After enduring the challenging school bus market conditions of recent years, Blue Bird has rallied with increased focus and efficiency at its operations in Fort Valley, Ga., and business has been on the upswing for the manufacturer. The company’s total sales have increased about 40% from 2012 to 2014.
Phil Horlock, president and CEO of Blue Bird Corp., said during a recent interview in Fort Valley that Blue Bird now has “strong liquidity” and is “growing market share, investigating new products and investing in new equipment.”
The rising star for Blue Bird has been its propane autogas school buses, sales of which have consistently grown year over year. In 2013 in particular, the company’s propane bus sales multiplied compared to 2012.
“Last year was a tipping point,” Horlock said, noting that customers are seeing multiple benefits with the propane buses, such as lower fuel and maintenance costs, quieter operation and more reliable starting in cold weather.
While many school bus operations were initially buying one or two propane buses at a time, large orders have become more common in the past few years.
At Blue Bird’s main facility in Fort Valley, Ga., workers assemble Type C and D school bus bodies and chassis.
As an example, this spring Broward County (Fla.) Public Schools acquired 98 Blue Bird propane autogas school buses. The move was considered the nation’s largest single order of propane autogas school buses by a school district. The largest order by a contractor was Student Transportation Inc.’s acquisition of more than 400 propane buses for a new contract in Nebraska in 2012.
Blue Bird’s propane buses utilize ROUSH CleanTech’s liquid propane autogas system. Horlock said that Blue Bird’s work with ROUSH has been a “true partnership.” For instance, staff from both companies make sales calls, and ROUSH collaborates with Blue Bird dealers to provide comprehensive customer training for drivers and service technicians.