Blue Bird Corporation
|This article needs additional citations for verification. (January 2010)|
"Your Children's Safety Is Our Business"
|Founders||Albert L. Luce, Sr.|
|Headquarters||402 Blue Bird Blvd
P.O. Box 937
Fort Valley, GA 31030
|Key people||Phil Horlock, President and CEO|
The Blue Bird Corporation, originally known as the Blue Bird Body Company, is an American manufacturer of school and activity buses. Established in 1927, the company has also manufactured transit buses, motorhomes, and specialty vehicles such as mobile libraries and mobile police command centers. Blue Bird's corporate headquarters and main manufacturing facility are in Fort Valley, Georgia. It is a subsidiary of the Traxis Group B.V., part of Cerberus Capital Management.
The Blue Bird company logo, painted on the roof of its buses, is a silhouette profile of its namesake, a bluebird.
- 1 History
- 1.1 1927–1945: The Change to Steel
- 1.2 1945–1960: New Need for School Transportation
- 1.3 1960–1990: Expansion into new markets
- 1.4 1990–2005: Ownership changes
- 1.5 2005–present: Renewed Focus On School Buses
- 2 Products
- 3 Manufacturing and assembly
- 4 Images
- 5 See also
- 6 References
- 7 External links
1927–1945: The Change to Steel
Albert L. Luce, Sr. was the owner of the local Ford dealership in Fort Valley, Georgia in the late 1920s. Luce was given the idea to construct a bus after a stock vehicle sold to a customer was of insufficient quality; the wooden bus body started to disintegrate before the customer finished paying for the vehicle. After suggestions from the customer, he decided to try building his own bus body on a Model T frame. In an effort to improve over the original wood-framed bus that he had sold, Luce constructed the frame of his bus body with steel angles and sheetmetal, using wood sparingly. Completed in 1927, the bus was put into service transporting school children.
After the construction of seven more bus bodies, Luce sold his Ford franchise in 1932 to produce bus bodies full-time to start his own company. When deciding upon a name, Luce chose the Blue Bird name for a variety of reasons. The Blue Bird name originated from the positive reception of school children to a blue and yellow demonstrator unit from a group of school children; Luce was nervous about the use of the family name for his business out of fears of it being mispronounced (i.e., "the loose bus").
In 1937, the company began production of full-steel bus bodies, an innovation which soon replaced the wooden bodies which were then in common use around the United States. The early use of farm wagons on a part-time basis soon evolved into purpose-built school bus products, each with economy and function as major priorities.
As the second quarter of the 20th century began, Albert Luce Sr. was one of the entrepreneurs of the period who transitioned from building wagons to developing some of the earliest purpose-built school buses. In a 1939 conference, Blue Bird engineers helped to develop the color school bus yellow, which is still in use today. Blue Bird and Wayne Corporation were several of the earliest to experiment with steel body construction, although such efforts were severely limited by war production product shortages and restrictions during World War II.
1945–1960: New Need for School Transportation
Following World War II, continuing a transition from one-room schools, there was a nationwide movement in the US to consolidate schools into fewer and larger ones, facilitating graded class structures. This meant that fewer students were attending school in their immediate neighborhoods, particularly as they progressed into high school; for many, the previous practice of walking to school became impractical. This led in turn to a large increase in the demand for transportation. The company grew substantially and became a major school bus body builder in the post-World War II period.
In 1948, Blue Bird founder Albert Luce Sr. viewed a design for a flat-front bus at an auto show in Paris. Two years later Blue Bird Body Company introduced their own transit-style design which evolved into the Blue Bird All American, often pointed to as one of the pioneer transit designs to gain widespread acceptance for school buses in North America, along with Wayne Corporation, Gillig Corporation and Crown Coach Corporation (whose "Supercoach" dated to 1932). In 1952, Blue Bird became the first school bus manufacturer to produce its own chassis rather than rely on outside suppliers for the All American; today, Blue Bird builds the chassis for every full-size bus produced.
