Blue Bird Corporation

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Blue Bird Corporation
IndustryBus manufacturing
Founder(s)Albert L. Luce, Sr.
Headquarters402 Blue Bird Blvd
P.O. Box 937
Fort Valley, GA 31030
Area served
  • North America
  • Over 60 countries worldwide (Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, Latin America, Europe and the Middle East.)[1]
The United States
Key peoplePhil Horlock, President and CEO
Owner(s)The Traxis Group, B.V.
Employees1000+ [1]
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Blue Bird Corporation
IndustryBus manufacturing
Founder(s)Albert L. Luce, Sr.
Headquarters402 Blue Bird Blvd
P.O. Box 937
Fort Valley, GA 31030
Area served
  • North America
  • Over 60 countries worldwide (Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, Latin America, Europe and the Middle East.)[1]
The United States
Key peoplePhil Horlock, President and CEO
Owner(s)The Traxis Group, B.V.
Employees1000+ [1]

The Blue Bird Corporation, originally known as the Blue Bird Body Company, is an American manufacturer of school and activity buses.[3] Established in 1927, the company has also manufactured transit buses, motorhomes, and specialty vehicles such as mobile libraries and mobile police command centers. Blue Bird's corporate headquarters and main manufacturing facility are in Fort Valley, Georgia. It is a subsidiary of the Traxis Group B.V., part of Cerberus Capital Management.

The Blue Bird company logo, painted on the roof of its buses, is a silhouette profile of its namesake, a bluebird.


1927–1945: The Change to Steel[edit]

"Blue Bird Number 1", built on a 1927 Ford Model T. Donated to The Henry Ford Museum in 2008.

Albert L. Luce, Sr. was the owner of the local Ford dealership in Fort Valley, Georgia in the late 1920s. Luce was given the idea to construct a bus after a stock vehicle sold to a customer was of insufficient quality; the wooden bus body started to disintegrate before the customer finished paying for the vehicle.[4] After suggestions from the customer, he decided to try building his own bus body on a Model T frame.[5] In an effort to improve over the original wood-framed bus that he had sold, Luce constructed the frame of his bus body with steel angles and sheetmetal, using wood sparingly.[4] Completed in 1927, the bus was put into service transporting school children.

After the construction of seven more bus bodies, Luce sold his Ford franchise in 1932 to produce bus bodies full-time to start his own company.[5] When deciding upon a name, Luce chose the Blue Bird name for a variety of reasons. The Blue Bird name originated from the positive reception of school children to a blue and yellow demonstrator unit from a group of school children; Luce was nervous about the use of the family name for his business out of fears of it being mispronounced (i.e., "the loose bus").[5]

In 1937, the company began production of full-steel bus bodies, an innovation which soon replaced the wooden bodies which were then in common use around the United States.[5] The early use of farm wagons on a part-time basis soon evolved into purpose-built school bus products, each with economy and function as major priorities.

As the second quarter of the 20th century began, Albert Luce Sr. was one of the entrepreneurs of the period who transitioned from building wagons to developing some of the earliest purpose-built school buses. In a 1939 conference, Blue Bird engineers helped to develop the color school bus yellow, which is still in use today. Blue Bird and Wayne Corporation were several of the earliest to experiment with steel body construction, although such efforts were severely limited by war production product shortages and restrictions during World War II.

1945–1960: New Need for School Transportation[edit]

Following World War II, continuing a transition from one-room schools, there was a nationwide movement in the US to consolidate schools into fewer and larger ones, facilitating graded class structures. This meant that fewer students were attending school in their immediate neighborhoods, particularly as they progressed into high school; for many, the previous practice of walking to school became impractical. This led in turn to a large increase in the demand for transportation. The company grew substantially and became a major school bus body builder in the post-World War II period.

