Our research found that overall school bus sales were down about 8 percent in 2009 compared to 2008. How does the market look for 2010?
2009 was definitely a good year for Thomas even in the down economy, and I think that’s because we continue to work hard to support our customers and our dealers through this recession. We know it’s very difficult for school districts everywhere, so we’re working hard with our suppliers and our people here to try to provide them with as many buses as possible in the most cost-effective fashion.
And I think in 2010, there are some things that look like they will be bright spots on the horizon. If I look at the hybrid C2e, in a lot of school districts, they’ve been able to come up with money from the Clean Cities stimulus grant that allows them to purchase more hybrid buses. We found some other interesting places that are helping the schools, because they see this is good for the environment. And I think that is something that gives us some positive things to look for in what clearly is going to be a challenging economic environment.
Is the company seeing a lot of interest in the C2e hybrid?
We are seeing some significant interest in that. Obviously, there’s an initial cost associated with it, but it provides people an opportunity to reduce their emissions significantly, and it also provides them an opportunity to sort of serve as a beacon. A lot of schools are trying to instill in children a real sense of responsibility for the environment, and allowing them to have these buses that clearly are out there on the forefront is something that’s really good to see. There are other green technologies as well that allow us to continue that effort.
Have any new Thomas buses with SCR [selective catalytic reduction] gone out to customers yet?
We have not actually delivered vehicles to customers yet, but we’ve gotten very positive feedback from those people who have driven our pilot vehicles, and we will have the first SCR-equipped vehicles in production mode very, very shortly. So we’re eagerly awaiting those coming off the line and being able to deliver them.
How important is it for school buses to be considered a “green” form of transportation?
Well, one of the funny things is that they may be painted yellow, but they really have been green historically. If you think about it, your typical school bus is going to take something like 35 cars off the road. If you consider that one parent might have two children in the car, and a school bus is going to hold 70 kids, that’s a lot of cars that come off the road if you’re replacing parent transportation with a school bus.
Beyond that, whether it’s a C2e hybrid or it’s one of our CNG buses, there’s clearly additional positive environmental impact beyond just taking cars off the road. In fact, over the last 10 years, Thomas has delivered over 1,000 CNG buses. So we’re really one of the old guys in the market when it comes to green technology.
But beyond school buses, we’ve taken this very seriously as we move toward being a zero-waste-to-landfill manufacturing facility, and we work on things that we can do with the actual composition of the bus and our manufacturing processes to reduce the waste that we use so that we can carry that green concept and the idea of sustainability into every area of our operation.