Thomas Built Buses
|This article needs additional citations for verification. (February 2010)|
|Predecessor||Perley A. Thomas Car Works, Inc.|
|Headquarters||High Point, North Carolina, United States|
President and CEO
|15,000 vehicles/ year|
Number of employees
|Parent||Daimler Trucks North America|
Thomas Built Buses, Inc. (commonly designated Thomas) is an American bus manufacturer. Headquartered in High Point, North Carolina, the company is a subsidiary of Daimler Trucks North America (the parent company of Freightliner). While best known for its yellow school buses, Thomas also produces, activity buses/MFSAB (Multi-Function School Activity Buses), commercial buses, and bus bodies for aftermarket conversion.
Thomas bus bodies are produced in two facilities in High Point, North Carolina; Thomas also produces the chassis for its Saf-T-Liner/Transit Liner EFX and HDX buses.
The oldest bus manufacturer in North America, Thomas traces its roots to 1916. As his previous employer, Southern Car Company, closed its doors, Perley A. Thomas founded Perley A. Thomas Car Works in High Point, North Carolina, reopening the former facilities and employing many employees of the Southern Car Company. Thomas Car Works continued production of bodies for wood-bodied electric streetcars; Thomas was trained as a skilled woodworker and engineer. As Thomas Car Works was founded, the industry was in the transition to steel-bodied construction, forcing the company to make the switch.
During the next twenty years, Perley A. Thomas streetcars were built and delivered to communities across the United States, including New Orleans, where they operated on the Desire line made famous by Tennessee Williams' 1947 Broadway play and later film of the same name, A Streetcar Named Desire. As of 2016, New Orleans is one of the only cities where Perley Thomas streetcars are still found in active service as public transportation vehicles (as opposed to museum pieces and novelty rides), nearly 90 years after their construction.
1930s: Transition to bus construction
The national trend in the United States in the 1920s and 1930s was toward use of personal automobiles rather than riding public transportation. As streetcar ridership decreased, less costly buses were often used in substitution by the companies operating the service. Orders for new streetcars and renovations began falling off.
Just as he had made the transition from wooden to steel streetcar building, Thomas and his workers at High Point also made the transition to building buses successfully. In 1934, Duke Power of South Carolina had Thomas build 10 transit buses. In 1936, Thomas ceased production of streetcars and launched a new product: the school bus. The same year, the company built 200 wooden-bodied school buses for the state of North Carolina, beginning a long tradition with that state which continues to the present day.
In the early days of the school bus, Perley Thomas and his company's reputation for design innovation and quality manufacturing helped transform the industry. In the United States, many school buses in the 1930s were nothing more than flatbed truck chassis with wooden sides and a canvas roof, and had few or no safety devices.
In 1938, the company introduced the first welded all-steel bus body. In 1939, Dr. Frank W. Cyr of New York, who became known as "The Father of the Yellow School Bus", hosted a 7 day long national conference of industry and school leaders which established 44 important safety standards and the yellow color for school buses all across the United States.
The company became a major school bus body builder in the post-World War II period. By 1980, it was one of the big six school bus body companies in the United States, competing with Blue Bird Body Company, Carpenter Body Works, Superior Coach Company, Ward Body Works, and Wayne Corporation.
1972-1998: Thomas as an independent company
Thomas Built Buses, Inc. was incorporated in 1972 as the successor to Perley A. Thomas Car Works. In 1978, Thomas introduced its first company-designed bus chassis for its popular Saf-T-Liner transit-style bus; the Saf-T-Liner was sold for both for school and commercial use. In the past, Thomas was previously dependent upon truck chassis made by other companies for its transit-style school bus bodies (particularly Ford, Dodge, GMC, International Harvester and even Volvo), much like the majority of other school bus manufacturers. Thomas was the first school bus manufacturer to design its own chassis for both its front and rear-engine models, beating competitor Blue Bird by a decade (California manufacturers Crown Coach and Gillig Corporation did not manufacture a front-engine model that competed with Thomas).
The late 1970s and early 1980s was a period of struggle for school bus manufacturers. Coupled with the slow economy, manufacturers could no longer count on the factor that had driven school bus sales for the past two decades: the entirety of the baby-boom generation had finished school; it would be years before student populations would create sufficient demand again. During this time, a number of manufacturers either encountered financial difficulty or closed their doors altogether. Thomas diversified its product lineup, entering the small school bus market, creating unique products, and redesigning its transit-style buses to compete with newly introduced competitors.
In 1980, the company began to manufacture a smaller school bus on a cutaway van chassis, the Thomas Minotour, which is still in production (as of 2010). Also in the 1980s, the company entered the commercial public transit bus market. In 1989, Thomas introduced the Thomas Vista school bus, a modified conventional design providing improved front-end visibility for drivers. Early in the 1990s, Thomas introduced the MVP (which stood for Maneuverability, Visibility, and Protection); a transit-style school bus, available in front and rear-engine models, the MVP was a lower-cost version of the standard Saf-T-Liner intended to boost sales. The front-engine MVP was still sold in 2010 as the Saf-T-Liner EF.
By the end of the 20th century, Thomas (along with Blue Bird and Ward successor AmTran) was one of only three principal builders of large school buses in the United States. It is still based in High Point, and in 1998, was acquired by the Freightliner Group of Daimler AG. Currently, Thomas employs over 1,600 people worldwide.
