Quebec’s Help to Electrify School Buses Causes Discontent

Provincial assistance for the purchase of electric school buses aims to electrify two-thirds of the province’s yellow buses by 2030, exclusively with buses assembled in Quebec. A formula disputed by Quebec distributors of electric buses made in the United States and who ask the government to consider them in its financial assistance program.

Girardin Blue Bird is one of them. Some 600 employees annually assemble 4,000 diesel-powered school minibuses in a plant in Drummondville which is jointly owned in equal parts with the American manufacturer Blue Bird. The latter also has the capacity to produce in its factories south of the border 3,000 electric buses annually, but we will very probably not see them on Quebec roads.

As with other types of vehicles, the selling price of an electric school bus is almost double that of a similar diesel-powered model. And unlike those of the Lion Electrique de Saint-Jerome company, Girardin Blue Bird customers who would like to purchase them are not eligible for provincial assistance with the purchase of $ 150,000, since they are assembled at the same time. outside Quebec.

This restriction makes the manufacturer of Center-du-Quebec tick. Michel Daneault, vice-president of sales and service at Girardin, calls the provincial program a violation of the concept of “free market” and “free competition”. He is still waiting for explanations from the Ministry of Transport on how his company can adapt to benefit from this program.

At the limit of the rules

The sale of combustion engine vehicles should be banned across Canada in 2035, but Quebec school buses are a special case. Obviously, these are not new light vehicles sold to individuals, the category of vehicles targeted by the government with this measure. In addition, other types of heavy or commercial vehicles are not currently subject to a zero emission policy or purchasing aid that would require them to be assembled in the country.

Uncertainty for 2025

With a difference of $ 150,000 on purchase, “none of our customers will want an electric bus that is not subsidized. And for our other products, our potential market share will increase over the next few years from 60% to 20%. We will have to adjust our business model, ”laments Michel Daneault, of Girardin Blue Bird.

Girardin feels cheated by the formula chosen by Quebec to electrify its industry. Especially since its American partner does not currently intend to produce electric vehicles in Canada, adds Mr. Daneault. He recalls that the provincial purchasing assistance program is spread over three years, even if the target is in 2030. This adds uncertainty that limits the desire of the American manufacturer to invest in the province.

In fact, Blue Bird has a greater advantage in targeting the electric school bus market in the United States, which currently operates 480,000 buses that will need to be replaced based on state-by-state emission reduction targets. This is a much more attractive market than the Quebec market, made up of only 8,000 yellow buses, or even the Canadian market, which has 45,000.

Another Drummondville company, Autobus Thomas, is in a more perilous situation. Unlike Girardin, which can rely on exporting most of the vehicles it produces to the United States to ensure its continuity, Autobus Thomas only distributes buses manufactured outside the province in Quebec.