A spectacular show at the Salt Palace

Frank Di Giacomo, Publisher
Posted on December 1, 2003

If you didn’t have a chance to attend this year’s conference and trade show of the National Association for Pupil Transportation, you missed a great opportunity to get a firsthand look at some spectacular new products (see our coverage in this issue of the conference and products highlighted at the trade show).

This year’s show, held in Salt Lake City, was a feast for the eyes and ears. Thomas Built Buses and IC Corp. each unveiled their new conventional buses in spectacular fashion. A laser light show accompanied the dramatic unveiling of Thomas’ new Saf-T-Liner C2, while balloons, streamers and big-screen video attended the extravagant introduction of IC Corp.’s CE.

Investments are obvious
For those of us lucky enough to be in attendance, these displays will not soon be forgotten. Even more compelling than these theatrical presentations, however, are the products themselves. Each vehicle is the result of thousands of hours — and millions of dollars — of research and development.

Much of that research is directed at the users themselves. Focus groups and more traditional customer surveys help the design engineers create a vehicle that meets the rigorous demands of the road, the passengers and the driver. It would be futile to design a bus without the input of the customers, but it would also be futile to solicit the customers’ input and then ignore it. It’s clear that both bus manufacturers solicited input and acted on the feedback they received from all areas of the industry.

Supporting that R&D are considerable investments in new manufacturing plants. IC Corp. spent tens of millions of dollars on its school bus manufacturing plant in Tulsa, Okla. Thomas is doing the same to construct a state-of-the-art manufacturing plant in High Point, N.C.

Thomas and IC Corp. are to be commended for stepping up their efforts to bring improved products into the pipeline, but they’re not alone. All of today’s bus manufacturers and suppliers are continuing to invest in the future of school transportation, even amid the economic downturn that has plagued state budgets for the past few years. {+PAGEBREAK+}

Commitment is clear
All you had to do was take a walk up and down the aisles of the exhibit hall at the Salt Palace and you would see that this industry has not turned its back on product innovation. I saw literally dozens of companies that were introducing new products or services to this industry. Some of them were newcomers testing the waters; others were established industry suppliers who, because of competitive pressures, are stretching their budgets to develop new products or enhance existing ones.

The commitment of the supplier community to this market is clear. So is the long-established commitment of the school bus operators, public and private, to running school buses in the safest, most efficient fashion. That’s what makes it such a pleasure to work in this industry. Let’s support the push for the highest quality products that can be produced. When it’s time to talk to your school administration and/or school board about transportation funding, make sure to mention the investments already made by the industry to improve safety and efficiency, for the kids’ sake.

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