By on January 2, 2012

China has 1.4 billion people, and despite rumors to the contrary, it has some 200 million children that have to be ferried to school every day. Since there were no rules for this sort of transport, local schools used whatever vehicles they could find to bring children to class without paying any attention to safety. Because of that, things went wrong now and then, especially in the messy countryside.

Since it was usually about small numbers, one or two children dead, nobody really cared. Recently, three big school bus accidents happened where altogether more than 30 children died. China suddenly woke up and the central government belatedly announced strict rules for school-buses. Sure enough, car companies jumped at the opportunity to earn some good old government money. They came up with brand-new ‘super-safe buses-’In this article, we take a look at three of them.

This fine looking vehicle is simply called ‘Chengdu School bus.’ It was unveiled only a few weeks ago. Manufacturer is the ‘Chengdu Automobile Factory’ in the great city of Chengdu in Sichuan province. In basic configuration it is six meters long, it seats 24 students and costs 150.000 yuan ($23,800.) There will be longer versions from 7 and 9 meters as well.

According to the factory, ‘mass production is about to begin’. The Chengdu School bus is equipped with all kinds of safety systems such as emergency doors and alarm buttons next to each seat (that will be a lot of fun, I guess that function will be disabled soon, or a master switch will be installed.)

Our second vehicle is the Maxus V80 School bus. Maxus is a brand from SAIC (a.k.a. Shanghai Auto) that bought Maxus from bankrupt British LDV, and set up production in China. The normal Maxus V80 was listed in September, the V80 school bus version was unveiled in early December. It is a much more van-like design and seats 16 students. There won’t be any extended versions.

The price for a basic V80 school bus starts at some 160.000 yuan ($25,400.) Just like the Chengdu, the V80 has all kinds of safety systems including a bunch of cameras and a system that opens all doors (two at the front + rear doors) at the push of one button. Note that colors and graphics on the outside of all buses is the same, this indeed is a first sign of the new government-regulations. The Maxus V80 School bus will be listed early next year.

Our third vehicle is the big FAW School bus. It is a copy of the iconic American school bus, nobody tries to hide that and nobody cares, Chinese media calls it ‘our domestic American schoolbus’. It debuted as a just-for-fun concept car on the 2010 Beijing Auto Show. After the above mentioned misery, FAW quickly decided to produce their domestic American school bus and brought it to the market in November.

The FAW School bus is by far the biggest school bus available today; it can carry 37 students.  It is already is use in some 25 cities in China. The FAW comes with safety features such as an escape hatch in the roof and a sprinkler system (that one is going to be a lot of fun as well…) .

Let’s hope these three beautiful buses will save some lives. Sadly, experience tells that these well-meant government initiatives usually die within a year, mostly due to all sorts of obstruction at the local level. But at least, there is a start…

Dutchman Tycho de Feyter runs Carnewschina.com, a blog about cars in China, from Beijing, China. He also collects die-cast models of Chinese cars.

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14 Comments on “China goes Schoolbus Crazy...”


  • avatar
    bumpy ii

    Those interiors look better than anything in even a charter bus. Of course, the kids will destroy it in a few months and China’s central planners will discover why American school buses have prison-grade accomodations.

    The 3+2 seating in the big bus is amusing, as is the choice of Federal Yellow paint jobs. It looks like the swing-out Stop sign is on the back of the bus???

    • 0 avatar
      dastanley

      I can remember as a kid in the late 70s when we hosted a British family in an exchange program. They generally liked what they experienced in Atlanta, GA with the exception of two things: American beer and school buses. The beer was like water to them and the buses were nothing like their “coaches”. They were aghast at our basic primitive school buses.

    • 0 avatar
      skor

      You are making the assumption that the Chinese kids are self important, narcissistic little snowflakes jacked up on sugar-bombs, reality TV and psychoactive behavior altering prescription “medicine”.

      • 0 avatar
        VanillaDude

        You are correct. American children are not shown the limits of personal behavior as children in other cultures. Personal public conduct is strictly enforced. Especially in public transportation. Children displaying behavior typically found on American school buses would be severly reprimanded.

