. Granted, much of that appetite is being fueled by the Volkswagen Mitiga- tion Trust Fund, which will continue to provide money to a handful of states through 2020 and into 2021, as well as state and federal grant programs. The industry manufactured about 2,300 fewer diesel buses in the past year, a nearly 8 percent dip. Gaso- line also decreased by 261 units to 11,446, a 2.2 percent decrease. Propane was the major reason, jumping by 22 percent to 3,236 units. Then there was electric. While still only accounting for one-half of 1 percent


of all new school buses, the electric production grew by over 35 percent to 245 units across all school bus types. That number will only increase in 2020 as grants con- tinue to fund their purchase, not only from state gov- ernments but also by utility companies that are eager to develop vehicle-to-grid capabilities. Additionally, IC Bus moves into the production phase of its EVs. ●


+0.49%


Increase of school bus production in 2018-2019


56K+ Total Buses Built*


*Including MFSABs, commercial buses and GSA contract vehicles 13


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