On the way home from an evening church service, my 8-year-old son sat in the back seat playing Minecraft on his Nintendo while his sister, age 3, sang along with Frank Sinatra’s “Jingle Bells” on the radio.
“I love those J-I-N-G-L-E bells, oh, those holiday J-I-N-G-L-E –“
The deer erupted from the shadowy woods to my left – a buck, at least four points, but possibly six. Head down, antlers aimed at the side of our car. It struck just in front of the tire, cracking the quarter panel and the bumper before bouncing off and loping back into the forest along the American Tobacco Trail in Durham.
“Oh!” It’s all I managed to say. Years ago, I might’ve added an expletive, but years with my son’s reproachful “Language” comments trained me well. The car kept on rolling. Mechanically, it seemed fine. We were just a couple miles from home. “Everyone okay?”
The boy briefly looked up from his Switch: “What was that?”
“We just got attacked by a deer,” I said.
“Oh,” he said. “I’m fine.”
“Me too,” his sister replied.
Animal-savvy friends informed me later that it was mating season for deer, and bucks tend to charge anything that seems like a threat to them. Apparently, that includes maroon Kia Sorentos. Our insurance agent reported that these “attacks” were happening almost daily.
Obviously, this wrecked my plans to relax with a movie that night. Instead, I found myself arranging alternative transportation and preparing to do without the family car for a month while the body shop worked through its backlog of repairs. Regroup, adjust, evolve.
So, I have some sense of what school bus manufacturers like Blue Bird felt toward the end of 2021. During their fourth-quarter call with investors in December, company leaders reported that the year started with sluggish demand. Then schools reopened and the fleet replacement cycle kicked back into gear. It should’ve been great.
“We were encouraged by new orders of more than 9,700 buses this year as the school bus industry rebounded strongly in the second half of the year,” said CEO Matt Stevenson in a statement.
Raw materials for components ran short.
Semiconductors grew scarce.
The supply chain tangled, leaving Blue Bird with a backlog of buses that may not be resolved until late into 2022 – and then only if the supply chain challenges are sorted out. It’s like they got hit by a deer, a bull, and a buffalo.
For the year, Blue Bird finished with annual revenue of $684 million – down nearly $200 million from the previous year. Stevenson expressed optimism for 2022, though, saying that “there is clear evidence of exciting longer-term trends in demand and we are going to be ideally positioned to capture our profitable share. The unprecedented situation in the world around us has only temporarily delayed what I see as a remarkable opportunity ahead for our company and its investors.”
Part of his optimism is fueled by the bipartisan infrastructure legislation that contains $5 billion in funding for clean-energy school buses and the Build Back Better Act. But it also draws on enthusiasm for Blue Bird’s plan to expand market reach beyond the big yellow bus. Stevenson said the company will make its chassis with factory-installed electric drivetrains available on the commercial vehicle market after hearing “lots of interest in everyone from last-mile delivery to mobile homes.”
Regroup, adjust, evolve.