1960–1990: Expansion into new markets
Blue Bird became an international manufacturer of school buses with the opening of Blue Bird Canada in Brantford, Ontario in 1958. In 1965, the company opened its first facility in Latin America. In Guatemala, Blue Bird manufactured the bodies for the Conventional and the All American for use both as school and transit buses. Instead of importing truck chassis (or the Blue Bird All American transit-style chassis) from the United States, the bus bodies were manufactured on locally available chassis unseen in North America (Mercedes-Benz, Hino, Nissan Diesel, and Toyota).
At the time of Albert Luce, Sr.'s death in 1962, Blue Bird Body Company had become the fourth-largest school bus manufacturer in the industry. By 1980, Blue Bird was one of the "Big Six" school bus body manufacturers in the United States, competing with Carpenter Body Works, Superior Coach Company, Thomas Built Buses, Inc., Ward Body Works, and Wayne Corporation. By this time, almost the entire Baby Boom generation had completed their high-school education; along with the move to from cities to suburbs, the higher student populations of the previous two decades had been a key factor behind school bus sales. The recession of the early 1980s cut deeply into profits, leading to the re-organization or closure of several manufacturers. Blue Bird fared better than most manufacturers, becoming the largest manufacturer in terms of sales; by the mid-1980s, one out of every three new school buses was a Blue Bird.
Wanderlodge and Transit Buses
In the 1960s, Blue Bird Body Company also started making luxury motor coaches based on the All American. Branded "Wanderlodge", the first of this popular product line was built in 1963. The design of the Wanderlodge  closely followed that of the All American for over 25 years.
Blue Bird entered the commercial public transit bus market in the 1970s. The shorter wheelbase transit-style models proved popular with smaller cities and those with cul-de-sac route ends, providing better maneuverability, and more efficient costs than larger models. The Q-Bus commercial bus for transit and charter applications was introduced in 1992.
Small School Buses
Although Blue Bird did not come up with the idea of the small school bus, the company gained significant market share with two of its designs. In 1975, Blue Bird introduced the Micro Bird, a dual rear-wheel cutaway van similar to the Wayne Busette. The Micro Bird set itself apart from other small school buses of the time by featuring a full-height school bus door and additional windows forward of the door to aid loading-zone visibility.
A limitation of the Micro Bird was that its van chassis restricted the overall width of the bus body. For a school bus that was still short in length but was still as wide as the Conventional/All American, a different solution was needed. In 1977, the Mini Bird was introduced.
1990–2005: Ownership changes
From its 1932 foundation until 1984, Blue Bird was run entirely by the Luce family, either by Albert Sr or by his three sons. In 1986, the board of directors hired Paul Glaske, president of Marathon LeTourneau, a Texas-based heavy equipment manufacturer. During this time, the Luce family still maintained ownership of the company. In 1992, Merrill Lynch Capital Partners purchased an 82% stake of the company in a management-led buyout with the other 18% spread between Paul Glaske and 14 other Blue Bird managers. After the buyout, the company name changed from Blue Bird Body Company to Blue Bird Corporation.
During the 1990s and early 2000s, declining demand for school buses and changes in world markets would lead to a number of changes at the company, leading to several ownership changes. In 1999, the British Henlys Group PLC purchased Blue Bird with a substantial financial stake held by Volvo Group. While not directly related to its investment in Blue Bird, Henlys underwent financial difficulties and was forced to sell the company in 2004. According to a company news release from the fall of 2004, Blue Bird became the "sole operating subsidiary" of a newly created holding company, Peach County Holdings, Inc. As part of the deal, a banking syndicate made up of Henlys creditors owned 42.5 percent of the Peach stock, according to Blue Bird. The Volvo Group (the world's largest bus manufacturer) owned another 42.5 percent, with the balance owned by Henlys' "pension scheme" and Blue Bird company management. After a bankruptcy filing in 2006, Blue Bird was acquired by Cerberus Capital Management. Paired with North American Bus Industries (NABI) and Optima Bus Corporation, Blue Bird gave Cerberus entries in both the school bus and transit bus manufacturing sector. While NABI/Optima were sold to New Flyer in 2013, Cerberus is the still current owner of Blue Bird.
