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Phil Horlock, president and CEO of Blue Bird, reveals the Type D electric chassis for the All American rear engine model.

Blue Bird adds electric school buses to alt-powertrain portfolio

Blue Bird, a leading independent designer and manufacturer of school buses, is continuing to diversify its portfolio of alternative powertrains for its customers with the announcement of two new electric-powered buses. While the company built its first electric bus in 1994 as a demonstration project in Southern California, these new powertrain options will be available to customers across the country. The new buses also incorporate the latest technologies in electric motors, batteries and control systems. The electric power option comes on top of a varied assortment of fuel sources that Blue Bird offers.

“With diesel, gasoline, propane and CNG engines offered across our product range, Blue Bird already leads the way in the breadth of affordable engine offerings for our customers," said Phil Horlock, president and CEO of Blue Bird Corp. "The addition of electric-powered buses to our fleet is a further illustration of our commitment to provide the broadest array of school bus products that our customers want and value.”

The first bus is a smaller Type A Micro Bird G5 model. Built on a Ford E-450 chassis, the company touts a range of up to 100 mi (160 km) on a single charge. "The Micro Bird G5 Electric will be offered as an integrated and certified solution that expands on Blue Bird's market-leading school bus product line," said Steve Girardin, president of Micro Bird. "With 100 miles of range in almost all climates and comparable performances with a combustion engine, we are particularly proud that our Micro Bird G5 Electric will continue to further Blue Bird’s leadership in the reduction of greenhouse gases."

The second bus is a Type D All American rear engine (RE) model. The chassis was developed along with California-based ADOMANI, Inc. and leverages an electric drivetrain from Efficient Drivetrains, Inc. (EDI). Blue Bird expects an 80- to 100-mi (130- to 160-km) range from 100-150 kW·h battery packs. Vehicle-to-grid (V2G) technology is also under development for the bus to allow customers to deliver electricity back to the grid. This will help reduce maintenance expenses and total cost of ownership (TCO) for school districts and fleet operators.

Per Blue Bird vice president of product development Dennis Whitaker, 100 miles was chosen as a range metric for both buses because “a 100-mile range on a single charge will be more than adequate to cover in excess of 80% of school bus daily routes in the U.S.”

Whitaker also expanded on the challenges of developing an all-electric powertrain. “The biggest challenges are ensuring absolute safety, providing an electric vehicle that operates smoothly and quietly while providing performance in terms of acceleration and gradeability expected in a school bus application. Another significant challenge is providing HVAC capabilities on a zero emissions vehicle across all climates in North America without reducing range to unacceptable levels.”

The announcement of the new electric bus options comes after the U.S. Department of Energy awarded Blue Bird a $4.4 million USD grant. The award was the largest of a $15 million USD effort to develop advanced and alternative fuel vehicles. The grant helped assist Blue Bird with developing higher performance metrics for the market by improving powertrain efficiency while reducing battery pack size—further reducing weight and TCO.

Both vehicles will be available to customers in 2018, so students may soon be waiting to be picked up in a bus that runs silently.

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