The ‘New GM’ Out of Bankruptcy, Still Committed to School Bus Market

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As the industry has been closely watching the demise of GM, there seems to be some good news coming out of Detroit: the automaker is remaining dedicated to its small school bus business as it was emerging bankruptcy sooner than expected. A company spokesman recently told STN that the commitment to manufacturing chassis for the school bus market has not changed [Look for this article in the August STN issue].

Going forward, the big purchasers of GM cutaway chassis on the Chevy Express and GMC Savana platforms are Girardin Minibus and Trans-Tech. Thomas Built Buses also uses some GM. But in filing for bankruptcy, GM was separated from Opel, the German manufacturer responsible for much of GM’s diesel expertise dating back to 1929. What could that mean for the diesel business?

Competition is stiff elsewhere, too. As GM’s works hard to keep its head above water, the sharks are circling. That’s not necessarily in the best interest of the taxpayers, which now effectively own GM, but it could be an impetus to truly a “New GM,” as the company is now calling itself.

Speaking of competition, Collins Bus Corporation announced earlier this spring that it is developing a Ford gasoline-hybrid, as the automaker has slowly but surely been leaving the diesel market. Collins Bus as well as its line of Mid Bus and Corbeil products, have also traditionally built bodies on GM chassis, so it will be interesting to see how the recent deal with Azure Dynamics to develop the gasoline hybrid drive train for Ford will play out. Then there’s potential Type A chassis production capabilities at Daimler Truck/Freightliner for Thomas and Navistar for its IC Bus line.

Meanwhile, Girardin Minibus is publicly, at least, reaffirming its relationship with GM because the auto manufacturer is staying true to diesel engine technology, at least in theory. As reported in the July issue of STN, Girardin said it is eyeing a GM diesel-hybrid to compete with Collins’ gas-hybrid, the latter expected to be unveiled this summer. GM retained it’s two-mode diesel hybrid technology originally slated for the Saturn VUE. This same technology could fuel GM’s SUV business, which could in turn have strong implications for the school bus industry.