1998–present: division of Freightliner
In the 1990s, the school bus industry was changed by a number of acquisitions and mergers. Several of the acquiring firms were either truck manufacturers or custom chassis builders. In the case of Thomas, they were acquired in 1998 by the Freightliner division of Daimler AG (then DaimlerChrysler).
The purchase of Thomas came soon after Freightliner's entry into school bus chassis production. In 1997, Freightliner had launched the FS-65 conventional school bus chassis based on its FL-Series medium duty truck; Freightliner was the first new chassis producer since Chrysler stopped production of Dodge school bus chassis in 1977. The purchase of Thomas allowed Freightliner to offer the FS-65 through a single body manufacturer, and the gamble worked. Throughout its production run, the FS-65 was used throughout many districts around the US. The last FS-65 was produced and delivered on December 13, 2006, to O'Brien Bus Service, Inc. of Maryland.
From 2001 to 2011, the Thomas full-size bus lineup underwent a series of revisions. In 2001, the Saf-T-Liner HD (later the HDX) was introduced to replace both the Saf-T-Liner and MVP ER models. While distinguished by its large mirrors (integrating side-view, convex, and cross-view into a single unit), the HD also showed the increased use of Freightliner components on Thomas buses (headlights and instrument panel). In 2003, all Thomas Conventionals became based on the FS-65 chassis. A much larger change came in 2004 with the introduction of the Saf-T-Liner C2. Intended as the replacement for the FS-65 Conventional, the C2 was based on the Freightliner M2 Business Class. Wearing an all-new body, the C2 differs from previous buses in its body construction; it also uses the M2 dashboard in its entirety. In 2009, Thomas launched a new Type A design called the MyBus; while not a replacement for the Minotour, the MyBus is geared specifically towards the activity bus market. It is available in three sizes on a GM chassis. In 2011, the Saf-T-Liner EFX was introduced to replace the Saf-T-Liner EF; featuring the windshield from the HDX, the EFX is the first new front-engine Thomas bus since 1991.
In 2004, Perley A. Thomas, founder of the Thomas streetcar and bus building companies, who died in 1958, was among the first inductees into the Raleigh-based North Carolina Transportation Hall of Fame.
A new Ford Transit chassis was introduced since 2016.
In addition to school buses, Thomas also offers activity buses,commercial buses, specialty busses and child-care buses derived from the Minotour, Mybus, C2, EFX, and HDX lines. For custom-built vehicles based on its school buses (applications such as bloodmobiles and mobile command centers), Thomas collaborates with Matthews Specialty Vehicles, Inc.
As of 2016, Thomas is currently the only school bus manufacturer to produce its own bodies for both small and full-size buses.
|Current Product Line|
|Model Name||Thomas Minotour/MyBus||Saf-T-Liner C2||Thomas Saf-T-Liner (EFX, HDX)|
|Assembly||High Point, North Carolina|
Type A (cutaway van)
|Type C (conventional)||
Type D (transit-style)
(front engine, rear engine)
Ford Motor Company
Daimler Trucks North America LLC
|Thomas Built Buses
|Passenger Capacity||14-30||up to 81||up to 90|
|Former Product Lines|
|Model Name||Years Produced||Configuration||Chassis Supplier||Notes
|Mighty Mite||mid 1980s-early 1990s||Type B (integrated)||
|Saf-T-Liner Conventional||1962-2002||Type C (Conventional)||
International Harvester Company/Navistar International
|Saf-T-Liner FS-65||1997–2007||Type C (Conventional)||
|Type C (Semi-forward control conventional)||
General Motors (1989-1991)
Navistar International (1992-1998)
|Thomas Saf-T-Liner (EF, ER, WestCoastER)
||Type D (transit-style)
||Thomas Built Buses||
|Saf-T-Liner MVP EF/ER, All-Star||
Saf-T-Liner MVP EF
Thomas sold commercial derivatives of the Minotour, Conventional, Vista, along with the following:
- Transit Liner MVP EF/ER- commercial derivative of Saf-T-Liner MVP school bus
- TL960 - rear-engine transit bus derived from Saf-T-Liner ER
- Chartour- rear-engine transit bus
- CL960 - rear-engine transit bus
- SLF200 (Super Low Floor) series - transit bus jointly developed with Dennis Specialist Vehicles, based on Dennis Dart SLF
|Thomas Built Buses, Inc. Timeline|
|Type B||Mighty Mite|
|Type D||Saf-T-Liner EF/ER||Saf-T-Liner ER|
|Saf-T-Liner MVP EF/Saf-T-Liner EF||Saf-T-Liner EFX|
|Saf-T-Liner MVP ER|
|Saf-T-Liner HD||Saf-T-Liner HDX|
|All Star EF|
- "About Us--Quick Facts". Thomas Built Buses website. Retrieved 2010-04-30.
- See School bus: early years.
- "Thomas retires the FS-65". Thomasbus.com. 2006-12-13. Retrieved 2010-02-20.
- "Thomas Built Introduces New Activity Bus". Thomas Built Buses (June 3, 2009). Press release about MyBus. Retrieved 2010-04-30
- "Our Buses". MyBus website. Retrieved 2010-04-30
- "Archived Thomas website". Web.archive.org. 1997-04-01. Retrieved 2014-01-04.
- "comtl96". Web.archive.org. 2000-04-23. Retrieved 2014-01-04.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Thomas buses.|
- Official website
- Matthews Specialty Vehicles, Inc. - converter of Thomas buses to specialty vehicles