The ownership changes during the late 1990s and early 2000s would lead to a number of changes in Blue Bird production facilities. In 1992, the factory in Buena Vista, Virginia (Blue Bird East) was shut down. In 1995, the company opened its first factory in Mexico (Blue Bird de Mexico) in Monterrey, Nuevo León. Blue Bird de Mexico was closed in 2001 and Blue Bird Midwest in Mount Pleasant, Iowa was closed in 2002.
The 1990s and 2000s would see the Blue Bird product line in flux as the company sought to update and modernize its offerings. During the 1989 model year, the company introduced the first substantial redesign to the All American since 1957. In 1991, the Wanderlodge motorhome ended the use of the Blue Bird school bus body.
For the 1988 model year, Blue Bird supplemented the All American school bus line with the TC/2000 transit-style school bus. Unlike the premium All American, the TC/2000 was priced lower (nearly in line with the Conventional) in an effort to secure bids from larger fleet operators. Coinciding with the introduction of the TC/2000 was most extensive redesign of the All American for the first time since the late 1950s; it was introduced for 1989. In 1999, the All American was given a further redesign.
In 2003, the company introduced an all-new conventional-style bus. In a major break from precedent, Blue Bird did not use a truck manufacturer for the chassis, instead developing its own from the ground up. While using the same bus body as the preceding model, engineering changes were made to optimize forward visibility.
In 1992, in an effort to supplement its product line, Blue Bird entered into a supply agreement with its Canadian distributor and bus manufacturer Girardin Minibus to supply dealers in the United States with the newly designed MB-II/MB-IV cutaway van (branded as Blue Birds). While similar to the Micro Bird, the Blue Bird MB-II/IV by Girardin allowed Blue Bird to offer an updated body design along with a configuration based on a single rear-wheel van chassis; at the time, Girardin was the only school bus manufacturer that built a full cutaway body for a single rear-wheel chassis. In 1997, Blue Bird introduced an all-new configuration of small school bus with the introduction of the TC/1000. While a front-engine Type D bus like the TC/2000 and All American, a number of design changes were made; smaller wheels gave the TC/1000 a flat floor. After 1999, the MB-II/IV buses were again sold under the Girardin name. Due to slow sales, the TC/1000 was discontinued in 2001. For 2002, Blue Bird introduced its own single-rear-wheel version of the Micro Bird. In 2005, the Mini Bird was discontinued; aside from the switch from round headlights to square headlights in the mid-1990s, it saw virtually no changes over its 28-year production run.
During the 1970s, the company had adapted the All American for mass-transit use. Dubbed the Blue Bird City Bird, it had seen only limited success. In a new effort, Blue Bird chose to design a mass-transit bus from the ground up. Introduced in 1992, the Blue Bird Q-Bus was the company's first rear-engine bus not based upon a school bus.
For the commercial market, Blue Bird began to offer variants of the All American and TC/2000 as well. In 2002, the company replaced the Q-Bus with the 102-inch wide Xcel102. A year later, the UltraLF and UltraLMB mass-transit buses were introduced. The first low-floor buses designed by Blue Bird, the rights to the product lines were sold to NABI in 2007.
In 1997, Blue Bird entered the motorcoach market with the LTC-40 (Luxury Touring Coach); it was produced until 2003.
The 1990s were also a period that the company explored the use of alternative power sources for school buses. In 1991, Blue Bird introduced the first school bus (an All American Rear Engine) powered by compressed natural gas (CNG). In 1994, Blue Bird developed a battery-powered school bus in an effort with Westinghouse Electronic Systems for a school district in California. While the electric school bus remained a prototype, Blue Bird has continued to offer CNG as an option on the All American since its 1991 introduction.
