School buses may be the perfect application for electric vehicles. They run short delivery routes, sit for hours in between, and deliver the most environmentally precious cargo of all. 

School districts who want to get on board don’t have to wait. Blue Bird, perhaps the best known coachbuilder with vast vats of yellow paint, now offers three electric choices, in small, medium, and large. 

Blue Bird revealed in a recent release that the company has already delivered electric school buses in California, North Dakota, and Washington, starting last fall—and it has stated in financial updates that it sees tremendous interest in electric school buses.

“The nation is increasingly influenced in electric vehicle transportation in general, and we anticipate rapid growth of electric school buses as more districts are educated on the zero-emissions and low-maintenance benefits they bring to their local communities,” said CEO Phil Horlock.

Blue Bird electric school buses

Blue Bird electric school buses

Buses, including city buses, are one of the fastest-growing electric vehicle segments worldwide. 

Horlock says the company has 100 orders for electric school buses in North America, including new districts in places such as Colorado, New Jersey, New York, and Quebec. And electric buses aren't new for the company; it's been developing them since 1994. 

  • The smallest choice, or short-bus, for smaller numbers of kids who need less popular routes or schedules, is the MicroBird G5 Electric, based on a heavy-duty Ford E-450 van chassis. It seats up to 30 kids, has a range of up to 100 miles. 

  • The standard school bus, is the Vision Electric, on an International chassis that seats up to 77 students and can go 120 miles between charges. 

  • The largest, based on a rear-engined Blue Bird chassis that would normally house a big, smoky diesel engine, is the All American RE Electric, which can carry up to 84 passengers but still has the same 120-mile range as the Vision Electric. 

All three can be charged in 7 to 8 hours on a Level 2 charger. 

For the buses’ 400-volt power systems, Blue Bird is turning to Cummins, an American engine maker usually known for its large turbodiesel truck engines. Neither company released specs on their powertrains, but a new electric demonstration truck from Cummins uses a 140 kilowatt-hour battery pack to move 75,000 pounds 100 miles. The All American RE Electric weighs about half that. Cummins says its electric drive system can replace a 12-liter turbodiesel engine.

Range and SOC on Blue Bird electric school bus

Range and SOC on Blue Bird electric school bus

All the buses have 2-speed automatic transmissions to give them sufficient torque for good acceleration off the line, as well as a workable range. They also have regenerative braking to help drivers maximize range.

Although the company recommends plugging the buses in any time they’re parked at the bus yard, that doesn’t mean they never take gasoline. To maintain range in cold weather, the standard fuel-filler fills a small tank to power a gasoline auxiliary heating system. 

Beyond that, Blue Bird introduced one other revolutionary new feature to its iconic buses: green paint on the stripes and bumpers.