BAE Systems and Chinese newcomer BYD had some exciting developments in the world of greener buses at the Kortrijk show, writes Andrew Garnett.

New vehicle propulsion technologies have come to the fore in recent years and with pressure on natural resources, the effects of climate change and increasing problems with air pollution in major cities around the globe, it was perhaps unsurprising that they were a major theme emanating at last week’s Busworld show held in Kortrijk in Belgium.

For several years much of the spotlight has been on hybrid technologies with all of the major manufacturers announcing and unveiling hybrid diesel-electric vehicles. That market is still very much in its development phase, but the benefits and advantages of hybrid-powered buses are now well established and it’s interesting to note that British companies are more than keeping pace with the technology.

BAE Systems’ HybriDrive hybrid system is now very much established in the UK, thanks to initial trials in London and boosted by two round of the Department for Transport-administered Green Bus Fund, plus its Scottish equivalent. However, the company is now pushing to introduce HybriDrive into European markets. This comes with a two-pronged approach using its existing partnership with Falkirk-based bus manufacturer Alexander Dennis and its relationship with Iveco, whose bus division is now part of the multinational Iribus business.

At Busworld an example of the Enviro 350H, ADL’s HybriDrive-powered European city bus, built in partnership with Spain’s TATA Hispano was on show as well as an open top sightseeing bus with Unvi bodywork on an ADL chassis with the HybriDrive system.
The latter vehicle perhaps encapsulated how air quality issues are likely to become of growing importance in tourist honey pot cities across Europe in coming years.

That growing environmental consciousness is also pushing BAE Systems on to add further improvements to the HybriDrive system. Incremental changes have already seen fuel savings increase from 25% from the initial vehicles used in the original London trial to around 30% now. A new second generation HybriDrive system, introduced this year, has improved fuel efficiency with 35% savings, and other changes, principally the introduction of stop/start technology that switches off the diesel engine when the vehicle is at a standstill, promises fuel savings in excess of 40%. Further changes planned for the system in 2012, including optimising HybriDrive’s control software to specific routes, could bring fuel savings of around 50% – a powerful motivator for UK operators in a world where fuel prices are volatile and the Bus Services Operators Grant will soon be linked to fuel efficiency.

Affordability of hybrid technology remains an issue and there’s no doubt that BAE Systems and its rivals received a shot in the arm from government with the introduction of Green Bus Funds both north and south of the border in the UK. That has seen the actual or planned introduction of hybrid and electric buses in many cities across the UK. Ian Wilson, BAE Systems’ business development director – power and energy management, told Passenger Transport in Kortrijk that all of the major manufacturers are lobbying for a further round of funding. “The acquisition costs of hybrid buses are no longer prohibitive and reducing” he added. “You can get more bang for your buck and we’ve made that point to ministers. A similar pot of money to last time would now buy more hybrid buses.”

For the future BAE Systems is keeping a keen eye on the London mayoral elections. If Ken Livingstone was to win the election and scrap plans for the New Bus for London, one of the key projects of the Boris Johnson mayoralty, it’s possible that Transport for London may turn its attentions away from that bespoke hybrid solution to more conventional hybrid vehicles.

Wilson also foresees further improvements to BAE’s hybrid platform, including linking HybriDrive up with Fuel Cell technology and the introduction of a plug-in hybrid capability that could boost the system’s batteries to allow buses with the HybriDrive system to run in all-electric mode. “With induction charging technology we can bury the charging kit in the road surface at bus stops and top up HybriDrive’s batteries wirelessly allowing buses to operate in full EV (Electric Vehicle) mode between stops,” he added. “If you think of somewhere like Princes Street in Edinburgh you could switch off the engines of all the buses along that street. That would bring immediate benefits.”

There’s some way to go before the widespread adoption of such technology, but elsewhere at Busworld there was a glimpse of an all-electric future for the bus. Chinese manufacturer BYD (or Build Your Dreams) is not a household name in Europe. It was founded in 1995 with just 20 employees and much its focus since then has been on the manufacture and development of battery technology. BYD has grown at a ferocious rate and today has more than 180,000 employees at 11 industrial plants across China. In 2003, it entered the automotive market with its acquisition of an established car manufacturer and is committed to bringing the two sides of its business together by introducing a range of electric vehicles.

Interestingly, this includes electric buses as well as cars and taxis, and BYD used the Busworld show to unveil its eBUS-12 full size electric single deck city bus for the first time outside its home market. It promises to be the first, mass-produced full size pure electric bus in the world, and with a range of around 155 miles it promises to be a viable contender too.

It would also seem that BYD promises to be a completely different type of bus manufacturer too. Speaking at Busworld, Paul Lin, BYD’s marketing manager, said that the manufacturer was not interested in producing conventional diesel buses and had spent five years developing the eBus range that will eventually include midibus and double deck options. “BYD is totally serious about entering the European bus market,” he added before confirming that trials will take place with eBus prototypes in both Copenhagen and Frankfurt. Passenger Transport understands that at least two of the type will enter service with a UK operator on a central London bus route, although confirmation of this move is still awaited.

Many commentators at Busworld noticed that the market for buses could be changing as EV technology comes to the fore. Traditionally bus manufacturing has been undertaken as an off-shoot of their higher volume and more profitable truck manufacturing activities. BYD, in which investor Warren Buffett spent a cool $230m to acquire a 10% stake in 2008, could make bus manufacturing an off-shoot of the battery market. With its vast technological expertise, it’s likely that advancements in battery technology will quickly find their way into BYD’s buses.

Other manufacturers are likely to view its entry with unease, indeed one senior figure from a European manufacturer was spotted closely examining the eBus-12 at Busworld. The Chinese are coming and it may just revolutionise the city bus market.

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