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Taking E-propulsion to school: Inside Navistar’s work on electric buses

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As the North American commercial vehicle market spars over the viability of long-haul electrification, Navistar is banking on school buses to be the logical, appropriate and customer-centric starting point.

“We believe that today’s electric powertrains are ideally suited for school bus applications, as well as medium-duty delivery trucks and port drayage segments,” Jeff Sass, Navistar’s senior vice president of sales and marketing, explains. “It is a simple fact that these segments have shorter, predictable routes, and the opportunity to employ an overnight charging at the vehicles’ home base.”

Both school buses and medium-duty trucks offer an immediate environmental impact in urban areas where regulations are quickly driving toward zero-emissions standards. Also consider that all-electric vehicles do not require liquid fuel or oil changes and that they offer a vast reduction in fewer moving parts, and you have a recipe for an energy efficient vehicle with reduced maintenance demands compared with diesel. Suddenly, e-power looks like an ideal platform to grow into longer haul segments.

Of course, the industry has been down the electric road before, with limited luck at best. Sass has a recipe for success this time around.

“It is up to us to partner with customers, local utilities and others to address complete electric transportation solutions,” he says, “including government grants and incentives, as well as the establishment of a charging infrastructure and creative vehicle-to-grid [V2G] concepts.”

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Sass has spent the last three years at Navistar crisscrossing North America to talk with customers of all sizes about the future of the commercial vehicle industry. In the last year, the most popular topic has been electrification.

“Power grid capacity, vehicle range and ratings, battery costs, infrastructure development, and all things electric are the first questions we are asked by customers today,” he says. “Because there is so little definitive data in the marketplace, customers are looking to all sources to see where electric vehicles are going.”

When asked about OEMs—from Daimler and Tesla to Volvo and Cummins—jockeying for positioning in the press, Sass pointed to International’s strategic alliance with Volkswagen Truck and Bus, which has helped enable the electric propulsion technology in the IC Bus chargE demonstration all-electric school bus.

“Our strategic alliance with Volkswagen Truck and Bus has enabled Navistar to stay at the forefront of electric propulsion technology as witnessed by the IC Bus chargE demonstration all-electric school bus,” Sass says. “The alliance enables Navistar to be part of a true global technology champion.”

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