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AmTran logo, as seen on the roof of a school bus
|Subsidiary of Navistar International (1991-2002)|
|Fate||Re-named IC Corporation in 2002|
|Predecessor||Ward Industries, Inc.|
|Headquarters||Conway, Arkansas, U.S.|
|Parent||Navistar International (1991-2002)|
American Transportation Corporation (better known as AmTran) was an American manufacturer of school bus bodies. Founded in 1980, the company traces its roots back to Ward Body Works, established in 1933. Following the 1979 bankruptcy filing of Ward Body Works, AmTran was formed; in 1991, the company was acquired by Navistar International, a move that would begin a series of alignment between school bus body manufacturers and chassis suppliers. The AmTran corporate headquarters and manufacturing facilities were located in Conway, Arkansas.
In 2000, the company was rebranded as International Truck and Bus (some vehicles continued with AmTran branding). In 2002, the name was changed again to IC Corporation, and today is known as IC Bus.
During the late 1970s, the school bus manufacturing industry was in relative turmoil. A key factor driving school bus sales from the 1950s into the late 1970s was no longer in place; by 1982, all of the baby boomers had completed their elementary and secondary education. Consequently, growth in student populations leveled off, if not declined, which affected the need for student transportation.
At the time, Ward Body Works was among "the Big Six" full-line school bus manufacturers (Blue Bird, Carpenter, Superior, Thomas, and Wayne). The declining economy of the late 1970s also cut into the profitability of all school bus manufacturers; of the Big Six, Superior and Ward were the hardest hit. Following the 1975 closure of a manufacturing facility in Pennsylvania, the company amassed over $20 million in debt.
In July 1980, Ward Industries filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy; in the filiing, the family-owned company declared $21.5 million in liabilities. To keep the doors of the company (a significant manufacturer of the region), Charles Ward sold off his ownership stake in the company. Aided by then-Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton, four investors formed a group that acquired the company, named MBH, Inc. MBH was an acronym for the first letters of the last names of each of the 4 investors: Thomas E "Mack" McLarty, J.W. "Buddy" Benafield and two Kansas City brothers, R.L. "Dick" Harmon and Robert Harmon. McLarty and Benafield each held ⅓ ownership; the Harmon brothers together held the remaining ⅓ ownership.
After the acquisition, Ward Industries was reorganized as American Transportation Corporation (often known as AmTran). As Ward Body Works held significant market share for school buses into the 1970s, AmTran chose to retain the Ward name for school buses; starting in 1981, all non-school products adopted the AmTran brand. The Ward family held no stake in AmTran; however, Steve Ward remained in vehicle distribution and marketing, having the exclusive rights to sell Ward/AmTran products in Arkansas, based in a dealership from Conway.
During the 1980s, AmTran would make several product introductions that would advance school bus design in several market segments. Although among the last large bus manufacturers to introduce a Type A school bus, AmTran was the first manufacturer to introduce a higher-capacity version, with five rows of seating instead of four seen at the time. For 1986, AmTran introduced the first large semi-forward control conventional with the introduction of the Ward/AmTran Patriot. Using a shortened version of the Chevrolet/GMC B-Series, the Patriot allowed for a shorter wheelbase and nose angle for improved forward visibility. Although not a success overally, the Patriot would go on to become a major influence on the later Thomas Vista.
In 1987, the structure of the Ward/AmTran body design was changed to add an extra rubrail right below the window line. Much of the structure is still used in the IC Bus product lines seen today.
1990s: Acquisition and merger
In 1991, Navistar International purchased one-third interest of American Transportation Corporation. The action was initiated by Jerry Williams, AmTran's CEO at the time. Navistar also obtained an option to allow them to buy the remaining two-thirds stock; that was done by April 1995. An era of mergers and acquisitions among chassis and bus body manufacturers was thus begun.
Less than a year after the Navistar purchase, the Ward brand name was phased out as part of a new marketing scheme; the last Wards were built in 1992 and the AmTran brand was phased in late in the 1992 model year. The Navistar purchase led to some changes in the product lineup. The Patriot was not continued as an AmTran, although another factor leading to its discontinuation was General Motors' departure from full-size school bus chassis production after 1991; the Patriot (as well as the first Thomas Vistas) had been built on a GM chassis. Navistar ownership also changed the look of the Volunteer conventional; once available on chassis from several manufacturers, post-1991 Volunteers were built nearly exclusively on International chassis (from 1992-1998, Ford was a rarely ordered option). The Ward Senator front-engine bus was updated and rebranded as the AmTran Genesis (with a Genesis by AmTran roof emblem). For 1996, the AmTran RE was introduced; the first rear-engined bus produced by the company in over 20 years, the AmTran RE was developed as a competitor for the Thomas Saf-T-Liner MVP and Blue Bird TC/2000.
For 1997, the Vanguard cutaway bus was discontinued along with the long-running Volunteer. AmTran chose to focus production exclusively on full-size buses, while the Volunteer was updated and replaced by the AmTran CS. Featuring an all-new drivers' compartment with updated controls, the CS was distinguished by an upright 4-piece windshield, further improving forward visibility. In a sign of things to come for the school bus industry, the CS was available solely on the International 3800 chassis, dropping the Ford B800 chassis option; as Freightliner was the parent company of AmTran chief competitor Thomas Built Buses, the newly-introduced Freightliner FS-65 chassis never became available for the CS. In 1998, the AmTran Genesis was updated with a new grille and drivers compartment; to bring it in line with the AmTran RE, it was renamed the AmTran FE.
