In October, Blue Bird Corp. and Girardin Minibus announced a joint venture that merges the manufacturers' Type A bus products and distribution into one entity.
The new entity, located in Drummondville, Quebec, has been dubbed Micro Bird Inc. It is designing and fabricating the Type A school, activity and commercial buses, which are being branded Blue Bird Micro Bird by Girardin.
The buses are distributed and supported by the authorized Blue Bird dealer network.
SBF Executive Editor Thomas McMahon discussed the joint venture with Greg Bennett, president and CEO of Blue Bird Corp., and Steve Girardin, president of Micro Bird Inc.
SBF: Tell us how this joint venture came about.
GREG BENNETT: Blue Bird and Girardin have already enjoyed a long and successful relationship. In the '90s, Blue Bird and Girardin, through a marketing and joint manufacturing agreement, enjoyed a dominating share of the market. Blue Bird was recently at a decision point of investing further in the Type A product development or pursuing a partnership with another high-quality Type A manufacturer. The Micro Bird joint venture with Girardin was the unquestionable right choice.
From the companies' perspectives, what advantages does this partnership provide?
BENNETT: Blue Bird's Fort Valley and LaFayette, Ga., facilities will continue to focus efforts on designing and manufacturing the best Type C and D products on the market. The joint venture will also allow Blue Bird to free up production capacity for Type C and D products. The Blue Bird dealer network will now have a complete Blue Bird Type A school, MFSAB and commercial production line.
STEVE GIRARDIN: Both Blue Bird and Micro Bird Inc. will benefit from the consolidated sales and manufacturing expertise, ensuring that our customers continue to receive the highest quality, durability and dependability both Blue Bird and Girardin have always been known for manufacturing.
Are there any changes that existing Girardin or Blue Bird Type A customers should expect?
GIRARDIN: Customers can expect the continuation of high-quality products that our customers have come to expect. The Girardin Minibus brand will be phased out during the year in favor of the "Blue Bird Micro Bird by Girardin" brand. The new Micro Bird offering will be sold through Blue Bird's dealer network. Customers will now have a complete Blue Bird Type A school, MFSAB and commercial production line.
Are the Blue Bird Micro Bird by Girardin Type As being manufactured only in Drummondville or in Georgia as well?
BENNETT: Blue Bird Micro Bird by Girardin product will be manufactured in Drummondville. Blue Bird Type C Vision and Type D All American large bus chassis and bodies will continue to be produced in Blue Bird's Georgia facilities.
Our research found that overall school bus sales were down in the 2009 sales year, but Type A/B sales were up both in the U.S. and Canada. What's your outlook for the market in 2010?
GIRARDIN: Type A/B buses have enjoyed growth in 2009 and are hopeful to see continued growth in 2010. The Micro Bird joint venture product line is well positioned to capitalize on this growth.
Are you seeing any shifts in how school districts and school bus contractors are utilizing Type As?
GIRARDIN: The Type A school bus continues to offer benefits in fuel economy and agility. Its ability to maneuver quietly in tight residential neighborhoods continues to make it ideal for school, child care, Head Start and special-needs applications.
Beginning in October 2011, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) will require that new small school buses under 10,000 pounds in the U.S. have lap-shoulder belts instead of just lap belts. What effects do you expect this to have on safety?
BENNETT: The jury is still out with regard to the need for safety belts on large buses, but NHTSA has spoken with regard to small buses and there is no denying that lap-shoulder belts add safety in a small bus, especially in a rollover.
For the Blue Bird Micro Bird by Girardin line, have there been any changes in design or in the manufacturing process to enhance safety, efficiency, etc.?
GIRARDIN: The Micro Bird Type A product line is the result of more than 125 years of combined experience from Blue Bird and Girardin. Over the years, both companies have maintained leadership roles in defining and implementing safety, quality and affordability. Many of our industry’s innovations, such as the steel body construction, side-impact barriers, rubber-mounting pucks, the more-view window, the oval body, standard LED light packaging, standard electric entrance door and many more, are tangible contributions to enhance the safety of the school bus that have marked the histories of Blue Bird and Girardin.
At Micro Bird, the last few years have brought our attention on visibility. We saw a need to improve visibility from the driver’s seat and approaching vehicles. For this reason, the Micro Bird products come standard with a more-view window that offers the best visibility in the industry, a dependable electric entrance door and LED lights.
Innovations in safety, quality and affordability will always ensure Blue Bird and Girardin remain at the forefront, delivering true value to our customers.
Are there any alternative-fuel models in the works that you can tell us about?
BENNETT: As you know, Blue Bird brings to the market our CNG-powered Type D All American, and we offer the only propane-powered large Type C school and activity bus in the industry, as our current alternative-fuel offering. We continue to look for new and innovative ways to bring further green alternative-fuel technology to the market.
Is there anything else that either of you would like to mention?
BENNETT: Blue Bird and Girardin have been in the industry for many successful years. The plan is to continue to build on these past successes and push the envelopes of innovations. To achieve this, we are counting on the help and trust of our employees, dealers and customers.