Service: PACCAR Parts names 2022 Peterbilt Parts Council
The commercial vehicle market is constantly growing and changing, with electrification being at the forefront of the future. Basic industry standards are having to adapt to electrification and one of those things is chassis. Like many things in the industry, an electric chassis has to make alterations to cater to batteries rather than engines. As electrification becomes more and more popular companies are expanding to enter this segment.
One of those companies to enter this segment is Blue Bird with a Class 5-6 electric chassis, announced at the ACT Expo in Long Beach, California. Blue Bird’s Class 5-6 chassis will enable a broad range of fully electric vehicles, including last-mile delivery step vans, motorhomes, and other specialty vehicles.
Blue Bird’s seasonal school bus market gives it an advantage in its expansion into chassis production. For school bus manufacturers, the heavy season is spring going into the summer in preparation for the upcoming school year. The new Class 5-6 electric chassis allows them to accommodate two product lines in its lean manufacturing environment.
“Our expectation is there’s an opportunity to take advantage of that seasonality and fill in those lower production periods with commercial chassis manufacturing,” said Britton Smith, senior vice president of Electrification and Chief Strategy Officer at Blue Bird Corporation.
Due to this, Blue Bird believes its expansion will not impact its existing school bus production. For the Class 5-6 EV chassis, Blue Bird is not ready to disclose what the expected production volume is at this point, but states they will be significantly expanding its total addressable market.
“For us, the commercial chassis industry effectively doubles our total addressable market,” said Smith. “If you look at school buses, there’s around 30,000 per year, and the strip chassis market that we’ve identified is about 30,000 as well, so it’s a pretty large opportunity.”
The company will offer the Class 5-6 EV chassis with three wheelbase options of 178”, 190”, and 208” for vehicles with a gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) between 16,000 and 26,000 pounds. This will give upfitters flexibility to work with. The company also says they will offer several battery configurations from 70kWh to 225kWh with a range of up to 175 miles on a single charge making the EV chassis customizable to meet the needs of a broad range of customers.
The company is in talks with several upfitters and has been invited to display its Class 5-6 EV chassis at the headquarters facility of a prominent upfitter in the coming weeks. The company declined to disclose names at this time.
Blue Bird says it has had many years of experience making class 7 and 8 chassis for its school buses, which can be expected to last up to 20 years. The company says what sets them apart from competitors is that they are taking their existing experience in building chassis that are durable with a long duty cycle, and applying that expertise to the class 5-6 segment.
“When you look at what other chassis manufacturers are doing, it’s exactly the opposite,” said Smith. “They’re taking something that’s lighter duty and trying to scale it up, so taking a Class 3 or 4 chassis or design and trying to bring it up into Class 5-6, which ends up being much, much more challenging.”
“We have very, very similar components, but lighter duty than what we use on the school bus, which gives us an advantage, in that our products are inherently more durable and are ready for a heavy duty cycle.”
The company anticipates that customers will start deploying its new Class 5-6 electric chassis in 1H 2024, with production starting in late 2023.