The All-American[edit]

In 1948, Blue Bird founder Albert Luce Sr. viewed a design for a flat-front bus at an auto show in Paris. Two years later Blue Bird Body Company introduced their own transit-style design which evolved into the Blue Bird All American, often pointed to as one of the pioneer transit designs to gain widespread acceptance for school buses in North America, along with Wayne Corporation, Gillig Corporation and Crown Coach Corporation (whose "Supercoach" dated to 1932). In 1952, Blue Bird became the first school bus manufacturer to produce its own chassis rather than rely on outside suppliers for the All American; today, Blue Bird builds the chassis for every full-size bus produced.[6]

1960–1990: Expansion into new markets[edit]

Blue Bird became an international manufacturer of school buses with the opening of Blue Bird Canada in Brantford, Ontario in 1958.[7] In 1965, the company opened its first facility in Latin America. In Guatemala, Blue Bird manufactured the bodies for the Conventional and the All American for use both as school and transit buses. Instead of importing truck chassis (or the Blue Bird All American transit-style chassis) from the United States, the bus bodies were manufactured on locally available chassis unseen in North America (Mercedes-Benz, Hino, Nissan Diesel, and Toyota).

At the time of Albert Luce, Sr.'s death in 1962, Blue Bird Body Company had become the fourth-largest school bus manufacturer in the industry.[5] By 1980, Blue Bird was one of the "Big Six" school bus body manufacturers in the United States, competing with Carpenter Body Works, Superior Coach Company, Thomas Built Buses, Inc., Ward Body Works, and Wayne Corporation. By this time, almost the entire Baby Boom generation had completed their high-school education; along with the move to from cities to suburbs, the higher student populations of the previous two decades had been a key factor behind school bus sales. The recession of the early 1980s cut deeply into profits, leading to the re-organization or closure of several manufacturers. Blue Bird fared better than most manufacturers, becoming the largest manufacturer in terms of sales; by the mid-1980s, one out of every three new school buses was a Blue Bird.[5]

Wanderlodge and Transit Buses[edit]

"Large Marge", A 1980 Blue Bird FC33 Wanderlodge motorhome
Blue Bird Wanderlodge (1980)

In the 1960s, Blue Bird Body Company also started making luxury motor coaches based on the All American. Branded "Wanderlodge", the first of this popular product line was built in 1963. The design of the Wanderlodge [8] closely followed that of the All American for over 25 years.

Blue Bird entered the commercial public transit bus market in the 1970s. The shorter wheelbase transit-style models proved popular with smaller cities and those with cul-de-sac route ends, providing better maneuverability, and more efficient costs than larger models. The Q-Bus commercial bus for transit and charter applications was introduced in 1992.[9]

Small School Buses[edit]

Although Blue Bird did not come up with the idea of the small school bus, the company gained significant market share with two of its designs.[citation needed] In 1975, Blue Bird introduced the Micro Bird, a dual rear-wheel cutaway van similar to the Wayne Busette. The Micro Bird set itself apart from other small school buses of the time by featuring a full-height school bus door and additional windows forward of the door to aid loading-zone visibility.[citation needed]

2011 Micro Bird by Girardin G5 photographed at a dealership.
Micro Bird by Girardin, Blue Bird's current small school bus. Pictured here is the G5.

A limitation of the Micro Bird was that its van chassis restricted the overall width of the bus body. For a school bus that was still short in length but was still as wide as the Conventional/All American, a different solution was needed. In 1977, the Mini Bird was introduced.[citation needed]


Blue Bird TC/2000 in service as mobile library.

For the 1988 model year, Blue Bird supplemented the All American school bus line with the TC/2000 transit-style school bus. Unlike the premium All American, the TC/2000 was priced lower (nearly in line with the Conventional) in an effort to secure bids from larger fleet operators. Coinciding with the introduction of the TC/2000 was most extensive redesign of the All American for the first time since the late 1950s; it was introduced for 1989.