        However, my foreign friends love the freedom children have in the States and prefers it to their homeland.

        I’m pleased that the Chinese are tending their precious future citizens.

  • avatar
    CarPerson

    I personally like taking the Walking Bus as long as I get a spot near an Emergency exit.

  • avatar
    dastanley

    That “American” school bus actually looks fairly nice – for now anyway. I wonder if/when those “American” buses will be sold in…America.

    I took the school bus (“big yellow nerdmobile”) from 5th grade through high school. We were awful, giving the drivers hell and generally wrecking the interiors. I can’t tell you how many fights were started on the bus, only to be finished in the afternoon at the bus stop after the bus left. Often times, the driver would “take their time” and linger to watch the fight before moving on to the next stop.

    The buses I rode on from 1976-84 were gasoline powered (GMCs, Internationals, and Fords) with manual transmissions. Whenever the driver would coast to a stop with the bus still in gear, we would see a big white plume of unburned gasoline spew from the tail pipe and the cabin would smell like raw gasoline fumes. This happened several times to and from school on a daily basis. I thought it smelled good actually. It’s amazing I haven’t died from cancer – yet.

    • 0 avatar
      don1967

      And don’t forget that, connected to that GMC/International/Ford manual shifter, was a flabby arm holding a smoldering cigarette.

      I can still feel my eyes burning. Memories.

  • avatar
    indi500fan

    This crash which killed 27 in a fire pretty much put an end to gasoline powered school buses in the US.
    Of course the fuel economy had an influence also.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carrollton,_Kentucky_bus_collision

  • avatar
    daveainchina

    Only problem I had with school buses in the USA was noise. The later models I didn’t like as much as the seatbacks were too high to talk to people around you.

    I know it was for safety but I think they made things worse because then everyone just stood to talk to people in the next row, defeating the purpose of the high seatbacks.

    The problem in the USA is that in the interest of “saving money” many schools have removed school buses altogether. They’ve created more dangerous situations with all the parents coming to a school to pick up their children. School buses are a smart economical and fuel efficient way of transporting children to school safely.

    I’m happy to see this initiative here in China, hopefully it will not get lost once it gets to the local levels.

  • avatar
    Forty2

    To me the iconic American school bus was the Crown Coach cab-over with a Cummins 6-cyl diesel lying on its side underneath us, coupled to the rear end with a manual 5-speed that had a shift lever about six feet long. Our drivers were tough old broads who brooked no dissent. When things got chaotic they’d just slam on the brakes and bonk everyone’s heads against the setbacks, which were NOT padded back then.

    The district had its own shop and maintenance crew. Of course this was in the 70s and I’m sure the whole thing was outsourced and shut down years ago.

  • avatar
    MrWhopee

    The upholstery is definitely nicer than US schoolbuses’, whose vinyl seats are designed with durability first and foremost. I think the Americans did it out of experience. Those nice cloth upholstery will be destroyed in no time at all, and then they’ll copy the American’s durable vinyl seats. I have to confess I had ridden a schoolbus only once (university field trip), and it has the most uncomfortable ride I’ve ever experienced. I think the bus might have kept the truck suspension of the chassis it is based.

    • 0 avatar
      dastanley

      Agreed, the school buses were certainly not comfortable for road trips. When I ran cross country and track in high school, we would often bounce around on the bus for a couple of hours on the interstate to get to some regional meet. And what was worse was our old church bus. It was an old worn out school bus purchased at an auction, painted green and white, and had the added benefit of breaking down frequently on road trips. I remember a skiing trip the youth group did in Gatlinburg, TN in Jan ’81 in that blasted bus. Let’s see, the bus stalled out several times along the interstate and would restart only with great difficulty, got stuck in the snow at the ski resort… Ah, memories.

  • avatar
    newfdawg

    Ah, this brings back memories of all the years I rode to and from
    school in these vehicles. They rode like connestoga wagons(actually I think the wagons probably had a more comfortable ride), were
    incredibly noisey, reeked of gasoline fumes and had industrial grade upholstery. The transmissions in these things must have been incredibly durable because it seemed like every driver was always grinding gears as they shifted.

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