School BUSRide spoke with Normand Paquet, chief commercial officer at Micro Bird Inc., about significant changes in the school bus industry, alternative propulsion, the rise of electric vehicles, and the critical steps being taken to train the techs and drivers of tomorrow.
Please introduce yourself and your day-to-day role at Micro Bird.
I have been working for Micro Bird since 2007, always within the same role: business development, growth. My title is chief commercial officer. I graduated in business administration from the University of Montreal with a specialty in marketing distribution and a second diploma in procurement and logistics.
What are the most significant changes you have observed in pupil transportation over the last five years?
In our respective environment, we grew the business and responded to demand based on the quality with a major focus on cost of ownership. Today, we are number one in the market share for commercial buses in Canada, and North America for school buses. The way we do business is to really focus on exceeding customer’s expectations. Our approach is basically a vertical integration that includes pupil transportation.
The Girardin family also owns the Blue Bird dealership for the Maritime provinces in Canada, the Province of Québec and Ontario, as well as New York and Connecticut. That is why our approach was tailored toward dealers and custom ownership for customers.
Over the next five years, what do you speculate will be the most significant changes in the industry?
We believe that the right quality, as well as an alternative fuel approach, is part of the equation. With the inflation that is ahead of us right now, we’re back to the cost of products and the cost of acquisitions of goods. I am sure controlling the greenhouse gases with alternative fuels is part of the solution ahead of us and has already started with Government and grant money.
Our business approach will continue to be directed toward quality, being competitive, and market-driven needs.
How do you view different forms of alternative propulsion shaking out in the next few years?
I think it is a matter of vision. We see EVs becoming more and more significant within the industry. We can observe rapid adaptation in other countries, Europe and China are good examples.
Today, it is more a vision than a precise forecast for America. Because the U.S. is late taking the turn, it is not a period that we can put a number or precise timeline on.
How do you view the mandates that government entities have exercised as having a ripple effect through the industry?
No contractor will buy buses on which they will lose money. And yes, the new generations are much greener and demonstrate more attention to climate change and global warming.
Research & Development when behind us in America, volume will for sure get prices down. Never neglect maintenance cost-savings with electric vehicles and longevity. Gradually people will pay more attention to understand the differences. With alternatives or electric there is much less maintenance compared to any kind of gas or diesel engine.
What kind of preliminary advice would you give to a school district looking to take that first step?
Your current bus supplier may not be your best choice. In today’s marketplace, you always want to look at alternatives before deciding. With every new product there is a very limited number of newcomers remaining after five or 10 years. More than 50 percent of them will probably disappear.
It is very important that a school district or fleet operator have a good relationship with their local dealer, and that the dealer is being supported by his OEM. If you want to move toward EV the dealer must be instrumental in getting everyone onboard with the proper infrastructure.
How involved is the dealer in helping the district
Blue Bird and Micro Bird both have the reputation to offer training solutions for the dealers via our Program Academy. It’s important to ensure that the service techs, as well as the salesmen, are fully up to speed on the product itself and are receiving certified training to effectively work on the product and educate the school district to better control introduction costs.
Is working with the driving force also part of your academy, or is that left up to the school district?
It is between us and the dealers, but normally it’s the dealer. It is not as complicated as you might think, it is just a matter of taking the time to do it right. We have EV training, tutorials, and maintenance videos available on our YouTube site, covering elements from maintenance to driver training sections.
What advancement do you think is going to be most important in pushing the whole industry forward to the next level?
I think driver assist technologies will gradually take their rightful place, because of safety and their increased affordability.