Electric school buses set to roll in California


November 4, 2013

One of the new SST-e buses

One of the new SST-e buses

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No, an electric school bus isn't as exciting as an electric Porsche or Lotus, but in the grand scheme of things, it's probably a lot more important. Case in point – a fleet of such buses are scheduled to hit the road in California next year, with each vehicle saving its school district a claimed 16 gallons (60.5 L) of fuel per day, adding up to US$11,000 in fuel savings per year.

The battery-powered SST-e buses were created in a collaboration between school bus manufacturer Trans Tech Bus and Motiv Power Systems. Kings Canyon Unified School District, in the San Joaquin Valley, will be the recipient of the first vehicles off the line.

The SST-e is built around the existing Ford E450 truck chassis, utilizing Motiv's electric Powertrain Control System. That system is said to be compatible with a wide variety of chassis and battery types, meaning that few modifications are required to the stock chassis, and that better-performing batteries can be swapped in as technology advances.

Although little is available in the way of specs, the buses will have a range of 80 or 100 miles (129 or 161 km), depending on whether they're equipped with four or five battery packs – any one of those packs can be replaced without having to replace all the others. The batteries can be charged to 50 percent capacity in less than an hour, while a full charge takes eight hours. They utilize a 3-phase fast charging system that "requires minimal building modifications and no expensive charging stations."

The Type A bus can carry up to 32 students, or 24 students and one wheelchair. Thanks to a built-in telemetry system, the location of each bus can be monitored remotely, as can its maintenance needs and its driver's performance.

Source: Motiv Power Systems via Clean Technica

About the Author
Ben Coxworth An experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer, Ben's interest in all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that's designed to go underwater. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he spends a lot of time going over the handlebars of his mountain bike, hanging out in off-leash parks, and wishing the Pacific Ocean wasn't so far away. All articles by Ben Coxworth

They need to install a beeper on the bus or some kind of artificial noise.

I'm guessing many kids, like myself used the distant sound of the school bus stopping and starting as a final-call alarm clock letting you know that you really need to get your arse out of bed!!!

Luke Hopkins

A good idea - but built on an old technology platform, this is a missed opportunity. To fully utilize the benefits of electric drive, the vehicle should be made both from light weight materials and with a modern aerodynamic body. This is the equivalent of a motorized horseless carriage. Here in Europe, this style of design disappeared in the early 90s.

Niklas Wejedal

This will be interesting to see how it works out. I wonder if they have things like A/C or heat and what that does for the over all service life of the battery packs and how that will off set the fuel use? Not against this just curios how it'll work out in real life? :-)


normal cost of the same size school bus? cost of the electric school bus? lifetime of both school buses? lifetime of the batteries? feed it all in and see if they are cost effective. something that both the schools and gizmag should be doing to give us readers a complete story instead of a blurb. i'm all for cutting pollution, cutting petroleum use, but give us a report please.


Did you know that some school busses have an exhaust pipe on the bottom passenger side, blowing poisonous fumes right into children's faces?

Same for many pickup trucks who adopted the right side pipe from the race track.

I knew an engineering prof at Munich Technical University who was fond of saying that every other engineer ought to be lined up and shot. He has a point.


The hydrocarbon fuel not bought at a pump is not a true measure of the operating savings, or even if there are savings. Questions: 1. What is the cost of the electricity used to charge the buses?

What kind of fuel is used to produce that electricity?

Do the electric vehicles cost more than the gasoline vehicles, and if so how much more and how much more per mile traveled?

What are the comparative costs of battery replacements and handling and maintenance compared to maintenance costs of gasoline or diesel bus?

What are the costs of any subsidies received by the buses?

So far the only message of this story is that California is using electric school buses. Is it another politically correct money hole for the state or a true economy?


Combining this design with wireless charging stations at intervals would extend the range of the buses and provide additional incentives for other vehicles to adopt the technology.

Kevin Swanson

So, how much more does each bus cost, (opposed to conventional fuel powered buses), and what does it cost for equipment and electricity each day to re-charge each bus? Given the life expectancy of each bus, which one is more efficient?


I find it interesting that they tell us the fuel savings per year per bus, but not the cost of the bus. How many years before the new buses break even and start making money for the district? Ok, to be fair, let's look at the cost differential between new petroleum powered buses and the new battery operated ones.

Of course, heat and air aren't as important in California, but how are these buses going to fare in the rest of the country? Even though kids make good space heaters, I seriously doubt we want to rely on that for, say, a Minnesota winter.

Bryan Paschke

School is canceled because somebody threw a crowbar into the substation and the buses still have dead batteries.


Agree with Niklas. Why does the U.S. continue to make school bus improvements on old, ugly platforms? Lol, this is the 21st century.

Congrats to Kings Canyon Unified, though. Hope this new creation also comes with air conditioning, considering how hot it gets in the Central Valley of California, as well as the strobe light that can be turned on during the early morning hours of the treacherous, Tule Fog, that creates dangerous situations of almost zero-like visibility.

Marco Corona

Frees America from the Chinese loans to pay for foreign oil system in place today - add that factor into the cost, and realize, even in the worst of times, the sun will still shine, make electricity and carry the kids to school.

Bruce Miller

The larger savings might be in a cleaner environment for our children who are around the bus scene. Less illness? Less noise? And healthier children will be--probably--better citizens, creators, parents. The change to electric just might result in cures to illnesses through the children's better lives.

Joe Faust

In a world where fuel oil has peaked, this is a great story. In the US, we don't pay the real cost for fuel. Even the worst electrical generating facility is more efficient than the best bus motor, gas or diesel. And the electric motor has so fewer parts to maintain. Thanks for posting this article, and looking forward to many more.

Jeff in PT

@ Jeff in PT The doom and gloom including peak oil predictions have all failed to materialize. however switching the buses to methane (natural gas) would be pleasant.


@ Slowburn

Apparently the peak has been delayed by ruining your fresh water with fracking. Natural gas makes sense but might not get a grant.


This is one of the more sensible applications for electric vehicles. School buses tend to be constantly accelerating and stopping which lends itself to gains in efficiency through regenerative braking. Also, for the most part, after they have done their route they will go back to the charging station for several hours before having to go back into service for a relatively short route. Now let's get some electric postal delivery vehicles.

Siegfried Gust

@ Ozuzi Apparently oil companies are not greedy enough to make sure that none of their oil escapes.


@ moreover "lining people up and shooting them" advocated in Germany ? What year was this?

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