The Blue Bird school bus manufacturer has committed its lineup of yellow young human-haulers to a new engine: the 7.3-liter gasoline V8 found in the 2021 Ford Super Duty. That’s more displacement than the outgoing model, but it’s the finer details that should help keep these new buses running for generations to come.
It is difficult to deny that the current functioning model of the American school bus is a pretty perfect application for the current state of electric vehicle development, as we’ve argued time and time again.
However, the current status of American electric vehicle charging infrastructure and the lingering requirements of a manufacturer is still limiting. Someone has to actually develop electric bus manufacturing at scale, and thus the market for it from scratch. That’s why Blue Bird probably went with an update instead.
Out of the crate, the new Ford engine makes 430 horsepower and 475 lb-ft of torque. Yes, Ford will sell you a 7.3-liter V8 engine in a box for a retail price of $8,150 on the Ford Performance website. Blue Bird announced that the school bus application will be rated lower, however, at 350 HP and 468 lb-ft of torque.
The partnership between Blue Bird, which claims to have 180,000 buses in operation today, and Ford also involved Roush CleanTech, which developed a bespoke fueling system that is capable of burning either propane or gasoline. Roush CleanTech claims the optional system could offer fuel cost savings of up to $3,700 a bus per year compared against the old 6.8-liter Ford engine that Blue Bird offered.
The new optional system sounds straightforward and smart, and while the new 7.3-liter engine’s power output was disappointingly low to some when announced, these buses will make use of the generous torque curve the unit is purpose-built for. The new 7.3-liter unit is also physically narrower in the engine compartment, making room for easier maintenance.
The promised efficiency and maintenance benefits over diesel should only double down on Blue Bird’s choice to go with gas-powered buses in the first place. While the fuel economy is comparably worse than many diesel powerplants, gas-powered buses are often priced cheaper, their maintenance requires less filters and the fuel and oil components are often more affordable, according to Jalopnik writer and bus owner Mercedes Streeter.