American Transportation Corporation (better known as AmTran) was an American manufacturer of school bus bodies. Founded in 1980, the company traces its roots back to Ward Body Works, established in 1933. Following the 1979 bankruptcy filing of Ward Body Works, AmTran was formed; in 1991, the company was acquired by Navistar International, a move that would begin a series of alignment between school bus body manufacturers and chassis suppliers. The AmTran corporate headquarters and manufacturing facilities were located in Conway, Arkansas.
In 2000, the company was rebranded as International Truck and Bus (some vehicles continued with AmTran branding). In 2002, the name was changed again to IC Corporation, and today is known as IC Bus.
During the late 1970s, the school bus manufacturing industry was in relative turmoil. From the early 1950s, the segment was dependent on student population growth related to the baby-boom generation. By the beginning of the 1980s, the last of the generation had completed their secondary education, leading to a decrease in student population growth across the United States.
At the time, Ward Body Works was among "the Big Six" full-line school bus manufacturers (alongside Blue Bird, Carpenter, Superior, Thomas, and Wayne). The declining economy of the late 1970s also cut into the profitability of all school bus manufacturers. Of the "Big Six", Superior and Ward were the hardest hit. Following the 1975 closure of its secondary manufacturing facility in Pennsylvania, Ward amassed over $20 million in debt by 1979.
In July 1980, Ward Industries filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. In the filing, the family-owned company declared $21.5 million in liabilities. As Ward Industries was a significant manufacturer in the central Arkansas region, the Wards sought for a way to keep the doors of the company open.
With company president Charles Ward selling off his stake in the company, Ward Industries was acquired by an investment group (assisted by then-Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton) named MBH, Inc. MBH was an acronym for the first letters of the last names of each of the 4 investors: Thomas E "Mack" McLarty, J.W. "Buddy" Benafield and two Kansas City brothers, R.L. "Dick" Harmon and Robert Harmon. McLarty and Benafield each held ⅓ ownership; the Harmon brothers together held the remaining ⅓ ownership. MBH reopened Ward Industries as American Transportation Corporation (AmTran). As Ward Industries continued to hold significant market share in the school bus segment, AmTran chose to retain the Ward brand name for school buses although non-school bus products adopted the AmTran brand in 1981.
Following the acquisition, the Ward family held no stake in AmTran; however, Steve Ward remained in the new company for vehicle distribution and marketing, having the exclusive rights to sell Ward/AmTran products in Arkansas, based in a dealership from Conway.
During the 1980s, AmTran would make several product introductions that would advance school bus design in several market segments. Although among the last large bus manufacturers to introduce a Type A school bus, AmTran was the first manufacturer to introduce a higher-capacity version, with five rows of seating instead of four seen at the time. For 1986, AmTran introduced the first large semi-forward control conventional with the introduction of the Ward/AmTran Patriot. Using a shortened version of the Chevrolet/GMC B-Series, the Patriot allowed for a shorter wheelbase and nose angle for improved forward visibility. Although not a success overall, the Patriot would go on to become a major influence on the later Thomas Vista.
In 1987, the structure of the Ward/AmTran body was received an exterior update, distinguished by a rubrail mounted below the window line. Much of this body structure is still used on IC Bus CE-Series and RE-Series product lines (as of 2017).
1990s: Acquisition and merger
In 1991, Navistar International acquired one-third of the stock of American Transportation Corporation; the purchase was initiated by Jerry Williams, the CEO of AmTran at the time. As part of the purchase, Navistar acquired an option to buy the rest of AmTran, which was completed in April 1995. Following the Navistar acquisition of AmTran, during the late 1990s, several school bus body manufacturers would become acquired with chassis manufacturers and suppliers.
Although the AmTran brand had been in use since 1981 on non-school buses, following the Navistar acquisition, the company began to rebrand its school buses. During 1992, the Ward Senator front-engine bus was replaced by the AmTran Genesis (with a Genesis by AmTran roof emblem). At the end of 1992, the AmTran brand replaced the Ward name on the rest of the school bus product lines. Navistar ownership would affect production of the Volunteer conventional; after 1991, the Volunteer was produced nearly exclusively on an International 3800 chassis (though Ford chassis remained a rarely ordered option to 1998).
For 1996, the AmTran line saw the introduction of the AmTran RE, the first rear-engine bus produced by AmTran/Ward in over 20 years. In contrast to other manufacturers, AmTran did not derive the body design for the rear-engine AmTran RE from its front-engine Genesis Type D bus.
For 1997, the Vanguard cutaway bus was discontinued along with the long-running Volunteer. AmTran chose to focus production exclusively on full-size buses, while the Volunteer was updated and replaced by the AmTran CS. Featuring an all-new drivers' compartment with updated controls, the CS was distinguished by an upright 4-piece windshield, further improving forward visibility.
In 1998, the AmTran Genesis was updated with a new grille and drivers compartment; to bring it in line with the AmTran RE, it was renamed the AmTran FE. Following the discontinuation of the Ford B700/B800 in 1998, the International 3800 became the sole chassis for the AmTran CS (as the Freightliner FS-65 chassis was produced by the parent company of competitor Thomas Built Buses).
