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June 01, 2007  |   Comments (0)   |   Post a comment

Q&A: Large Bus Manufacturers

Key executives at the three large bus OEMs weigh in on industry developments and challenges.

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Blue Bird Corp.

Roger Howsmon
Senior vice president of school bus sales and marketing

How are the Type C and Type D markets looking for the 2007-08 school year?
The Type C and Type D markets are looking very strong for the 2007-08 school year. Blue Bird anticipates a strong order book moving into the year.

Has there been any market shift in favor of the Type C over the Type D school bus, or vice-versa?
A market shift has been seen toward the Type C product over the Type D, mostly due to transportation budgets. Our Type C Vision product’s popularity has grown tremendously with a record-breaking number of Vision sales last year, and the trend is continuing into the 2007-08 school year. Blue Bird, however, is continually working on improving manufacturing and unit cost on our Type D All American products, which may impact this trend in the future.

Do you expect the prices of the raw materials (steel, rubber, copper, etc.) to continue to climb? If so, will school bus prices need to be adjusted upward?
While it is impossible to know what the prices of raw materials will do in the coming months, current trends certainly point toward steady price increases for these components. While school bus pricing will need to be adjusted to some degree if raw material costs rise, Blue Bird will do its best to keep pricing as steady as possible. Improvements to our manufacturing processes and sourcing may help to maintain pricing.

In a recent SCHOOL BUS FLEET survey, 52% of respondents described the quality of new school buses as “good”; 17.9% as “excellent”; 18.5% as “fair”; and 3.5% as “poor” (8.1% had no opinion). How does that fit with your assessment of customer satisfaction in general?
Customers expect Blue Bird to build quality products. Every day, Blue Bird strives to build quality buses with on-time delivery. We have also recently added experienced quality control staff from the automotive industry to ensure that our customers receive the high standards they expect.

What are the key concerns of your customers these days in regard to your Type C and Type D products (e.g., durability, reliability, dealer service, etc.)?
Price still remains the highest concern of our customers. Rising fuel costs coupled with any industry increases due to the 2007 engines and raw material costs remain prevalent as customer concerns. A secondary concern is the service and reliability of the new 2007 engines.

Are you sensing a lot of customer anxiety about the care and maintenance of 2007 EPA-compatible engines and aftertreatment systems?
As previously stated, customers are relaying anxiety regarding the new 2007 engines and aftertreatment systems and the availability of ultra low sulfur diesel fuel. To help alleviate these concerns, Blue Bird is working with our dealer network to ensure that training and support is provided to ease any misgivings or apprehension toward the new systems.

Are you getting more inquiries about placement of three-point belt systems on your large buses (as well as your Type A vehicles)?
Yes, Blue Bird is seeing an increase on bus orders equipped with three-point belt systems.

Looking 10 years into the future, can you predict how school bus design and engineering might change to adapt to customer needs?
The future of school bus design is a difficult question to answer. It will depend greatly on changes in federal and state specifications, as we may see the federal government taking on a larger role in student transportation. Alternative fuels are also an emerging market towards which I believe we will see aggressive action taken.


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