2005–present: Renewed Focus On School Buses
After the acquisition by its current owner Cerberus Capital Management, Blue Bird began its move towards sustainability and profitability by focusing its production solely on school buses. Commercial bus production, including the UltraLF and UtraLMB, were consolidated at the NABI facilities in Anniston, Alabama. Blue Bird’s last remaining international plant in Brantford, Ontario (Blue Bird Canada) was closed August 10, 2007. At the end of 2007, Blue Bird ended all motorcoach production as the rights to the Wanderlodge were sold to Complete Coach Works, ending its 44-year participation in the recreational vehicle market. 
In October 2009, Blue Bird further streamlined its bus production as it entered into a second joint venture with Canadian school bus manufacturer Girardin Minibus. Dubbed Micro Bird, Inc., all small bus production was consolidated at the Girardin facilities in Quebec, Canada; consequently, all Blue Bird production is now limited to full-size conventional and transit buses. The 2010 Micro Bird was the last Blue Bird bus to use a non-Blue Bird chassis. In August 2010, the company reduced output down to a single facility as it closed its factory in LaFayette, Georgia; today, all large-bus production now comes from Fort Valley, Georgia.
In commemoration of the 80th anniversary of the construction the first Blue Bird bus and the centennial of the Model T Ford, the Luce family donated the restored vehicle to The Henry Ford Museum in 2008.
In 2008, both the Vision and the All American saw major updates. The Vision was given a new cowl with larger headlights and grille and an all-new dashboard. The All American was given more extensive updates; some of the updates marked the first major changes to the Blue Bird school bus body in nearly 50 years; the 1999 version was produced alongside of it. In 2009, alternative-fuel options grew as the company introduced a propane-fuel version of the Vision. In 2013, a 2014 All American was introduced, replacing the versions launched in 2008 and in 1999. Distinguished by a redesigned (rounder) roof, the new All American has increased parts commonality with the Vision. Alongside the All American, the Vision saw its own update, introduced for the 2015 model year; propane-fueled Visions now have an extended-range 98-gallon fuel tank. In late 2013, Blue Bird announced the option of Blue Bird Connect™, integrated GPS-based fleet management software developed by Synovia Solutions. While Blue Bird Connect™ was designed as an integrated system, it was also intended for retrofit to existing fleets of school buses as well.
|Current Product Line|
|Model Name||Micro Bird by Girardin||Vision||All American (T3)|
|Assembly||Drummondville, Quebec, Canada||Fort Valley, Georgia|
MB-II:single rear wheel
G5:dual rear wheel
(front engine, rear engine)
|Chassis Manufacturer||Ford Motor Company
Gasoline, Diesel, Propane
Diesel, Compressed Natural Gas (CNG)
|Former Product Lines|
|Model Name||Years Produced||Assembly||Configuration||Chassis Supplier||Notes|
(single or dual rear wheel)
|Ford Motor Company
Ford Econoline/E-Series General Motors
Chevrolet Express (1997–present)
Chevrolet G-30/GMC Vandura (1975–1996)
Chevrolet P-30 (1995–1996)
|MB-II/MB-IV||1992–1999||Drummondville, Quebec, Canada||Type A
||Ford Motor Company
Ford Econoline/E-Series (1992–1999)
Chevrolet Express/GMC Savana (1997–1999)
Chevrolet G-30/GMC Vandura (1992–1996)
||Type B||General Motors
CV200 & SBCV
||Type C||Chrysler Corporation
Dodge D-300 (to 1977)
Freightliner FS-65 (1997–2002)
Ford Motor Company
Chevrolet/GMC B-Series (1966–2003)
International 3800 (1989–2004)
(front engine,rear engine)
|Blue Bird Corporation||
||Blue Bird Corporation||
|Other Product Lines|
|City Bird||1976-1986||High-floor, rear engine||Short-wheelbase adaptation of All American for the mass-transit market|
||1990s-2002||High-floor, front and rear engine||Various versions of the All American, TC/2000, and TC/1000 for transit, commercial, and shuttle use.|
|Q-Bus||1992-2001||High-floor, rear engine||Mass-transit bus introduced in 1992 as the replacement for the City Bird.
