Thomas Built Buses Opens New School Bus Manufacturing Plant in High Point, N.C.
June 8 Ceremony Attended By State and Local Officials
HIGH POINT, N.C. – Thomas Built Buses officially opened its new $39.7 million school bus manufacturing plant today in High Point, N.C. The state-of-the-art plant is the headquarters for production of Thomas’s all-new conventional school bus – the Saf-T-Liner® C2. Thomas management, dealers, employees, plant contractors, and state and local elected officials commemorated the event with a new school bus rolling off the line, tours of the plant, and bus ride and drives.
The plant is currently ramping up with the assembly of the first Saf-T-Liner C2 buses to be used as demonstrators for Thomas’ dealer network. Production of customer units will begin in August. When the 275,000-square-foot plant is running at full capacity, a total of 192 workers will manufacture up to 22 buses per shift.
“The opening of this plant and the production of the Saf-T-Liner C2 is an unmatched achievement for Thomas Built Buses and a key development for the company’s continuing leadership,” said Roger Nielsen, Chief Operating Officer of Freightliner LLC, parent company of Thomas Built Buses.
Speaking to the gathered audience of enthused and excited dignitaries, Nielsen said, “Today is a testament to our clear commitment of advancing the school bus industry and the safety of our children. We are confident that both our plant and our new school bus will serve as industry standards from this day forward.”
Elected and community officials, including U.S. Rep. Richard Burr (5th District N.C.) and High Point Mayor Rebecca Smothers, joined Nielsen, Thomas Built Buses President and CEO John O’Leary and a group of school children on the first bus ride as it left the manufacturing line.
“We have been very pleased by support of the community and state during the construction process and now with the dedication of the manufacturing plant,” O’Leary said.
“This plant brings the latest manufacturing technology and processes to the North American school bus market,” O’Leary added. “It is the cornerstone of our commitment to leading this industry with the application of innovative technologies that enhance the safety of children and the efficiency of school bus transportation.”
During the tour, guests viewed the 3/4-mile long assembly line with its 75 workstations that feature an automatic conveyor system, robotics, and filtered down-draft paint booths. One of the new technologies incorporated in the manufacture of the C2 is the use of specially designed adhesives on body joints combined with self-piercing rivets to increase strength and durability. This combination also results in fewer fasteners for a sleek look and fewer potential leaks.
“The manufacturing plant and the C2 are inseparable,” O’Leary said. “We couldn’t build a remarkable vehicle like the C2 without also building an equally remarkable manufacturing facility.”
The Saf-T-Liner C2 project started with preliminary planning and product development in 1999. By mid-2000, the project was approved with the groundbreaking celebration taking place on October 2, 2002. The aggressive construction schedule was met, despite severe weather conditions, and employees first occupied the plant in November of 2003. The upfitting of the plant interior, employee training and the building of a small volume of buses continues to progress, with the start of production scheduled for August 2004.
“The Saf-T-Liner C2’s exceptional driver visibility, maneuverability and advanced safety features, were well received at the National Association of Pupil Transportation (NAPT) trade show in November 2003,” O’Leary said. “In March 2004, over 230 industry leaders were given an opportunity to drive two pre-production units during a national ride-and-drive tour and their enthusiasm confirmed that we’ve come to market with the right product.”
“It would be impossible for us to have come this far without the dedicated and skilled workforce at Thomas,” O’Leary added. “Their expertise and commitment shows in every bus we deliver.”
Founded in 1916 in High Point, Thomas’s corporate headquarters and manufacturing plants span more than 1 million square feet. The company is a leading employer in Guilford and Randolph counties, with approximately 1,600 full time employees.
Thomas Built Buses is a subsidiary of Freightliner LLC and is the leading manufacturer of school buses in North America, with a 37% share of the school bus market.