Blue Bird & Lightning to offer ZEV retrofit for school buses

US bus maker Blue Bird will offer to retrofit some of its fuel-powered school buses to all-electric vehicles together with Lightning eMotors. Based in Colorado, Lightning will help BlueBird develop a “first-of-its-kind” repower EV system.

Blue Bird says this will help customers future-proof their school bus fleet by purchasing gasoline- or propane-powered vehicles and converting them easily and cost-effectively to zero-emission electric buses later.

Blue Bird targets launching the repower program in 2023 for their Vision Type C school buses built after September 2021. The manufacturer expects the Lightning electric powertrain system to allow for battery configurations from 100kWh to 225kWh, supporting a projected vehicle range of up to 150 miles /about 240 km) on a single charge.

The company promises to retrofit the buses within 30 days to the same OEM safety and quality standards as a new Blue Bird bus. Trained technicians at their service centres in North America will replace the internal combustion engine with the EV powertrain.

BlueBird also promises the retrofitted buses will retain the remainder of their original warranties. The EV powertrain will be issued a new OEM warranty.

More technical details have yet to be revealed.

Building on existing cooperation in zero-emission vehicles

The new development cooperation builds on experiences. BlueBird and Lightning eMotors debuted an EV chassis this May, designed to host various fully-electric vehicles, including last-mile delivery step vans, motorhomes, and other speciality vehicles.

Tim Reeser, CEO of Lightning eMotors, said at the time that they were “ecstatic that Blue Bird chose us to be their powertrain partner for their debut into the commercial chassis market.”

“Repowering gasoline and propane Type C school buses is a good solution for school bus fleets that may not have the charging infrastructure in place yet but still need to purchase new buses now,” Reeser added today. “Being able to purchase new buses with the understanding that Blue Bird and Lightning eMotors can repower them to zero-emissions at a later date with complete charging and telematics support is a great bridge strategy to electrification.”

Blue Bird (NASDAQ: BLBD) claims 170,000 school buses made in America on the road today.

Lightning eMotors (NYSE: ZEV) has been providing deploying sustainable fleet solutions since 2009 and zero-emission-vehicles for commercial fleets since 2018. They claim to have retrofitted over 300 commercial vehicles to electric, which racked up over two million real-world fleet miles.


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