From 1997 to 2001, Blue Bird sold a smaller version of the TC/2000 named the TC/1000. Like the TC/2000, the TC/1000 was developed for a specific type of buyer. Its body was slightly modified to better accommodate operators who transported special needs customers.[citation needed]

1990–2006: Ownership changes[edit]

From its 1932 foundation until 1984, Blue Bird was run entirely by the Luce family, either by Albert Sr or by his three sons. In 1986, the board of directors hired Paul Glaske, president of Marathon LeTourneau, a Texas-based heavy equipment manufacturer.[5] During this time, the Luce family still maintained ownership of the company. In 1992, Merrill Lynch Capital Partners purchased an 82% stake of the company in a management-led buyout with the other 18% spread between Paul Glaske and 14 other Blue Bird managers.[5] After the buyout, the company name changed from Blue Bird Body Company to Blue Bird Corporation.

Sagging demand, financial difficulties and changing world markets in the 1990s and early 2000s lead to Blue Bird closing two plants and opening another. Blue Bird East was shut down in 1992; Blue Bird de Mexico in Monterrey, Nuevo León, Mexico, was opened in 1995.

Blue Bird was owned by the British Henlys Group PLC with a substantial financial stake held by Volvo Group[10] from 1999 to 2004. Henlys had financial difficulties during this time, including some not related to its investment in Blue Bird. Blue Bird de Mexico in Monterrey, Mexico was closed in 2001.[11] Blue Bird Midwest was closed in 2002.

2008 Blue Bird Vision conventional school bus operated by the Shelby County, Alabama Board of Education in Helena, Alabama.
Blue Bird Vision

According to a company news release from the fall of 2004, Blue Bird became the "sole operating subsidiary" of a newly created holding company, Peach County Holdings Inc. As part of the deal, a banking syndicate made up of Henlys creditors owned 42.5 percent of the Peach stock, according to Blue Bird. The Volvo Group (the world's largest bus manufacturer) owned another 42.5 percent, with the balance owned by Henlys' "pension scheme" and Blue Bird's management. Also in 2004, Blue Bird introduced the Vision, the first conventional-style school bus to be built without relying on an outside supplier for chassis.

However, after a bankruptcy filing, Blue Bird was acquired by Cerberus Capital Management. In connection with the acquisition by Cerberus of North American Bus Industries and Optima Bus Corporation, Blue Bird's acquisition led to Cerberus having a complete line of school and transit buses. Blue Bird is currently owned by the Traxis Group B.V., who acquired them in 2006.[12]

Product Changes[edit]

The late 1980s and 1990s saw the Blue Bird product lineup in flux in comparison to the decades before. In 1988, Blue Bird introduced the TC/2000, its first all-new transit-style school bus in over 25 years; the flagship All American was redesigned a year later. In 1991, the Blue Bird Wanderlodge ended the use of its school bus body. The 1992 Q-Bus was the first Blue Bird transit bus designed from the ground up as a transit bus and not derived from the All American.

The 1990s were also a period that the company explored the use of alternative power sources for school buses. In 1991, Blue Bird introduced the first school bus (an All American Rear Engine) powered by compressed natural gas (CNG). In 1994, Blue Bird developed a battery-powered school bus in an effort with Westinghouse Electronic Systems for a school district in California.[5] While the electric school bus remained a prototype, Blue Bird has continued to offer CNG as an option on the All American since its 1991 introduction.

2007–present: Renewed Focus On School Buses[edit]

2008 Blue Bird All American RE (A3)
2012 Blue Bird Micro Bird MB-II by Girardin.

Through 2007, Blue Bird executed a series of plant closing and product line divestitures intended to re-focus the company on the school bus market in an effort to improve profitability and market position.[13] The commercial bus production was transferred to NABI's Anniston, Alabama facilities.[13] Blue Bird’s original and last remaining international plant, Blue Bird Canada, was closed August 10, 2007.[7] Later in 2007, the rights to the Wanderlodge were sold to Complete Coach Works, ending Blue Bird's 44-year participation in the recreational vehicle market. [13][14]

In commemoration of the 80th anniversary of Blue Bird No. 1 (and the centennial of the Model T Ford), it was donated to The Henry Ford Museum by the Luce family in 2008.[4][15] 2008 saw major updates for the Vision. Unveiled in late 2008 as a 2010 model, the All American saw the most extensive changes to its body in nearly 50 years.

