Thomas Built Buses: An American icon is being electrified

Do you recognize this yellow US school bus? That one taking kids to their high schools in the films and series made in Hollywood? It comes from Daimler. You say you didn’t know that before? Well, now you do.

The yellow bus is the symbol of all school buses in North America, and it’s made by Thomas Built Buses — a Daimler subsidiary that specializes in school buses. This bus model is called the Saf-T-Liner. The name refers to its high level of safety, though in Germany the association that usually comes to mind is “saft,” which means juice. In any case, the model is an outstanding example of traditional vehicle design.

At least the outside of it is. Under the bonnet, the Saf-T-Liner is an example of innovation throughout. The iconic body, which people assume has remained unchanged over the past decades, is now full of top-of-the-line technology. In fact, the yellow buses will soon be operating as “green” buses, because they will be fully electrified. Starting in 2019, Thomas Built Buses will produce school buses that are not only safe but also silent and clean. They will be the first-ever fully electric school buses in series production.


The prototype of these electric buses is powered by a 60 kWh battery and has an impressive range of up to 160 kilometers. If additional battery modules are used, the range can be extended. This yellow giant, which can transport as many as 81 kids to school and back, was given the friendly-sounding name of “Jouley” by the colleagues at Thomas Built Buses. The name is based on “joule,” the standard unit of energy.

And because Jouley is bursting with energy, it likes to give some of it back. On the way to school or back home, the kids can easily recharge their laptops and smartphones inside the bus.

Last year Thomas Built Buses celebrated its 100th anniversary. Its story began in 1916 in the small town of High Point in North Carolina. There, a Canadian streetcar builder called Perley Thomas, had just lost his job. With a startup spirit that would not be unusual today, he set up his own company and soon was producing streetcars for urban local transportation companies

Part of the Daimler family

In the 1930s, cars and city buses started to replace streetcars. Thomas recognized this trend early on and proceeded to reinvent himself and his company yet again. By 1936 he had cut back his streetcar production to zero and launched a new product on the market: the school bus.

Now let’s do a fast-forward to the year 1998. That’s when the school bus producer became part of the Daimler family as one of its commercial vehicle brands. And, in the apt and memorable words of Sir Alfred “Alf” Ramsey, who coached the English soccer team to World Cup victory in 1966,

Never change a winning team.

Daimler and Thomas Built Buses have been an outstanding team for many years. They’ve won yet another victory with the Saf-T-Liner. We’re proud that this iconic brand is part of the Daimler family. And we’re glad that we can support it as it adapts itself to the rapid change in the transportation industry and moves into the forefront as a pioneer.

He is an intern in Global Business Communication at Commercial Vehicles. The vehicles that interest him the most are huge and heavy, and they have more than two axles.