Beefed-up cutaway chassis debut in Type A category

Steve Hirano, Editor
Posted on February 1, 2002

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.

Ford E-550

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


  • Front solid axle, leaf springs
  • Steel ladder-type frame with six crossmembers
  • Power disc antilock braking system
  • Power steering
  • 4-speed automatic overdrive 4R100 transmission with overdrive lockout switch, tank oil cooler and transmission
  • Air conditioning


    Model year: 2003
    Gross Vehicle Weight Rating: 16,000, 18,000 and 19,500
    Wheelbase lengths: 165 to 195 inches
    Engine: 8.1-L Vortec V8 (gasoline) with 340 hp and 455 lb.-ft. of torque and 6.6-L Duramax Diesel with 300 hp @ 3,200 rpm and 520 lb.-ft. @ 1,800 rpm
    Transmission: Allison 1000
    Axles (front/rear): 6,000/11,000; 6,000/13,500; 7,000/13,500
    Fuel capacity: 40 gallons
    Suspension: front - long taper springs with integral stabilizer bar; rear - multileaf (standard), taper leaf (option) Additional features:
  • Tilt steering wheel
  • Tilt hood
  • 19.5-inch wheels
  • 50,000 and 80,000 psi steel frame
  • 7,500-mile oil-change intervals
  • 5-year, 50,000-mile engine coolant
  • Easy-access compartment for brake fluid, power-steering fluid, coolant, engine oil, transmission fluid, windshield washer solvent International’s offering
    It should be noted that International Truck and Engine Corp. also offers a large Type A chassis (21,500 to 23,500 GVWR). The 3200 chassis (based on the discontinued 3400 chassis) is offered with the School Coach (SC), manufactured by Mid Bus in Bluffton, Ohio. For International 3200 specifications, see pg. 110 of SCHOOL BUS FLEET’s 2002 Fact Book. For Mid Bus’ SC specifications, see pg. 108.
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