The biggest news from IC Bus over the past year has been the addition of the Cummins ISB6.7 as an engine option for CE Series school buses.
The move ties in with IC Bus’ focus on offering a variety of diesel engines for its school buses, rather than expanding into alternative-fuel options as other school bus manufacturers have done in recent years.
IC Bus President John McKinney calls diesel the “backbone of the industry,” and he says that the mainstay fuel still accounts for 99% of the large school buses on the road. Still, he acknowledges that alt-fuel buses “have a stronger presence in the school bus market than they’ve ever had” and that “some of these technologies long term are very promising.”
In this interview with SBF Executive Editor Thomas McMahon, McKinney discusses these and other trends in the industry, including a shift toward more Type C school buses and fewer Type Ds; growth in the adoption of LED lighting; and an increased focus on driver ergonomics.
IC Bus President John McKinney says that most of the recent growth in school bus sales is from “pent-up demand due to extended replacement cycles.”
SBF: Our research has found that school bus sales increased the past two years, after declining for five years in a row. What does this indicate about conditions in the school bus market?
JOHN MCKINNEY: Your data and our data are the same. Conditions so far in 2014 are fairly positive as well. Demand for buses continues to be strong this year. So we’re anticipating another good year for the industry. We’re still not back to where we would have been in, say, 2007 and 2008, but we’re moving in the right direction. The reality, I think, is that most of this growth is coming from pent-up demand due to extended replacement cycles. Buses have been run longer, and now they’re at a point where some of that pent-up demand has to be satisfied.
What other developments are you seeing in the school bus industry?
One of the biggest developments over, let’s say, four or five years is the ongoing battle for state budgets for school transportation. While conditions in each state differ, today’s new reality is that pupil transportation funding is no longer a given. When funding is cut, then customers aren’t purchasing school buses as frequently. So our products have to last longer. I think our data would show that today the average school bus now has a life cycle of nearly 15 years. It’s hard to find another industry that has a life cycle that long.
So with longer life cycles, what does that mean? Districts and contractors alike are relying on manufacturers and dealers more than ever, as those older buses naturally need more support. For us, we think of that as an opportunity. Our dealer network we believe is our greatest asset, and I know that to be true. Not only do we have more than 290 IC Bus dealer locations, behind that we have over 700 International truck locations that are there to support our school buses and the school bus industry. So this whole idea of longer life cycle, the reliance on more parts and service, and support at a school district and contractor level just really fits in our business model and our go-to-market strategy.