The traditional view of a Type A school bus is that it is a small vehicle used to transport up to, say, 30 passengers, especially those with special needs. That view of the Type A vehicle could be changing in the next several months as Ford and GM introduce a medium-duty, higher-capacity Type A chassis into the school bus market. Although it’s too early to determine the passenger capacity, these new chassis could carry as many as 50 students, depending on the set-up and weight of the bus body. This creates an interesting competitive scenario: the new Ford and GM chassis give interested body manufacturers the opportunity to build Type A buses that rival Type C (conventional) buses in terms of capacity. We won’t know how that scenario will play out for several years, but it will be interesting to watch. Ford’s new chassis
The E-550 cutaway chassis is Ford’s new offering, supplementing the company’s other Type A chassis - the E-350 and E-450 (see table on pg. 50). It has a longer wheelbase and higher GVWRs than the E-350 and E-450. Those differences create the capacity to carry more passengers, the main selling point of the new chassis. “It’s a step toward a medium-duty vehicle and gives the operator a better value without having to go to a medium-duty product,” said Ken Farr, Ford’s RV and specialty vehicle sales manager. He said the E-550 will offer the driver better visibility and maneuverability than a Type C (conventional) school bus. Farr said that the E-550 is scheduled to begin production in March at Ford’s plant in Lorain, Ohio. Several school bus manufacturers have expressed interest in building on the chassis, but no commitments have been finalized, he added. GM’s new chassis
Peter Schmid, GM’s national school bus manager, said the GMT560 bus chassis, model year 2003, also will go into production in March at GM’s Flint, Mich., plant. It will feature both GMC and Chevrolet models. At press time, Schmid said all of the major bus manufacturers had requested a sample chassis, which he expects to be delivered this spring. Manufacturer orders for the chassis could begin as early as May or June. “We think this is going to be good for the industry,” Schmid said. The GMT560, like its Ford E-550 counterpart, complements an existing line of Type A chassis (see table). GM’s G series cutaway chassis offer 9,500 and 12,000 GVWRs. The GMT560 offers three GVWRs: 16,000, 18,000 and 19,500. In addition, it offers a different choice of engines. The G cutaways are powered by 5.7L gasoline and 6.5L turbodiesel engines; the GMT560 is powered by 8.1L gasoline and 6.6L diesel engines. (The availability of a gasoline engine is a key difference between the GMT560 and the E-550.) Schmid said one of the critical strengths of the GMT560 chassis is its maneuverability, which is aided by a tight turning radius. A new front axle design allows for a 54-degree turning angle. For the purposes of comparison and enlightenment, we’ve compiled some of the vital statistics and specifications for each chassis.
Model Year: 2002
Gross Vehicle Weight Rating: 17,500 (DRW) and 19,000 (DRW)
Wheelbase lengths: 178 and 192 inches
Passenger capacity: 20 to 42-plus, depending on chassis and body combination
Engine: 7.3-L Power Stroke V8 turbodiesel with 215 hp @ 2,600 rpm. Torque is 425 lbs.-ft. @ 1,800 rpm.
Axles (front/rear): 6,000/13,500
Suspension (springs): Front - 6,000; rear - 11,500
Fuel capacity: 55 gallons
Alternator: 130 amps; dual 110 (option)
Battery: 78 amp-hr.; 78 and 75 dual aux. (option)
Major standard features