First Blue bird transit bus not based upon the All American or TC/2000.
|Xcel102||2002-2007||High-floor, rear engine||Replaced Q-Bus
First 102-inch wide Blue Bird transit bus.
|2003-2010||Low-floor, rear engine||First low-floor bus designed by Blue Bird.
Built by NABI in Anniston, Alabama from 2007-2010.
|LTC-40||1997-2003||Rear-engine motorcoach||LTC=Luxury Touring Coach
The LTC-40 was the first motorcoach designed by Blue Bird.
From 1998 onwards, the LTC formed the basis for the Wanderlodge motorhome.
|Wanderlodge||1963-2009||Recreational vehicle, front or rear-engine||The Wanderlodge was a hand-crafted recreational vehicle available in several configurations
Based on the All American school bus from 1963-1989
Rights to product line sold to Complete Coach Works in 2007; production ceased in 2009.
- Envirobus 2000 -a school bus prototype built in 1996 that served as a testbed for both safety-related technology as well as the viability of compressed natural gas school buses. Not intended as a production vehicle.
- 2002 Blue Bird/Ford - several prototypes of Type C school bus bodies built on Ford F-750 chassis. Ford ultimately never entered into a supply agreement with Blue Bird (to replace the agreement with General Motors that was to soon to expire); these were the last Ford-chassis Type C school buses ever built. Several features later incorporated into the Vision introduced in 2003.
- EC-72 -a limited-production series of Type C school bus prototypes intended to test out new production designs; these were manufactured in 2006. Chassis design based on 2008-2014 Blue Bird Vision. Approximately 50 were produced in total.
|Blue Bird Corporation Timeline, 1970–present|
|Company Ownership||A.L. Luce family||Merrill Lynch Capital||Henlys plc||Peach
|Single rear-wheel||MB-II by Girardin||Micro Bird SRW||Micro Bird MB-II|
|Dual rear-wheel||MB-IV by Girardin||Micro Bird G5|
|Micro Bird (DRW)|
|Type B||Mini Bird|
|Type D||All American Forward Engine (1957)||All American Forward Engine (1989)||All American (A3FE)||All Amer. (T3)|
|All American Rear Engine (1989)||All American (A3RE)||All American (D3RE/D3FE)|
Manufacturing and assembly
Traditionally, school buses such as those produced by Blue Bird consist of components purchased from various outside suppliers and parts which are manufactured in-house to the company's specifications. These two categories of parts are then typically assembled into bodies which can be mounted onto chassis which have often been variations of those used in a myriad of truck applications.
Production-wise, the large "home" plant complex in Fort Valley, Georgia served as both a part manufacturing plant for the entire organization as well as one of the six locations where bodies were assembled from in house and purchased components. Parts and service were also located in Fort Valley, as was Wanderlodge Wayside Park, a tree-shaded motor home park for visiting Wanderlodges adjacent to the Wanderlodge plant.
Blue Bird Corporation currently operates a single manufacturing facility in the United States: the Blue Bird Body Company in Fort Valley, Georgia. A second facility (Blue Bird North Georgia) in LaFayette, Georgia was closed August 30, 2010.
In the past, Blue Bird has had an international manufacturing presence, with two factories in Canada, one in Mexico, and one in South America. These have now all been closed due to changing market conditions and Blue Bird's shift back to a lineup of school bus-based vehicles.
