11 Jun 2020

ELECTRIC BUSES – THE EVIDENCE

Wim Chatrou of CME Solutions has carried out detailed research into registrations of electric buses above 8.0 tonnes gross in Western Europe and Poland from 2012 through to 2019.

Over that period, 3,025 electric buses, excluding trolleybuses, were registered. Out of that total, there were 1,687 registrations in 2019, more than half the total of 3,025 and demonstrating the rapid rise in demand for electric buses. In the earlier years, orders tended to be smaller while operators learned about the infrastructure for electric buses, their maintenance and their driving.

Looking at that total volume of 3,025, the Netherlands was a comfortable leader with 726 registrations or 24.0% of the total registrations. France came next with 368 and 12.2%, followed by the United Kingdom with 322 and 10.6%, almost on a dead heat with Germany on 321. Sweden was next with 235 and 7.8%, followed by Poland with 197 and 6.5%, Norway on 173 and 5.7%, Spain with 148 and 4.9% and Italy with 122 and 4.0%. Quite a number of other countries had smaller registrations, all less than 100 vehicles.

Turning to manufacturers, from 2012 to 2019, VDL Bus & Coach had 668 registrations, taking 22.1%. That reflected the strong desire of the Netherlands Government to promote zero emissions public transport. Next was BYD with 407 or 13.5% but the Chinese manufacturer also supplied chassis to the United Kingdom market that were bodied by Alexander Dennis. This added a further 238 vehicles or 7.9%, taking BYD close to the market leaders. Solaris took third place with 326 and 10.8% but has very strong forward order book.

Continuing with manufacturers who registered more than 100 units, the volumes were Irizar with 188 and 6.2% followed by Volvo with 180 and 6.0%. Yutong took 172 or 5.7%, ahead of Mercedes-Benz with 149 and 4.9%. Ebusco of the Netherlands took 135 or 4.5%.

VDL Bus & Coach led the market registrations in 2019 followed by BYD, Solaris, Volvo, Irizar, Mercedes-Benz, Yutong and Ebusco, plus a number of others who registered fewer than 100 vehicles. On the one hand there are traditional bus builders who have added electric vehicles to their product ranges. On the other hand there are specialists in batteries and electric motors who have expanded their technology into buses.

A few of the established bus manufacturers have had to catch up with electric buses, but all the main suppliers can now offer these zero emission vehicles. They are more expensive than standard Euro VI diesel buses but, depending on the relevant prices of diesel and electricity, there can be a pay-back within a typical six to eight year period. Operators in many countries had been hoping that central or local governments might stimulate demand by paying the difference in price of an electric bus over a diesel bus. That is less likely to happen now with the great strains on public finances following the coronavirus pandemic.

Before that swept into Europe there were quite confident predictions that electric buses might account for up to 60% of new registrations by 2030. That might now be optimistic but strict air quality standards have to be met. Although buses are only a very small percentage of the vehicles in use, they spend many hours every day in urban areas and are therefore very visible.

Trolleybuses have been around for more than 100 years. They are widely used in Russia and some of the former countries that were in the Soviet Bloc. They can also be found in Austria, Greece and Switzerland with very small numbers of systems in several other countries. Some people have complained for many years about the unsightly overhead wiring, especially in city centres and it is quite a large maintenance cost.

Hess of Switzerland, one of the main trolleybus producers can offer the option of a battery range extender. The vehicle will draw power from the overhead wiring on the main routes but is capable of running off-wire for several kilometres to serve outlying suburbs. On its return to the city it reconnects with the overhead wiring which provides current for traction and to recharge the batteries. Other developments include very fast charging which can be carried out while passengers are getting on and off the vehicle at busy stops.

There is one other issue about electric vehicles as we move towards a zero emission future. If electricity is produced from coal or gas that to some extent defeats the purpose. It has to come from power generation that is itself zero emission.



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