EXECUTIVE INTERVIEW: Blue Bird is an Alternative Fuel Leader

February 27, 2019

An ACT News Executive Interview with Pam Caro, Regional Sales Manager, Blue Bird Corporation, leading manufacturer of alternative fueled school buses.

In 1994, Blue Bird Corporation was the very first company to market electric school buses in America and has since become the largest manufacturer of alternative fueled school buses, producing six times more alternative fueled buses than all other competitors combined.

As Regional Sales Manager, Pam Caro talks with ACT News about how she is able to meet and exceed customers’ needs and expectations with the wide variety of alternative fuel vehicle options that Blue Bird offers today.

With a background working in renewable energy, Pam speaks about the value of transferable experience from outside industries as well as the importance of both mentoring and fostering leadership potential in women.

ACT News caught up with Pam to learn more about how the iconic American manufacturer is continually innovating to redefine safety for children, passengers, and drivers – not only in terms of vehicle operations but by ensuring their air quality is cleaner and safer every day.

Blue Bird School Buses

ACT News: Bluebird offers propane, natural gas, and electric school buses. When purchasing a new school bus, how important is fuel type to the customer? What are the items they prioritize (Clean air? Safety features? Tech add-ons?)

Pam Caro: There are several factors that a customer considers when choosing a fuel type. Customers have many options and often look for a fuel type that will support and even exceed their needs. Will the fuel or charging be easily accessible? Will their technicians be able to service the bus on site? What are the life cycle savings in adopting an alternative fuel bus? Districts adopting alternative fuels to their fleet are in tune with their community’s need for cleaner air quality and are proud to say they are making a direct impact when these buses are on the road. With our electric buses, for example, districts can track each bus performance through its telematics, which in turn helps them understand how to optimize the charge and life of the bus. This technology has helped districts understand their fleet more and see what areas they can improve.

ACT News: What feedback have you received from customers, drivers, etc. about alternative fuel buses versus diesel?

Pam Caro: Our customers see the immediate benefits from their alternative fuel buses in many ways. Drivers love how quiet both the electric buses and propane buses are, while technicians don’t have as much aftertreatment to deal with as they do with diesel buses. At the same time, districts see a savings due to less maintenance and fuel expenditures. Our customers love the fact that they are making a positive fiscal impact while, most importantly, transporting students in a cleaner alternative fuel bus.

Blue Bird is the largest manufacturer of alternative fueled school buses, producing six times more alternative fueled buses than all other competitors combined.

ACT News: What do you like most about Blue Bird?

Pam Caro: What I love the most about Blue Bird is the desire to provide options to our customers. The school bus industry is not “one size fits all” and being able to offer a wide array of alternative fuels is one way we try to best serve our customers. Seeing alternative fuel school buses deployed is incredibly rewarding because it’s not just students who benefit, the whole community benefits as well. We strive to continue to be a leader in alternative fuels and help our customers be able to realize their fuel choices have a positive environmental impact.

ACT News: Given the rapid advancements taking place in the sustainable transportation space, having an executive leadership team that brings a diverse range of perspectives is critical. What recommendations and advice do you have for organizations looking to recruit and retain savvy female leaders?

Pam Caro: Being open to diversity in all respects is more important now than ever before. The populations we serve are growing and becoming increasingly more diverse, and it’s important that our own organization reflects this. Having women in leadership positions is invaluable for every organization. My first advice here is to not be afraid of recruiting talent outside the transportation sector. For instance, coming from the renewable energy space, I was able to utilize and apply many of the skills I developed from that industry and come to the school bus industry with fresh eyes and a fresh approach.

Blue Bird School Bus

My advice to organizations looking to recruit and retain female leaders is to first start by looking within your organization to recognize the women in your own circle who have shown leadership skills and provided value to your organization. There are so many women already in the transportation sector who have the potential to grow.

 

ACT News: What advice would you offer to young professionals interested in pursuing a similar career path?

Pam Caro: I would tell young professionals to not be afraid to ask for help and guidance. Many professionals have been in this space for decades and have a wealth of knowledge they are more than willing to share. Take them out to lunch and ask them all the questions you have. These individuals would make great mentors as well. Be willing to start in entry level positions and show your work ethic. Nothing beats hard work.

ACT News: From your perspective, how has the VW Settlement promoted (or fallen short to promote) alternative fuel school buses?

Pam Caro: In a broader perspective, VW has given each state the freedom to choose what to fund, and to hear from people about what projects and fuel types they deem most important. This platform served as an opportunity for everyone to voice their support regarding alternative fuel school buses. For example, California has not only backed districts with funding for EV buses, but with the necessary infrastructure as well. This level of support will greatly benefit the state for years to come. Other states have given more funding to districts that purchase an alternative fuel bus in order to cover the incremental cost of the investment. Overall, the VW settlement has helped states provide more funding support for alternative fuel school buses.

Seeing alternative fuel school buses deployed is incredibly rewarding, it’s not just students who benefit, but the whole community.

ACT News: What is a great piece of advice you have personally received? Did you have occasion to put it to use?

Pam Caro:Si todo fuera facil, todos lo harian” (Spanish for: If everything was easy, everyone would do it). My mom ingrained these words in me since childhood, and they’ve helped me get through some tough moments in life. Professionally, there are times when you don’t feel ready to embark on something new, or even something tedious or mundane, because of the challenges that come with it. Choosing to do what’s hard while others won’t will speak volumes about you.

ACT News: If given a chance, who would you like to be for a day?

Pam Caro: Not a particular person, but I have always wanted to be part of a NASCAR pit crew for a day. I love that you have a short amount of time to make many changes and you’re judged on how fast you perform. My competitive nature would compliment the time sensitivity that comes with the pit crew tasks, it’s exhilarating to me.