|Blue Bird Corporation Manufacturing Facilities|
|Name||Location||Product Lines||Year Opened||Year Closed||Notes|
|Blue Bird Body Company||Fort Valley, Georgia||See Notes||
|Blue Bird North Georgia||LaFayette, Georgia||
||1988||2010||Closed August 30, 2010.|
|Blue Bird Midwest||Mount Pleasant, Iowa||
|Blue Bird East||Buena Vista, Virginia||
|Blue Bird Wanderlodge||Fort Valley, Georgia||
||1963||2007||Originally opened as Cardinal Manufacturing|
|Blue Bird Canada||Brantford, Ontario, Canada||
||1958||2007||Blue Bird also operated a facility in St. Lin, Quebec from 1975 to 1982|
|Micro Bird, Inc.||Drummondville, Quebec, Canada||Micro Bird (MB-II, G5)||1981||Girardin Minibus production facility|
|Blue Bird de Mexico||Monterrey, Nuevo León, Mexico||
|Blue Bird Central America||Guatemala City, Guatemala||See Notes||1965||1980s||Produced All American and Conventional bodies on locally available chassis.|
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Blue Bird buses.|
- "Blue Bird Corporation". Retrieved 2010-10-18.
- Traxis Group
- http://www.blue-bird.com Blue Bird Corporation
- McKeegan, Noel (March 9, 2008). "First steel-bodied school bus donated to Henry Ford museum". gizmag.com. Retrieved 30 November 2013.
- "History of Blue Bird Corporation – FundingUniverse". Fundinguniverse.com. Retrieved 2012-10-29.
- "Blue Bird Corporation/About Us/History". Retrieved 2010-01-11.
- Blue Bird Corporation To Relocate Micro Bird Production; Blue Bird Press Release, May 8, 2007
- http://www.secinfo.com/dRqWm.82F7.htm#d4p Blue Bird Body Co. 1996 10-K405 Annual Report -- [X] Reg. S-K Item 405
- "Volvo Group; Volvo Logistics North America". Volvo.com. Retrieved 2009-08-10.
- "Blue Bird Corporation/About Us/History". Retrieved 2010-01-09.
- Osborne, Alistair (2001-09-07). "Telegraph.co.uk; Henlys takes a skid after US bus sales fall". Telegraph.co.uk. Retrieved 2009-08-10.
- http://www.blue-bird.com/2007-07-16_01.php Blue Bird Corporation To Sell Coachworks Coach And RV Product Lines To Complete Coach Works; Blue Bird Press Release, July 16, 2007
- CCW Acquires Blue Bird Coachworks and Wanderlodge[dead link]
- "Press Releases/BLUE BIRD AND GIRARDIN ANNOUNCE JOINT VENTURE(2009-10-19)" (Press release). Retrieved 2010-01-17.
- "School Bus Fleet News, Blue Bird No. 1 donated to historical institution, March 10, 2008". Schoolbusfleet.com. 2008-03-10. Retrieved 2009-08-10.
- http://blue-bird.com/uploadedFiles/Downloads/SB-BBCONNECT-1013_LR.pdf. Retrieved 1 February 2014. Missing or empty
- "Autobus Girardin - Minibus (Specialized bus) Used minibus | Autobus Girardin (School bus) Girardin Minibus". Girardinbluebird.com. 2009-05-23. Retrieved 2009-08-10.
- "Girardin; A Brief History". Autobusgirardin.com. Retrieved 2009-08-10.
- "Blue Bird Envirobus 2000 School Bus". Blue Bird Corporation via http://web.archive.org. Archived from the original on 1998-05-19. Retrieved 2010-07-10. Archived version of Blue Bird's website on this vehicle, with link to specifications.
- "School Bus Central- 2002 Blue Bird/Ford". Retrieved 2010-07-10. Webpage with archived version of product literature
- LaFayette Blue Bird bus plant being shut down; Chattanooga Times-Free Press; June 24, 2010
- "Press Releases". Blue Bird Corporation. Retrieved 25 June 2010.
- Blue-Bird.com Blue Bird Corporation official website
- Blue Bird Corporation official Facebook Page
- Blue Bird Corporation official Twitter Page
- STN Online: Archives of 100 years of School Bus History
- School Bus Fleet magazine official website
- Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS) for school buses
- U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics
- Technical support forum for the Blue Bird Wanderlodge