In October 2009, Blue Bird further streamlined its bus production as it entered into a joint venture with Canadian school bus manufacturer Girardin Minibus.[16] Dubbed Micro Bird, Inc., all small bus production was consolidated at the Girardin facilities in Quebec, Canada; consequently, all Blue Bird production is now limited to full-size conventional and transit buses. The 2010 Micro Bird was the last Blue Bird bus to use a non-Blue Bird chassis.

During 2013, a new generation of the All American entered production as a 2014 model, replacing its predecessors launched in 2008 and in 1999. Distinguished by its rounder roof, the new All American has increased parts commonality with the Vision. Alongside the All American, the Vision saw its own update, introduced for the 2015 model year; propane-fueled Visions now have an extended-range 98-gallon fuel tank. In late 2013, Blue Bird announced the option of Blue Bird Connect™, integrated GPS-based fleet management software developed by Synovia Solutions. While Blue Bird Connect™ was designed as an integrated system, it was also intended for retrofit to existing fleets of school buses as well. [17]


In addition to school, activity, and commercial applications, Blue Bird buses have been custom-built for unique applications such as bloodmobiles, mobile libraries, and public safety command centers.

School Buses[edit]

Current Product Line
Model NameMicro Bird by GirardinVisionAll American (T3)
PhotoA 2011 Blue Bird Micro Bird by Girardin.2008 Blue Bird Vision2010 Blue Bird All American FE on display at a transportation show.
Year Introduced201020031948
AssemblyDrummondville, Quebec, CanadaFort Valley, Georgia

Type A

MB-II:single rear wheel

G5:dual rear wheel

Type C

Type D

(front engine, rear engine)

Chassis ManufacturerFord Motor Company

Ford E-350/E-450

General Motors

Chevrolet Express/GMC Savana

Blue Bird
Fuel Type(s)

Gasoline, Diesel, Propane

Diesel, Propane

Diesel, Compressed Natural Gas (CNG)

Passenger Capacity10-3036-7754-90
Other Notes
  • Introduced for 2011 model year as part of Micro Bird, Inc. joint venture with Girardin.
  • Replaces Micro Bird
  • Vision was introduced in 2004 and is currently in its second generation (introduced 2008).
    • Vision uses an in-house chassis from Blue Bird.
  • Vision underwent further upgrades for 2015 model
  • The All American FE has been produced on a Blue Bird-designed chassis since 1952; the All American RE chassis has been produced by Blue Bird since 1988.
  • Current version (internally known as T3) introduced for 2014.
  • Known in export markets as the Blue Bird TX3; formerly known as the TC/3000 and All Canadian.[18]
Former Product Lines
Model NameYears ProducedAssemblyConfigurationChassis SupplierNotes
Micro Bird

Late 2000s Blue Bird Micro Bird on Chevrolet Express chassis

  • Fort Valley, Georgia
  • Mount Pleasant, Iowa
  • Brantford, Ontario, Canada
Type A

(single or dual rear wheel)

Ford Motor Company

Ford Econoline/E-Series General Motors

Chevrolet Express (1997–present)

Chevrolet G-30/GMC Vandura (1975–1996)

Chevrolet P-30 (1995–1996)

  • Replaced with products from Micro Bird, Inc. joint venture with Girardin.
  • From 1992 to 1999, the Micro Bird was sold alongside Girardin-produced Blue Bird MB-II/MB-IV models.
  • From 1995 to 1996, a heavy-duty model using the Chevrolet P30 chassis was produced using modified Chevrolet G30 front bodywork.

late 1990s Blue Bird/Girardin MB-II

1992–1999Drummondville, Quebec, CanadaType A
  • MB-II: single rear wheel
  • MB-IV: dual rear wheel
Ford Motor Company

Ford Econoline/E-Series (1992–1999)

General Motors

Chevrolet Express/GMC Savana (1997–1999)

Chevrolet G-30/GMC Vandura (1992–1996)

  • Introduced in Canada in 1991.
  • Produced by Canada's Girardin Minibus and distributed in the United States as Blue Bird-brand products[19]
  • MB-II continues in production and is now sold again as a Blue Bird (Micro Bird by Girardin)
Mini Bird