2000-2002: Rebranding to IC Corporation
In 1999, AmTran announced plans to build a facility in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Dedicated to production of conventional-chassis school buses, the Tulsa factory was planned to employ nearly 1200 people as the factory opened in 2000.
With the opening of the second factory, production of the Conway, Arkansas factory was dedicated towards the lower-volume AmTran FE and RE-series product lines.
Following the introduction of Tulsa-produced buses, the AmTran CS was re-christened as the International IC. Branded as a fully integrated conventional, the IC dropped the AmTran name in favor of International. Along with a slightly redesigned windshield and updated drivers' compartment, the IC saw the first hood redesign for the International 3800 since 1989 (with a vertical grille).
During 2001, AmTran effectively ceased to exist, as Navistar legally changed the name of its bus manufacturing subsidiary to "International Truck and Bus" (although "American Transportation Corporation" lettering remained on vehicles into 2002 production). For the AmTran FE and RE, AmTran roof emblems were replaced by "International" roof badging (with or without the International diamond emblem).
For 2003, Navistar renamed its bus manufacturing subsidiary a second time in two years. To better separate bus manufacturing from its truck manufacturing division, International Truck and Bus was renamed Integrated Coach Corporation (named IC Corporation, IC Bus since 2008).
|Ward/AmTran product line (1980-1992)|
|Ward Vanguard||1985-1992||Type A (cutaway van chassis; dual rear wheel)||Ford Motor Company
|The Ward Vanguard was the first Type A school bus produced with a 25-passenger body, the largest at the time.
Only produced with dual rear wheels.
|Ward Patriot||1985-1991||Type C (semi-forward control conventional)||General Motors
Chevrolet/GMC B6 (modified)
|The Ward Patriot was a semi-forward control conventional based on a modified General Motors B6 chassis; it is similar in layout to the 1989-1990 Thomas Vista school bus.
Discontinued after the 1991 General Motors exit from large-scale conventional chassis production.
|Ward Volunteer||1973-1992||Type C cowled-chassis conventional)||Ford Motor Company
Chevrolet B6/GMC B6000 (1980-1991)
International Harvester S1700/S1800 (1980-early 1989)
International 3700/3800 (1989-1992)
|Introduced in 1973, the Ward Volunteer body underwent several body modifications during the 1980s; much of the underlying body structure is still used in the current IC CE-Series of today.
General Motors chassis dropped after 1991.
|Ward President||c.1975-1989||Type D (front-engine transit)||Asia-Smith Motors (1988-1990)
Chevrolet/GMC S-7 (1987-1989)
International FC1853 (1975–1986)
|Introduced in the mid-1970s, the Ward President is a front-engine transit-style school bus similar to the Blue Bird All American and Thomas Saf-T-Liner EF. Several front-wheel drive prototypes were produced in 1976.
From 1987 to 1990, the President shared its chassis with the Wayne Lifestar school bus.
|Ward Senator||1990-1992||Navistar International||Introduced as the replacement for the Ward President, the Ward Senator is a front-engine transit school bus similar to the Blue Bird TC/2000 and Thomas Saf-T-Liner MVP EF. Several prototypes were produced on Crane Carrier Corporation chassis in 1990.
In 1992, the Senator was re-branded as the AmTran Genesis.
|AmTran product line (1992-2001|
|AmTran Vanguard||1993-1996||Type A (cutaway van chassis; dual rear wheel)||General Motors||Discontinued after 1996 as AmTran concentrated on full-size bus production; only Type A school bus produced until the 2010-2014 IC AE-Series.|
|Type C (cowled-chassis conventional)||Ford Motor Company
Ford B700/B800 (1993-1998)
International 3700 (1993-1994)
International 3800 (1993-2002)
|The Volunteer was replaced in 1997 by the CS, which was given a new windshield and driver's compartment. The International-badged IC replaced the CS during 2000 with another interior redesign and a separate hood design from other International 3800-chassis buses.
Following the discontinuation of the Ford B-Series in 1998, all AmTran chassis production was sourced from parent company Navistar.
|1992-2002||Type D (front-engine transit)||Navistar International||An updated and rebranded version of the Ward Senator, the Genesis was the first school bus to use AmTran badging; the Genesis roof badging was replaced by AmTran lettering in 1995.
As part of a second update, the Genesis was renamed the AmTran FE in 1998, later becoming the International/IC FE-Series produced to 2010.
|AmTran RE||1996-2002||Type D (rear-engine transit)||Navistar International||Introduced in 1996 as a rear-engine competitor to the Blue Bird TC/2000.
In 2000, an update was made to the drivers' compartment and controls.
As the IC RE-Series, this remains in production (as of 2018).
AmTran buses were produced in the former Ward factory in Conway, Arkansas. In 1999, the company expanded production capacity as it began construction on a second plant in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Coinciding with the introduction of the IC conventional bus, the Tulsa facility would take over production of all conventional bus bodies; the Conway factory remained in production for transit-style buses. Following the discontinuation of the FE-Series transit-style bus in 2010, full-scale bus production ended in Conway in January 2010, but successor company IC Bus utilizes the factory for parts fabrication and production.