Blue Bird Corporation will offer a first-of-its-kind factory certified electric repower program on select gasoline- and propane-powered Blue Bird school buses. The company is collaborating with Lightning eMotors, a Colorado-based manufacturer of electric powertrains and complete zero-emission vehicle solutions, to jointly develop this repower electric vehicle (EV) powertrain system. Blue Bird customers can future-proof their school bus fleet by purchasing gasoline- or propane-powered vehicles and converting them easily and cost-effectively to zero-emission, electric buses later.
The Repower Conversion Process
Blue Bird will launch the repower program in 2023 for gasoline- and propane-powered Blue Bird Vision Type C school buses built after September 2021. The electric repower system is expected to enable the same performance and safety standards customers expect from OEM-built electric vehicles. The electric powertrain system will allow for several battery configurations from 100kWh to 225kWh supporting a projected vehicle range of up to 150 miles on a single charge depending on battery configuration.
The school bus conversion process from gasoline- or propane-powered to electric will be done to the same OEM safety and quality standards as a new Blue Bird bus at authorized Blue Bird and Lightning eMotors conversion centers in the United States and Canada. Technicians will replace the internal combustion engine with an advanced EV powertrain, test the equipment, and certify the school bus. The bus will retain the remainder of its original warranties, and the EV powertrain will be issued a new OEM warranty. The full repower process could be completed within 30 days from vehicle delivery to the authorized conversion center.
“An increasing number of states, such as New York, are in the process of mandating the purchase of all zero-emission school buses starting in 2027 to reduce harmful greenhouse gases and put student and community health first,” said Britton Smith, senior vice president of electrification and chief strategy officer of Blue Bird Corporation. “Currently, gasoline- and propane-powered school buses serve as lower up-front cost vehicle choices compared to electric vehicles, and emit less greenhouse gases than a traditional diesel bus. Blue Bird’s innovative repower program allows customers to invest in new school buses to meet their current transportation needs with a built-in option to transition to zero-emission, electric student transportation when needed.”
Building on Blue Bird, Lightning eMotors Partnership
The repower program builds on the cooperation between 95-year-old school bus manufacturer Blue Bird and electric powertrain manufacturer Lightning eMotors. Lightning eMotors draws from its broad EV repowering experience based on over 300 zero-emission electric commercial vehicles in operation and over 2 million real-world fleet miles driven to-date.
Blue Bird and Lightning eMotors recently announced a unique Class 5-6 electric vehicle platform to expand Blue Bird’s zero-emission transportation solutions to the commercial and recreational vehicle markets. Blue Bird's flexible Class 5-6 chassis will enable a broad range of fully-electric vehicles, including last-mile delivery step vans, motorhomes, and other specialty vehicles. Blue Bird plans to launch production of its Class 5-6 EV chassis in late 2023.
"Repowering gasoline and propane Type C school buses is a good solution for school bus fleets that may not have the charging infrastructure in place yet but still need to purchase new buses now,” said Tim Reeser, chief executive officer of Lightning eMotors. “Being able to purchase new buses with the understanding that Blue Bird and Lightning eMotors can repower them to zero-emissions at a later date with complete charging and telematics support is a great bridge strategy to electrification."
Blue Bird has more than 170,000 school buses on the road today. The company remains a clean transportation leader with more than 20,000 propane, natural gas, and electric-powered buses in operation.