School Bus Sales Show Growing Demand for Type As, Electric

James Blue
Posted on January 7, 2020
Sales of electric school buses are gaining momentum. Ken Hedgecock, formerly of Thomas Built Buses, told SBF that electric vehicle technology is robust and advancing at a rapid pace. Photo courtesy Thomas Built Buses
Sales of electric school buses are gaining momentum. Ken Hedgecock, formerly of Thomas Built Buses, told SBF that electric vehicle technology is robust and advancing at a rapid pace. Photo courtesy Thomas Built Buses

As School Bus Fleet has reported for a good handful of years now, school bus sales remain robust, topping 45,000 units across North America. The total number of school buses sold includes a small uptick of slightly more than 2% over 2018.

2019’s numbers include a notable rise in Type A (small) bus sales, continuing an upward trend from last year. Type A sales across North America saw a nearly 17% increase over 2018, with a large portion of that attributed to a one-third spike in sales in the Canadian market. We saw a more modest boost of 4.1% in Type A sales last year, when more models, including the Micro Bird G5 and the Collins Low-Floor Bus, became available alongside options from Starcraft, Titan, and Trans Tech.

Talking of a growing demand for Type As: Thomas Built Buses and Trans Tech have a new one on offer; the Minotrek, a new narrow-body Type A school and activity bus, was introduced in July of this year.

Although that Type A bump was accompanied by a significant dip in Type D (or transit-style) bus sales, Type C (aka conventional) sales held steady in the U.S. — 28,787 units were sold this year, up by nearly 3% from last year. You can view the numbers comprising that figure as well as others from 2019 and previous years in our 2020 Fact Book sales report.

For the first time, we are seeing momentum in electric school bus sales, in part due to the Volkswagen (VW) settlement funding, and we expect that growth to continue.

Here are some more details of note:

• School bus sales have broken the 40,000-unit mark for the last five years.
• Type C school buses still make up the largest share of sales. In 2019, over two-thirds (70%) of the school buses sold in the U.S. and Canada were Type Cs.
• Type A school buses made up just more than one-fifth (22%) of total sales in 2019.
• The U.S. and Canadian markets both saw considerable dips — just about 18% and 37% respectively — in Type D sales compared to 2018.
• Eight percent of sales were Type D school buses.

We also collected data on sales of multi-function school activity buses (MFSABs) in 2019. These are not included in our school bus sales report, but they are listed below:

• MFSAB sales in the U.S.: 2,204
• MFSAB sales in Canada: 77
• 2019 MFSAB total: 2,281

James Blue is the general manager and publisher of School Bus Fleet.
James Blue is the general manager and publisher of School Bus Fleet.

Additionally, for the first time, we are seeing momentum in electric school bus sales, in part due to the Volkswagen (VW) settlement funding, and we expect that growth to continue. This year, electric buses comprised just less than 1% of school buses purchased but outpaced compressed natural gas (CNG) sales. Moreover, our 2019 School District Survey found that all-electric, which accounted for 3% of new school bus sales among school district survey respondents, edged out CNG by 1%.

This falls in line with an observation made by Ken Hedgecock, the former vice president of sales, marketing, and service for Thomas Built Buses, to SBF in a story in our November 2019 issue.

“EV [electric vehicle] technology is robust today and is advancing at a rapid pace,” he said. “We believe that electric school buses are now the future of the pupil transportation industry.”

Hedgecock added that electric vehicles are optimal for pupil transportation; this is mainly due to the opportunity to recharge buses between routes.

Turning to 2020, the forecast looks bright, with a couple manufacturers expecting to see Type C school bus sales on track with the last few years, and a boost in Type D sales.

And we wish you, our faithful readers, a happy and successful 2020 as well.

Related Topics: alternative fuels, electric bus, multifunction school activity bus (MFSAB), Type A/small buses, Volkswagen (VW)

James Blue General Manager
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