Thomas Built Buses has a new president and CEO: Caley Edgerly, who was previously the school bus manufacturer’s vice president of operations.
Edgerly succeeds Kelley Platt, who was named general manager of truck manufacturer Western Star.
Edgerly takes the helm as Thomas Built launches a new alternative-fuel option — a Saf-T-Liner C2 powered by compressed natural gas (CNG) — and as the company expands its C2 production plant in High Point, North Carolina.
Before joining Thomas Built in 2012, Edgerly held a variety of positions at engine manufacturer Detroit Diesel Corp. and at Daimler Trucks North America, which is the parent company of Thomas Built and Detroit Diesel.
In this School Bus Fleet interview, Edgerly shares details on the latest developments at Thomas Built, his top priorities in his new role, and key challenges that school bus operations are facing.
SBF: What are some of your top priorities in your new role?
CALEY EDGERLY: Internally, I am focused on our C2 plant expansion and on looking at additional ways to continuously improve our operations, streamline our processes and also ensure a happy and safe workforce. With this expansion, we will rise to the challenge by becoming more flexible in our production and scheduling to meet market demand for all of our best-in-class products.
This year and in the coming years, the core pillars we will continue to focus on are safety, durability, reliability and innovation, and many projects and advancements fall in those categories. As a company, we are focused on designing and building the kind of school bus we would want to transport our own children every day. This means a safe and reliable bus that our customers, parents and their kids can trust and rely on. We have a number of technological innovations on the way that will make Thomas Built buses even safer and more reliable.
For the thousands of school districts across the country that choose Thomas Built buses, we are committed to continuing to invest in new technology that will save them money and make their fleets more efficient. Adding features to buses that will increase durability, lower the total cost of ownership and make buses more efficient remains an ongoing commitment. I am focused on exploring new green options, and new features that will make tomorrow’s school buses even better than today’s.
You worked with Kelley Platt over the past few years in your previous position. Did that help in this new transition?
Kelley Platt enhanced Thomas Built Buses’ strong foundation in the marketplace and amongst our dealers and customers. Working with her has been instrumental in setting me up for success in my new role.
Kelley and I worked hand-in-hand on the launch of many of our new green options, including the propane-fueled Minotour, the compressed natural gas-fueled Minotour, the propane autogas-fueled Saf-T-Liner C2 and now the compressed natural gas-fueled Saf-T-Liner C2.
Together, we’ve introduced innovations to the industry that included new corrosion protection treatments, expanded plant technology and enhancements to our production process, and we launched new features, such as onboard telematics and FuelSense, that allow our customers to lower their total cost of ownership and run a more efficient fleet.
Kelley and I have celebrated many accomplishments at Thomas Built Buses, and I look forward to following in her footsteps and continuing the relationships that she built and bringing success to the company we all hold so dear.
Thomas Built announced last fall that the company will expand C2 bus production and add jobs at the High Point facility. Can you tell us more about what’s happening on that project?
Our C2 plant expansion is well underway. We currently are hosting job fairs to hire the full-time workers needed to accommodate production of our Saf-T-Liner C2, including welders, painters, assembly technicians, materials technicians, inspectors, supervisors and managers. We also are implementing new technologies in all of our operations, such as new tooling and advanced manufacturing equipment. These advancements will enhance our processes in line balancing and waste elimination. Lastly, we are investing heavily in the development and training of our employees.
With this expansion, we will increase plant production by 25% over last year and increase the overall work environment for our employees, who, after all, make Thomas Built and its buses best in class.
On the alternative-fuels front, CNG has been an option for Type D school buses for a number of years, but now Thomas Built is going to offer its first Type C powered by CNG. Have you been seeing a demand for a CNG Type C in the market?
Our dealers and customers are very excited about the new Saf-T-Liner C2 CNG. School districts that already run Saf-T-Liner HDX CNG and Minotour CNG buses in their fleets are particularly excited about the addition of the new C2 CNG.
We introduced our first compressed natural gas bus more than 20 years ago, and since then we’ve put more than 2,000 CNG buses on the road. School districts that have operated our CNG buses over the years have realized the many benefits and cost savings of CNG and are eager to extend those benefits with the addition of C2 buses. Other schools are eager to get their first glimpse of CNG buses as fueling infrastructure makes the alternative-fuel option more viable in their geography.
The C2 CNG has been on tour in several parts of the U.S., and customers who have seen them are eager to add them to their fleets.
Can you tell us more about the technology that’s going into the CNG Type C, and any advantages it will offer in terms of emissions, maintenance and fuel costs?
The new Saf-T-Liner C2 CNG will be powered by a Cummins Westport ISB6.7 G 240-horsepower engine and an Allison 2300 transmission. It will be CARB [California Air Resources Board]-certified and will exceed EPA emissions requirements.
It will save fleets money on fuel, and, because it is a clean-burning, efficient fuel, it will provide cleaner air for children to breathe and save on engine maintenance during the entire life of the bus.
In addition to the Thomas Built C2 CNG, our green vehicle lineup also includes the Minotour propane, Minotour CNG, Saf-T-Liner HDX CNG and the Saf-T-Liner C2 propane bus.
Daimler Trucks North America [the parent company of Thomas Built] announced in October that it will offer Detroit medium-duty engines beginning in 2016 — the Detroit DD5 and DD8. Will those have an impact on Thomas Built’s product line?
Detroit will introduce its new DD5 and DD8 engines in Thomas Built buses around 2018. These new medium-duty engines will provide exceptional fuel efficiency, lowest total cost of ownership, power, performance and reliability. In the near future, we will announce which buses will showcase the new engine and what efficiencies and cost-savings our customers can expect.
What are you hearing from school bus customers in terms of the challenges they’re facing?
Our customers continue to struggle with tight budgets and continued pressure from their districts and parents to provide safe, reliable transportation. There are a number of hot issues in schools at this time, including rider safety on and off the bus.
New school bus features and innovations are at the forefront of these issues as parents debate the use of seat belts, drivers ask for on-board video cameras and districts seek ridership tracking services. At Thomas Built Buses, we are deeply concerned about these issues, and we are working diligently to address them. We are creating new technologies that are saving districts money and decreasing their total cost of ownership. And we are coming up with even more options on our school buses to help ensure that the children riding the bus are safer than they’ve ever been before.
Is there anything else you’d like to discuss?
Thomas Built Buses will be celebrating its 100-year anniversary next year, which is a huge accomplishment and a challenge for us as we look forward to the opportunities that await us in the next 100 years.
Thomas Built Buses has achieved a number of innovations in the industry over the past 100 years. We’ve introduced a number of “firsts” in the industry, from outward-opening passenger bus doors to a fully multiplexed body and chassis on the Saf-T-Liner C2s to make serviceability easier for our customers, and fuel tanks mounted between frame rails — just to name a few.
The school bus industry is a competitive one, and for good reason. Competition is a constant reminder to us to stay in front and remain the market leader. Looking forward, we want to focus on innovations in what we call a “safety evolution.” We will be looking for ways to make school buses even safer, and we look forward to bringing new products and features to the market that will enhance safety standards across the industry.
We will continue to focus on building the best bus in the industry with the best value, delivered by the best people — both dealers and our own employees. In the next 100 years, we will be bringing superior engineering, operations and service for our customers and the children that ride our buses every day.
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