Late 1990s Blue Bird Mini Bird

  • Buena Vista, Virginia
  • Mount Pleasant, Iowa
Type BGeneral Motors

Chevrolet P30

  • Mini Bird was the first Blue Bird marketed with special-needs customers in mind.
  • Featured the same body width 96 inches (2.4 m) as full-size Blue Birds.
CV200 & SBCV

Blue Bird CV200

  • to 2004




  • LaFayette, Georgia
  • Mount Pleasant, Iowa
  • Buena Vista, Virginia
  • Brantford, Ontario, Canada
  • Monterrey, Nuevo León, Mexico
Type CChrysler Corporation

Dodge D-300 (to 1977)

DaimlerChrysler Corporation

Freightliner FS-65 (1997–2002)

Ford Motor Company

Ford B700

General Motors

Chevrolet/GMC B-Series (1966–2003)

International Harvester

Loadstar (1962–1978)

S-Series (1979–1989)

Navistar International

International 3800 (1989–2004)

International 3300 (2005–2008)[clarification needed]

  • Blue Bird received exclusive use of General Motors Type C chassis from 1992 to 2003.
    • Known as Blue Bird CV200
    • Replaced by Vision in 2003.
  • Navistar 3300-chassis version was named Blue Bird SBCV.
TC/10001997–2001Type D

(front engine)


(front engine,rear engine)

Blue Bird Corporation
  • Marketed primarily for special-needs customers
  • Front-engine version only; smaller than TC/2000
  • Flat-floor interior configuration

1988–1990 Blue Bird TC/2000 school bus (retired)

  • Fort Valley, Georgia
  • LaFayette, Georgia
  • Mount Pleasant, Iowa
  • Brantford, Ontario, Canada
Blue Bird Corporation
  • Lighter duty chassis than All American
  • Lower price meant to attract larger fleet buyers.

Other Vehicles[edit]

Transit Buses
Blue Bird Ultra LF shuttle bus used by Porter Airlines in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
NJ Transit Blue Bird CSFE3000 #608 in Jersey City, New Jersey at Journal Square.
Blue Bird CSFE 3000 transit bus of New Jersey Transit in Jersey City, New Jersey
Blue Bird Corporation Timeline, 1970-present
(by configuration)
Company OwnershipA.L. Luce familyMerrill Lynch
Henlys plcCerberus
Traxis Group
Type AMicro BirdMicrobird MB-II
MB-II/MB-IV by GirardinMicrobird G5
Type BMini Bird
Type CConventionalSBCV
Type DAll American (1957)All American (1989)All American (A3)All Amer. (T3)
TC/2000TC/2000TC/2000All American (D3)

Manufacturing and assembly[edit]

Traditionally, school buses such as those produced by Blue Bird consist of components purchased from various outside suppliers and parts which are manufactured in-house to the company's specifications. These two categories of parts are then typically assembled into bodies which can be mounted onto chassis which have often been variations of those used in a myriad of truck applications.

Production-wise, the large "home" plant complex in Fort Valley, Georgia served as both a part manufacturing plant for the entire organization as well as one of the six locations where bodies were assembled from in house and purchased components. Parts and service were also located in Fort Valley, as was Wanderlodge Wayside Park, a tree-shaded motor home park for visiting Wanderlodges adjacent to the Wanderlodge plant.

Blue Bird Corporation currently operates a single manufacturing facility in the United States: the Blue Bird Body Company in Fort Valley, Georgia. A second facility (Blue Bird North Georgia) in LaFayette, Georgia was closed August 30, 2010.[23]

In the past, Blue Bird has had an international manufacturing presence, with two factories in Canada, one in Mexico, and one in South America. These have now all been closed due to changing market conditions and Blue Bird's shift back to a lineup of school bus-based vehicles.

