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Thomas Built Buses on track to deliver Virginia’s first electric school buses

Thomas Built Buses announced it’s preparing to deliver an initial batch of 50 electric school buses to the state of Virginia. The company is working closely with Dominion Energy, a Virginia-based power company, to ultimately convert 1,050 of the diesel-burning buses operating in the state to zero-emissions electric power.

Daimler, the German carmaker that owns Thomas Built Buses and Mercedes-Benz, hailed the deal as the largest electric school bus order in the United States to date. Awarding it to Thomas Built Buses is fitting, too, because the firm manufactures a significant percentage of the black and yellow school buses that meander across American roads five days a week. School buses rarely drive far, but they’re normally equipped with large-displacement engines that spew out harmful pollutants into the air, and consequently into the lungs of the kids they carry.

The model that Thomas Built Buses will deploy on Virginian roads might look familiar, because it’s an electrified version of the Saf-T-Liner C2 already widely used from coast to coast. It’s ideal for in-town routes, according to the manufacturer, because its 220-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack gives it up to 134 miles of driving range, which is more than enough to cover the needs of most school districts in the United States. Topping up the pack takes between two and three hours when the C2 is fitted with the optional quick-charging system.

Electric school bus

To add context, the battery fitted to Thomas Built’s electric bus is over twice as big as the one Tesla puts in its top-of-the-line cars, like the Model S Performance. Even Rivian doesn’t go above 180 kWh for the R1T. The company worked with Proterra to integrate the powertrain into the existing design as seamlessly as possible, so the C2 retains its 81-student seating capacity. And, parents can rest assured their children’s driver won’t be too tempted to speed, because Thomas Built pointed out its first electric bus takes about 50 seconds to reach 60 mph from a stop.

There are plenty of cool features packed into the model. Its battery management software receives over-the-air software updates when necessary, and the driver can flick on a Power-Save/Economy mode to conserve driving range when required. Vehicle-to-grid (V2G) technology turns the bus into a mobile power supply, too.

The 50 electric buses will begin making the rounds later in 2020. Digital Trends reached out to Thomas Built Buses to find out when it plans to deliver the full 1,050 fleet, and we’ll update this story if we learn more.

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Ronan Glon
Ronan Glon is an American automotive and tech journalist based in southern France. As a long-time contributor to Digital…
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