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DATA, STATISTICS AND TRENDS


COVID-19 Sinks School Bus Production Despite vaccine development, it could take years for manufacturing output to return to pre-pandemic levels


WRITTEN BY RYAN GRAY | RYAN@STNONLINE.COM


lions of students at home—and off of their school buses. As a result, the school bus manufacturing in- dustry took it on the chin at precisely the wrong time, when new purchases by school districts have barely kept up with the need to replace aging vehicles. The school bus body and chassis manufacturers


T


survey by School Transportation News magazine for the production period of Nov. 1, 2019 through Oct. 31, 2020 reported about an 18-percent overall decline in new units built. While not quite as bad as the 25-per- cent drop during the 2009-2010 period, when the larg- er economy was emerging from the Great Recession, the bus OEMs are pessimistic on growth. A further 10 percent decrease is forecast for the current year. The Type D segment saw the largest decline at 22


percent, to 2,948 units from the previous 3,790. Type C once again won the lion’s share at 25,965 school buses built, the figure was still down over 18 percent from the previous year. Type A also declined nearly 17 percent to about 7,765 units, the smallest number in seven years. A silver lining, at this report, was the greenlighting


of no fewer than three COVID-19 vaccine candidates to potentially alleviate some of the anxiety felt by stu- dents, parents, teachers, school administrators, and society as a whole. Certainly, this industry needs to see all students nationwide back on school buses and inside actual classrooms soon. But even when that does happen, there could be little money available to quickly allow school districts and bus contractors to catch up on their vehicle replacement cycles. “No doubt that the capital investment plans of school districts and contractors are being adjusted


36,678


School Buses Manufactured (Nov. 1, 2019 – Oct. 31, 2020)


he new decade began under the suffocat- ing weight of the new novel coronavirus that paralyzed businesses, shutting many of them down for good and keeping mil-


to reflect the COVID-19 downtime, which for private operators has caused a reduction of contract revenue and for schools the potential risk for a reduction in state aid to schools due to local and state sales tax revenue erosion,” commented Robert T. Pudlewski, an industry consultant as well as the maintenance and technology editor for School Transportation News. The overall medium- and heavy-duty truck and bus market is not expected to return to pre-COVID-19 levels until 2024, noted Steve Tam, a vice president and analyst for ACT Research in Columbus, Indiana. “Clearly, with contractors seeing large cuts in rev-


enue, capital spending has to follow,” he added. “And while property values continue to increase for now, the outlook for state and local tax revenue leaves little or no room for even replacement-level demand.” This despite pledges by Joe Biden to replace the


entire national fleet of nearly a half-million school buses with zero-emissions vehicles by 2025. That is a tall if not impossible task, even with an extensive and immediately available federal grant program. The OEMs would need to ramp up operations to produce, say 95,000 ZEVs a year to meet this goal. That would be a 26,000-percent increase over the past produc- tion period, which saw the largest output of electric buses to date. The near-term result will most likely be an already


old national fleet getting even older, Pudlewski added. “Most [school districts] will grab for low-hanging


fruit, and that is usually equipment rather than structure,” he concluded. “The potential fleet age change as a result of not adhering to past replacement schedules will no doubt bring about aftermarket parts incremental sales growth in order to keep the buses in safe operational condition. A 10 percent to 20 percent annual bus average age increase is huge. Parts suppliers will be reaping the benefits.” ●


18.2%


Decrease in School Bus Production


(Compared to 2018-2019) 47,751 Total Buses Manufactured*


*Including MFSABs, commercial buses and GSA contract vehicles 11


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