Blue Bird Corporation Manufacturing Facilities
NameLocationProduct LinesYear OpenedYear ClosedNotes
United States
Blue Bird Body CompanyFort Valley, GeorgiaSee Notes
  • The first Fort Valley facility opened in 1935; destroyed by fire in 1945.
  • Present Fort Valley facility opened in 1946.
Blue Bird North GeorgiaLaFayette, Georgia
  • Vision
  • Conventional
  • TC/2000
19882010Closed August 30, 2010.[24]
Blue Bird MidwestMount Pleasant, Iowa
  • TC/2000
  • Conventional
  • Mini Bird
  • Micro Bird
Blue Bird EastBuena Vista, Virginia
  • Conventional
  • Mini Bird
  • TC/2000
Blue Bird WanderlodgeFort Valley, Georgia19632007Originally opened as Cardinal Manufacturing
Blue Bird CanadaBrantford, Ontario, Canada
  • TC/2000
  • Conventional
  • Micro Bird
  • parts
19582007Blue Bird also operated a facility in St. Lin, Quebec from 1975 to 1982
Micro Bird, Inc.Drummondville, Quebec, CanadaMicro Bird (MB-II, G5)1981Girardin Minibus production facility
Worldwide Facilities
Blue Bird de MexicoMonterrey, Nuevo León, Mexico
  • Conventional
Blue Bird Central AmericaGuatemala City, GuatemalaSee Notes19651980sProduced All American and Conventional bodies on locally available chassis.


See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Blue Bird Corporation". Retrieved 2010-10-18. 
  2. ^ Traxis Group
  3. ^ Blue Bird Corporation
  4. ^ a b c McKeegan, Noel (March 9, 2008). "First steel-bodied school bus donated to Henry Ford museum". Retrieved 30 November 2013. 
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i "History of Blue Bird Corporation – FundingUniverse". Retrieved 2012-10-29. 
  6. ^ "Blue Bird Corporation/About Us/History". Retrieved 2010-01-11. 
  7. ^ a b Blue Bird Corporation To Relocate Micro Bird Production; Blue Bird Press Release, May 8, 2007
  8. ^
  9. ^ a b Blue Bird Body Co. 1996 10-K405 Annual Report -- [X] Reg. S-K Item 405
  10. ^ "Volvo Group; Volvo Logistics North America". Retrieved 2009-08-10. 
  11. ^ Osborne, Alistair (2001-09-07). "; Henlys takes a skid after US bus sales fall". Retrieved 2009-08-10. 
  12. ^ "Blue Bird Corporation/About Us/History". Retrieved 2010-01-09. 
  13. ^ a b c Blue Bird Corporation To Sell Coachworks Coach And RV Product Lines To Complete Coach Works; Blue Bird Press Release, July 16, 2007
  14. ^ CCW Acquires Blue Bird Coachworks and Wanderlodge[dead link]
  15. ^ "School Bus Fleet News, Blue Bird No. 1 donated to historical institution, March 10, 2008". 2008-03-10. Retrieved 2009-08-10. 
  16. ^ "Press Releases/BLUE BIRD AND GIRARDIN ANNOUNCE JOINT VENTURE(2009-10-19)". Retrieved 2010-01-17. 
  17. ^ Retrieved 1 February 2014.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  18. ^ "Autobus Girardin - Minibus (Specialized bus) Used minibus | Autobus Girardin (School bus) Girardin Minibus". 2009-05-23. Retrieved 2009-08-10. 
  19. ^ "Girardin; A Brief History". Retrieved 2009-08-10. 
  20. ^
  21. ^ "Blue Bird Envirobus 2000 School Bus". Blue Bird Corporation via Archived from the original on 1998-05-19. Retrieved 2010-07-10.  Archived version of Blue Bird's website on this vehicle, with link to specifications.
  22. ^ "School Bus Central- 2002 Blue Bird/Ford". Retrieved 2010-07-10.  Webpage with archived version of product literature
  23. ^ LaFayette Blue Bird bus plant being shut down; Chattanooga Times-Free Press; June 24, 2010
  24. ^ "Press Releases". Blue Bird Corporation. Retrieved 25 June 2010. 

External links[edit]