Till Oberwörder (Daimler Buses): The eCitaro arrived at the right time
At Mercedes-Benz, the transition to alternative drives has been going on for a number of years. Fuel cell drive, hybrid buses and 'Mild Hybrids' have passed by.
Till Oberwörder, head of Daimler Buses, has been in the electric business since last year with his eCitaro, from which Mercedes-Benz has high expectations, according to the Busworld Daily Times.
Simultaneously with the developments in powertrains, much is happening in other areas as well. Daimler is already manufacturing parts through 3D printing, involving more than 230 parts: metal and plastic. Oberwörder regards this as a solution for 'after sales' and the supply of spare parts in particular. "If you have the opportunity to extract parts into data and then send these to a printer near the location where the part is needed, this makes a huge difference to the logistical and packaging costs, but especially to transport. At the same time, it offers enormous environmental benefits. We are just at the beginning stage of this technology, but we believe that it will be possible in the medium term." Examples can be seen on the Mercedes-Benz stand for this Busworld edition.
This Busworld is all about the powertrains: electric drive in city buses. The competition is increasing, there are more bus manufacturers - look at the number of suppliers in this Busworld - and the well-known suppliers are also expanding their portfolio. Oberwörder: "The degree of competition is comparable to that of conventional drives. There are more companies offering e-buses, but I don't see the market changing that quickly. Good competition only makes us stronger. Nowadays there is much more to it than just the 'bus'. We call it the 'eMobility System'. It's about charging infrastructure, the management of the charging process, everything that's needed to drive the route optimally. The more we understand the needs of the customer for his operation to run smoothly, the better we can respond to his wishes: for example, should he have six, ten or twelve battery modules in his bus, and what charging equipment is required? What is the best configuration for the bus in conjunction, interaction, with the entire 'setup' required for its transport system?"
In 2022 Mercedes-Benz will launch a 'fuelcell range extender'. Oberwörder: "By combining techniques, we will be able to offer various systems in the short term that will enable our customers to continue working in the same way as they do today with a conventional drive system." As far as diesel or gas propulsion is concerned, Oberwörder emphasises that it remains present. "Euro 6 diesel engines make a significant contribution to reducing harmful emissions; Euro 6 is relatively clean. We continue investing to increase the efficiency of diesel and further reduce emissions. But let's also look at those parts of the world where Euro 6 can make a difference in terms of emissions. It makes a big difference whether you drive with a Euro 1 or with a Euro 5 or 6." As an example he mentions India where Bahrat 6, comparable to Euro 6, will be introduced next year. And so, according to him, there are more countries adapting their legislation.
FC range extender
In the recent past, Mercedes-Benz has, through various European projects, unleashed almost a hundred fuel cell buses on the streets. This experience is one of the reasons why the eCitaro can be delivered with a 'fuel cell range extender in two years. Why does a range extender offer a range of 400 or 500 kilometres if a battery can also offer a range of 400 or 500 kilometres? Oberwörder: "You have to look at the economic aspects, costs and benefits of the systems. We use the fuel cell, 40 kW, as a continuous charger for the battery. The advantage of a smaller fuel cell is its price. Today, a full fuel cell bus is simply too expensive." He doesn't expect the price of fuel cell technology to drop quickly. "This will only happen when the volume really increases substantially. With this range extender, we as Mercedes-Benz are on the right track to be able to offer different technologies."
For a long time it seemed that Mercedes-Benz was going to miss the 'electric boat'. Oberwörder refutes this and claims that Daimler's strategy has proved to be correct. "The eCitaro is built on the same production line in Mannheim as the diesel or gas-powered Citaro. We wanted to make sure that we could continue to meet every demand from our customers. By adapting the production line and the logistics in the factory to this, this is possible and we are now building the various buses interchangeably. Our staff also had to be trained for this, which takes time. The advantage is that the eCitaro has remained the Citaro but with another drive. Looking at where we are currently standing with the Citaro, I think we have introduced the eCitaro at the right time and can roll out our strategy and vision.