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Blue Bird CEO Horlock Advises Industry to Prioritize Cleaner School Buses

Phil Horlock, the president and CEO of Blue Bird Corporation, discussed the company’s commitment to green technologies and why school districts should make the transition.

He explained during his keynote at the Green Bus Summit on Wednesday, that a decade ago 99 percent of Blue Bird buses were diesel-powered. Today, that number is less than 50 percent. Horlock claimed that Blue Bird sells five times more alternative power buses than its competitors and is the undisputed leader in alternative power solutions.

He said Blue Bird, which has been manufacturing school buses for the past 94 years, has an obligation to ensure the cleanest air possible and as efficiently as possible. He challenged the entire industry to share that goal.

Horlock explained that due to the novel coronavirus pandemic, a majority of society started wearing masks to mitigate the spread of harmful bacteria. He said it’s the same principle with green school buses, as no one wants children breathing harmful bacteria from the emissions.

“Simple as that,” he said, advising those in the industry to take lessons they’ve learned from COVID-19 and apply them to the industry as a whole. “I do believe we all have an obligation to make the air as clean as possible for our children.”

He added that this week’s virtual Green Bus Summit is all about building awareness, taking action and being responsible for making school buses as clean as possible. This, he explained, is only accomplished with two solutions: propane and electric-powered school buses.

Horlock said when it comes to propane school buses, Blue Bird offers two options, one of which is 75 percent cleaner than the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency standards for oxides of nitrogen (NOx). The other option is 90 percent cleaner. Because the propane buses are low-NOx certified, he said they qualify for additional grants.

He added that propane buses are inexpensive to operate and will save school districts at least $3,000 a year in fuel and maintenance costs when compared to diesel. Horlock added propane is the only, green-powered option that requires no grants to make it financially viable.

For example, he said the average price of propane is about $1 a gallon, and maintenance costs are down 50 percent as less money is spent on oil and filters. He added that there are no turbos, no diesel exhaust fluid tanks to fill, and no regeneration is required. He added propane buses can start up at negative 40 degrees and quickly heat the inside cabin.

To put that in perspective, Horlock said a school district that runs a propane bus for 15 years will save $45,000 over that time span, which is half of the upfront cost of the vehicle. Increase that number from one propane bus to a fleet of 100 buses, and school districts could save $4.5 million in operating costs during that same 15-year life span.

“You can have it all,” Horlock said, sharing that school districts can benefit from ultra-low emissions of a green-powered school bus and still experience low operating costs.


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Related: South Carolina Invests in 235 New Propane School Buses
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As for electric vehicles, Horlock said interest in this area is gaining momentum every day. Blue Bird is on track to deliver its 400th electric bus this summer. The company has been in the electric vehicle space for the past three years.

Horlock said electric vehicles give districts something no other vehicle can, which is zero emissions. He said that while the electric bus segment is experiencing low adoption rates today, Blue Bird anticipates it will grow by at least 10 to 20 percent over the next decade, especially as state and federal grants become more available.

While the battery makes up a significant chunk of the overall price of an electric vehicle, Horlock said battery cost will come down as more electric vehicles are produced. He added that electric vehicles have no engine to service and no fuel to purchase, which in return makes for much lower operating costs compared to diesel buses. In addition, Horlock added that every electric Blue Bird bus purchased is equipped with vehicle-to-grid technology.

In closing, Horlock encouraged all attendees at the Green Bus Summit to research electric vehicles.

“Get engaged, get information and learn about what you can do to accelerate change in your school district or business,” he advised, adding that all industry professionals have an obligation to ensure the cleanest air possible for children.

Editor’s Note: The original version of the article incorrectly stated the number of years Blue Bird has been operating. 

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