Blue Bird Will Manufacture Electric Medium Duty Trucks & Vans

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Most people don’t realize it, but a school bus is basically a truck chassis with a passenger compartment bolted on. So it should come as no surprise that Blue Bird, which currently manufactures electric school buses, is preparing to start producing medium duty Class 5 and Class 6 electric trucks.

At the ACT Expo in California last week, it unveiled its flexible Class 5/6 electric vehicle chassis it says will enable a broad range of battery-electric vehicles, including last mile delivery step vans, motor homes, and other specialty vehicles.

“Now we will apply our world class chassis building expertise to expand our electric powered product range to the commercial vehicle space, thereby, nearly doubling our total addressable market. Blue Bird’s unique and modular vehicle platform is an industry game changer for zero-emission mobility,” the company says in a press release.

With its modular design, the Blue Bird electric vehicle chassis allows for several battery configurations from 70kWh to 225kWh, supporting a vehicle range of up to 175 miles on a single charge. The battery packs take between one and twelve hours to fully recharge, depending on the charging infrastructure.

In addition, Blue Bird offers its Class 5-6 chassis with three wheelbase options of 178”, 190”, and 208” for vehicles with a gross vehicle weight rating of up to 26,000 pounds. The company utilizes lightweight materials and components for its innovative vehicle platform, thereby, maximizing vehicle payload without compromising on vehicle safety. Production will take place beginning in late 2023 at the company’s manufacturing facility in Fort Valley, Ga.

Blue Bird offers several safety features on its EV chassis not standard on comparable electric vehicles to enhance driver protection and familiarity. This includes “hill hold,” which prevents the vehicle from rolling backward when sitting stationary on a hill, and “electric creep,” which allows the vehicle to slowly start moving from a stop when the driver’s foot is removed from the brake pedal to simulate a gasoline engine in gear. (Why would anybody need that?) In addition, the Blue Bird custom chassis provides the best turn radius to date, maximizing vehicle maneuverability in tight urban settings.

“For nearly a century, Blue Bird has perfected its core capabilities of designing, engineering and manufacturing school buses from the ground up,” said Blue Bird CEO Matthew Stevenson. “Blue Bird’s unique and modular vehicle platform is an industry game changer for zero emission mobility.”

Blue Bird has teamed up with Lightning eMotors, a Colorado based manufacturer of electric powertrains and complete zero-emission vehicle solutions, to build the prototype of the Class 5/6 custom chassis. Lightning eMotors is building electric vans with Proterra and has nearly 250 zero emission electric commercial vehicles in operation. Combined, they have accumulated more than 1.5 million miles of zero emissions driving.

“We are ecstatic that Blue Bird chose us to be their powertrain partner for their debut into the commercial chassis market,” said Tim Reeser, CEO of Lightning eMotors. “Blue Bird’s reputation for quality and safety is well deserved, and we believe they will disrupt the market. We are also excited about the innovation they are bringing to the school bus market and look forward to deepening our partnership going forward.”

Most medium duty trucks are powered by diesel engines. Converting them to electric power will have a significant impact on transportation emissions. The prospect of battery-electric motor homes coming available in the foreseeable future should be pleasant news for those who enjoy the RV lifestyle but want to eliminate the carbon emissions associated with their travels.

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Steve Hanley

Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Florida or anywhere else The Force may lead him. He is proud to be "woke" and doesn't really give a damn why the glass broke. He believes passionately in what Socrates said 3000 years ago: "The secret to change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new."

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