Alternative Fuels

School buses: slowly growing green

Frank Di Giacomo
Posted on June 14, 2013

In the past few years, numerous new alternative-fuel school buses have come on the market, and we’ve devoted numerous pages of the magazine to covering them.

Anecdotally, there seems to be growing interest among school bus operations in adopting these alternative-fuel offerings into their fleets. But the question remains: How much have these green buses penetrated the overall school bus market?

We targeted that question in our latest school bus sales research, although we haven’t published the results until now.

As we reported in our 2013 Fact Book on pg. 34, there were 32,034 school buses of all types sold in North America in the 2012 sales year. Now, here are our as-yet-unreleased green bus findings:

• In the 2012 sales year, there were 807 alternative-fuel school buses sold. That’s 2.5% of the total school bus sales.

• Those alternative-fuel school buses sold include propane, compressed natural gas (CNG) and hybrid-electric units.

• There were 493 propane school buses sold in 2012. That’s 61.1% of the alternative-fuel school buses and 1.5% of the total school bus sales.

• 202 CNG school buses were sold, accounting for 25% of the alternative-fuel buses and 0.6% of the total.

• There were 112 hybrid-electric school buses sold. That’s 13.9% of the alternative-fuel school buses and 0.3% of the total school bus sales.

As you can see, at this point in time, alternative-fuel units are still a small proportion of the overall school bus market.

Because 2012 was the first time we’ve collected statistics on alternative-fuel sales, we don’t have previous years’ data to compare them with. But starting with our 2013 sales research, we’ll be able to measure any growth in the green bus segment.

I will say that, based on what I’m hearing and seeing in the industry, I believe that the alternative-fuel school bus market is increasing and will continue to increase.

As an example, Blue Bird President and CEO Phil Horlock told us that the company’s incoming orders for propane buses are “double what they were a year ago.”

Dan Peters, the new president of Collins Bus Corp., said that alternative fuels are “waking everybody up in the business right now.”

And more alternatives are on the way. For instance, Thomas Built Buses announced in October that it will develop a CNG-fueled Type C school bus.

Here’s an interesting statistic that was pointed out in a recent article by Todd Mouw of ROUSH CleanTech: Of the more than 17 million propane-powered vehicles in the world, only around 270,000 (about 1.6%) are operated in the U.S.

As Todd noted, we’re far behind many other countries in alternative-fuel use. Let’s hope we can start catching up.

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