Smaller Buses Stand Out in Strong Sales Numbers

James Blue
Posted on December 19, 2018
Sales of Type A and Type D buses were up significantly in 2018. For Type A buses, the 4.1% spike could be attributed to increased availability of the type. Photo courtesy Katrina Falk
Sales of Type A and Type D buses were up significantly in 2018. For Type A buses, the 4.1% spike could be attributed to increased availability of the type. Photo courtesy Katrina Falk

Year after year, School Bus Fleet has reported on rising annual school bus sales numbers, and 2018 was strong yet again.

School bus sales in the U.S. and Canada remain impressive. Sales of Type A and Type D buses are up significantly. For Type A buses, the 4.1% spike could be attributed to increased availability of the type, from the Micro Bird G5 and the Collins Low-Floor bus, as well as other options from Starcraft, Titan, and Trans Tech.

And the Type A boost looks to be joining a small but growing trend toward the electric fueling option: The LionA from The Lion Electric Co. became available to order in fall 2018, and Collins Bus Corp. has plans to introduce a new electric Type A school bus.   

The increase in Type A sales falls in line with what Steve Girardin, president of Micro Bird, told SBF in an interview for a story in the April 2018 issue. He forecasted that more new Type A school buses would take to the road in 2018, including Micro Bird’s G5 Electric, and that the market could see an increase of up to 7% growth in 2018.

SBF has found that school bus sales in the U.S. and Canada have mostly held steady, experiencing the smallest fraction of a dip. The 2018 total, 44,381 school buses sold, was down by only eight buses from 2017’s figure: 44,389. This is still on par with last year, which brought the highest sales numbers in the industry since 2006.  

Tariffs on steel and other raw material price hikes in 2018 increased the cost of building school buses, impacting prices toward the end of the year. (Blue Bird CEO Phil Horlock mentioned in an interview with SBF for the November 2018 issue that the manufacturer had to raise prices later in the year because of these costs.) That could potentially be a factor that impacts school bus sales in 2019.

Caley Edgerly, president and CEO of Thomas Built Buses, also noted in a recent interview with SBF the rise in the cost of raw materials. Another factor challenging significant growth, he said, is school transportation departments facing more budgetary restrictions and competing priorities. (Stay tuned for more of Edgerly’s insights in an interview in the January 2019 issue.)

One silver lining is the continued trend of alternative-fuel bus purchases. Blue Bird’s Horlock said that sales of non-diesel large school buses — propane, compressed natural gas (CNG), and electric — accounted for nearly 40% of the manufacturer’s output, and he doesn’t see that slowing down anytime soon.

That trend will only be encouraged as the $2.9 billion in funds from the Volkswagen (VW) Environmental Mitigation Trust becomes available, providing a bump in sales of alternative-fuel buses. So far, we have seen a Louisiana school district buy 10 propane buses with its share of the funds. Meanwhile, SBF reported on two states that earmarked significant portions of their funds to replace aging school buses. Arizona plans to use two-thirds of its settlement money to buy about 300 new school buses for low-income communities, and Michigan is putting about 20% of its share toward replacing aging diesel school buses with new diesel, electric, or other alternative-fuel buses.

As we kick off 2019, it will be exciting to see more states use their VW funds to put more alternative-fuel and clean-diesel buses — whether small or large — on the road.

Related Topics: alternative fuels, Type A/small buses, Type D school bus

James Blue General Manager
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