2000-2002: Rebranding to IC Corporation
In 1999, AmTran announced plans to build a new facility in Tulsa, Oklahoma that would employ as many as 1200 people. As part of the plan, production of conventional school buses would move to Tulsa; the Conway, Arkansas facility would produce the lower-volume AmTran FE and AmTran RE.
In 2000, the company opened the Tulsa facility with the introduction of the IC, a new generation of the CS. Branded as a fully integrated conventional, the IC was branded not as an AmTran, but as an International; the company noted the integration of the production of the bus within the Navistar corporate structure. Still based on the International 3800, the International IC was distinguished with its own hood design. The drivers compartment of the AmTran RE received an update, receiving a redesign to the drivers' controls.
During 2001 production, AmTran followed suit on the AmTran FE and AmTran RE buses, replacing the AmTran roof badging with International roof badging. During 2001, Navistar legally changed the name of its bus subsidiary to "International Truck and Bus", although "American Transportation Corporation" lettering remained on the vehicles into 2002. For 2003 production, AmTran was phased out completely as International Truck and Bus replaced by Integrated Coach Corporation (IC Corporation, IC Bus since 2008).
|Ward Vanguard||1985-1992||Type A (cutaway van)||Ford Motor CompanyFord Econoline 350
General Motors Chevrolet G30/GMC Vandura
|The Ward Vanguard was the first Type A school bus produced with a 25-passenger body, the largest at the time.
Only produced with dual rear wheels.
|Ward Patriot||1985-1991||Type C (semi-forward control conventional)||General MotorsChevrolet/GMC B-Series||The Ward Patriot is a semi-forward control conventional based on a modified General Motors B6 chassis. (Similar to 1989-1990 Thomas Vista school bus).
Discontinued after the 1991 General Motors exit from large-scale conventional chassis production.
|Ward Volunteer||1973-1992||Type C (cowled-chassis conventional)||Ford Motor Company
General Motors Chevrolet B6/GMC B6000 (1980-1991)
International Harvester S1700/S1800 (1980-early 1989)
International 3700/3800 (1989-1992)
|Introduced in 1973, the Ward Volunteer body underwent several body modifications during the 1980s; much of the body structure is still used in the current IC CE-Series of today.
General Motors chassis dropped after 1991.
|Ward President||c.1975-1990||Type D (front-engine transit)||'Asia-Smith Motors (1988-1990)'General Motors
Chevrolet/GMC S-7 (1987-1989)
International FC1853 (1975–1986)
|Introduced in the mid-1970s, the Ward President is a front-engine transit-style school bus similar to the Blue Bird All American and Thomas Saf-T-Liner EF. Several front-wheel drive prototypes were produced in 1976.
From 1987 to 1990, the President shared its chassis with the Wayne Lifestar school bus.
|Ward Senator||1990-1992||Type D (front-engine transit)||Navistar InternationalInternational 3900FC||Introduced as the replacement for the Ward President, the Ward Senator is a front-engine transit school bus similar to the Blue Bird TC/2000 and Thomas Saf-T-Liner MVP EF. Several prototypes were produced on Crane Carrier Corporation chassis in 1990.
In 1992, the Senator was re-branded as the AmTran Genesis.
|AmTran Vanguard||1993-1996||Type A (cutaway van)||General MotorsChevrolet G30/GMC Vandura||Produced only with dual rear wheels
AmTran Vanguard discontinued after 1996 as the company concentrated on full-size bus production
|Type C (cowled-chassis conventional)||Ford Motor CompanyFord B700/B800 (1993-1998)
Navistar International International 3700 (1993-1994)
International 3800 (1993-2002)
|The Volunteer was replaced in 1997 by the CS, which was given a new windshield and driver's compartment. The International-badged IC replaced the CS during 2000 with another interior redesign and a separate hood design from other International 3800-chassis buses.
Following the discontinuation of the Ford B-Series in 1998, all AmTran chassis production was sourced from parent company Navistar.
|1992-2002||Type D (front-engine transit)||Navistar InternationalInternational 3900FC||An updated an re-branded version of the Ward Senator, the Genesis was the first school bus to use AmTran badging; the Genesis roof badging was replaced by AmTran lettering in 1995.
As part of a minor update, the Genesis was renamed the AmTran FE in 1998.
|AmTran RE||1996-2002||Type D (rear-engine transit)||Navistar InternationalInternational 3000||Introduced in 1996 as a rear-engine competitor to the Blue Bird TC/2000.
In 2000, an update was made to the drivers' compartment and controls.
AmTran buses were produced in the former Ward factory in Conway, Arkansas. In 1999, the company expanded production capacity as it began construction on a second plant in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Coinciding with the introduction of the IC conventional bus, the Tulsa facility would take over production of all conventional bus bodies; the Conway factory remained in production for transit-style buses. Following the discontinuation of the FE-Series transit-style bus in 2010, full-scale bus production ended in Conway in January 2010, but successor company IC Bus utilizes the factory for parts fabrication and production.
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