• Blue Bird reveals next-generation Vision electric school bus model with increased range and passenger capacity.
  • The school bus features an electric drivetrain developed along with Cummins electric unit Accelera, powered by a 196-kWh battery.
  • Sales of electric school buses are slowly gaining momentum, but diesel models are expected to persist well into the next decade.

Electric school buses are far from a common sight on the roads these days, but the morning traffic is slowly changing to one that is less diesel-propelled.

This month Bluebird unveiled the latest battery-electric school bus model at the STN Expo West in Reno, Nevada, showcasing the evolution of its zero-emission offerings.

The next-gen Vision school bus, engineered as part of a collaboration between Blue Bird and Cummins' Accelera unit, features a 196-kWh battery—a 25% gain compared to Blue Bird's current available model. This gives the new version a range of up to 130 miles, allowing it to cover just about every morning and afternoon route on a single charge, if needed. The school bus maker has also shaved 1000 pounds off the curb weight of the bus with this redesign, while also increasing passenger capacity from 72 to 77 students.

But Blue Bird has also improved the battery's charging performance, now capable of 80-kW speeds, while also improving its vehicle-to-grid charging capability—something of a technological curiosity for now rather than an everyday practice.

"With our next-generation Vision electric school bus, we continue to take clean student transportation to the next performance level and provide superior, zero-emission buses to school districts across North America," said Britton Smith, president of Blue Bird Corporation.

Just how big is Blue Bird's electric fleet at the moment?

It's comprised of about a thousand electric buses, though Blue Bird is not the only bus maker with an electric model. Blue Bird has recently inaugurated its EV Build-up Center as part of its facility in Fort Valley, Georgia, which will allow it to produce 5000 electric school buses a year, at least in the long term. For context, Blue Birds says it has about 180,000 buses in operation today, in total.

2023 blue bird vision school bus
Electric school buses are designed to rely on their own charging infrastructure at bus depots, and are also being engineered to offer vehicle-to-grid capability.
Blue Bird

Given the long product life of school buses, in the coming years we could see substantial demand for EV powertrain swaps—a procedure already being explored by some manufacturers. Range or V2G capability is a lesser concern for now, as electric school buses are always purchased along with their own charging infrastructure, allowing them to recharge overnight or in the daytime.

Among other things, this means that battery capacity does not really need to grow past what a school bus needs for each 24-hour cycle, with the focus now being on battery costs, motor efficiency, and affordability.

"Decarbonizing fleets is not easy, but collaborations like this are defining a new era of excellence in technology innovation and service support," said Brian Wilson, general manager of electrified components at Accelera.

Will we see a majority of school buses become electric in this decade, or will this process take much longer? Let us know what you think.

Headshot of Jay Ramey
Jay Ramey

Jay Ramey grew up around very strange European cars, and instead of seeking out something reliable and comfortable for his own personal use he has been drawn to the more adventurous side of the dependability spectrum. Despite being followed around by French cars for the past decade, he has somehow been able to avoid Citroën ownership, judging them too commonplace, and is currently looking at cars from the former Czechoslovakia. Jay has been with Autoweek since 2013.