Electric Vehicles

Turn on the Buses
A Van Hool A300 hybrid bus on the streets of Leiden in the Netherlands. Arriva, the operator of the vehicle, is one of a constellation of companies in Europe that are swiftly taking electrified buses into their fleets, perhaps wooed by lower fuel and maintenance costs. Photo © Björn Wylezich

Turn on the Buses

By Simon Johns - May 01, 2020
Lubes’n’Greases Exclusive by Nick Augusteijn

For those pinning their hopes on heavy-duty engine lubricants as a fallback against losses on passenger car motor oil, this isn’t going to make pleasant reading. Buses, normally powered by diesel engines, are quickly going electric, and unsurprisingly, Chinese original equipment manufacturers are taking a firm market lead. 

None turns up, then three come at once, people at bus stops are wont to say. The same can be said of the electrification of this essential mode of public transport in Europe. From an almost standing start, the segment is bristling with EV bus OEMs, 

Registrations of new electric buses in Europe increased by 170.5% to 1,607 units last year. While this translates to a continent-wide market share of only 4%, the e-bus – whether a hybrid or powered by battery or fuel cell – is making inroads in countries such as the Netherlands, Germany, France and Norway. If the number of orders in recent months is anything to go by, this year promises to be an even bigger year for electrified public buses, despite the outbreak of covid-19. 

The biggest European market for e-buses is the Netherlands. Toward the end of 2019, there were 770 vehicles in service, translating into about 15% of all public buses. That number is projected to increase to almost 1,400 units by the end of this year, which would raise their market share to around 25%. 

The European market is also a boon for local manufacturers, with the likes of Daimler from Germany, the Netherlands’ VDL Bus & Coach and Volvo Buses of Sweden all bagging substantial orders for new vehicles.  

But the biggest order of them all came in December 2019, not for any of the European outfits, but for BYD Europe, the first overseas subsidiary of BYD, a conventional engine and EV maker headquartered in Xi’an, China. That month, the company secured an order for 259 e-buses from the Dutch subsidiary of global public transport provider Keolis, slated for delivery this summer. 

Since its founding, BYD Europe has sold more than 1,300 e-buses in 100 European cities. Operating out of Rotterdam in the Netherlands, the company now commands a 20% market share.  

“For the European market, BYD adheres to ‘made in Europe for Europe’ philosophy, with a range of products and services designed to meet the operational requirements of public transport operators in Europe,” BYD Europe’s Managing Director Isbrand Ho told Lubes’n’Greases.  

BYD Europe in 2016 established its first local manufacturing facility in Komarom, Hungary, which has an annual capacity of 400 vehicles. It also produces the chassis for buses that BYD develops in partnership with Alexander Dennis, a heavy-duty vehicle maker based in the United Kingdom. “BYD provides bus chassis, batteries and core powertrain technology, while ADL manufactures in Britain the bodywork of the bus,” Ho said of the cooperation.  

In the first two months of 2020 alone, the BYD and ADL partnership delivered 47 e-buses across the U.K., including 29 double-deckers for London and two units for Cambridge. In December 2018, the first e-buses came off the assembly line at its 32,000 square meter plant in France. 

As the birthplace of motorized transport, Europe is a notoriously difficult market to penetrate. It took Japanese and South Korean manufacturers decades to gain a foothold and it arguably was not until Tesla arrived on the scene that Europeans at long last embraced American cars.  

The bus and coach market, as well as the market for trucks is no different. “We are aware that the European market boasts arguably one of the highest degrees of expertise and competition when it comes to engineering, research and development,” said Ho.  

On the shop floor of the BYD e-bus factory in the United States. The company is one of the largest e-bus OEMs in the U.S. and is dominating in Europe, too. China is streets ahead of e-bus adoption, with 98% of the world’s fleet on Chinese roads. Photo © Li Ying Xinhua News Agency/Newscom

“For this reason, BYD places a big emphasis on its European R&D team and design center. BYD has logged more than 10 years of experience with pure e-buses and over 25 years’ working with multiple chemistries of exotic battery technologies,” Ho added. 

Parent company BYD is the first and only automaker that produces its own powertrain system, battery, motors and motor control system. “BYD owns a comprehensive battery industry chain going from raw materials, research and development, design, manufacture, application and recycling.” 

BYD’s zero-emissions mobility ecosystem sits well with the European drive toward ever-lower emissions from transport, a circular economy and, eventually, a fully fledged European Green Deal that aims to make that part of the world become the first carbon-neutral continent by 2050.  

“In the past 10 years, we have seen an increase of the demand for electric vehicles not only because of the change of public policies in Europe, but also because it is necessary for the protection of our environment and future generations,” Ho said admitting that it has had a positive impact on the company’s operations.  

“Battery technology advancements are going to play a key role in urban transportation and thus in the European bus market. We have seen a rapid shift in many countries to electric mobility and we will continue to observe this transformation.”
— Isbrand Ho, BYD

To date, many of the e-buses are so-called Class I vehicles that operate in downtown areas and airports and that can only accommodate standing passengers. BYD now also offers Class II e-buses. These vehicles not only carry seated passengers, but also have city-to-city capabilities thanks to upgraded battery technology.  

“Battery technology advancements are going to play a key role in urban transportation and thus in the European bus market. We have seen a rapid shift in many countries to electric mobility and we will continue to observe this transformation,” Ho said. BYD does not share information regarding battery capacity and range.  

Much like the European market for BEV passenger cars, the market for full e-buses is diverse, with both demand and charging infrastructure spread unevenly across the continent. For this reason, the European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association and the International Association of Public Transport in 2019 called upon EU member states to increase investments in charging infrastructure.  

Ho also sees a role for the private sector and stresses the importance of a carefully planned approach. “The key, we believe, is to have a coordinated action between the public authorities and the private sectors, by creating incentives for the shift in production as well as innovation.” 

An often-circulated figure for the number of e-buses in the world is some 425,000 units, with more than 98% of those operating in China. However, this number is likely to include trolleybuses, plug-in hybrids and fuel-cell vehicles, putting the number of pure e-buses similar to the ones BYD builds closer to 140,000 units, according to a 2020 Research and Markets publication. 

For every 1,000 e-buses on the road, 500 barrels of diesel are displaced each day … By comparison, 1,000 battery electric vehicles remove just 15 barrels of oil demand.

Whatever the exact number, the fact is that e-buses, pure electric or not, displaced an estimated 270,000 barrels of diesel per day in 2019. According to Bloomberg New Energy Finance, this is more than three times the volume displaced by BEV passenger cars, despite buses selling in much smaller numbers. 

“For every 1,000 e-buses on the road, 500 barrels of diesel are displaced each day … By comparison, 1,000 battery electric vehicles remove just 15 barrels of oil demand,” the report said. 

As a result, an e-bus can rack up fuel savings up to U.S. $400,000 over its lifetime, according to a 2019 report by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group Education Fund, the Environment America Research and Policy Center and the Frontier Group. E-buses can also result in $125,000 in savings on maintenance costs, since they have far fewer moving parts, the report found.  

The writers also touched upon the opportunities for the potential revenue stream from vehicle-to-grid technology, whereby BEVs, be they passenger cars or buses, can feed electricity back to the grid. The report said e-buses could return as much as $6,000 worth of power per year. 

It is difficult to see silver linings from the Covid-19 outbreak, especially for those in the business of motorized transport. Factories across the world have been shuttered and demand has all but been wiped out, albeit temporarily.  

In public transportation, experts point to the difficulties in maintaining distance rules, which may drive people to passenger cars. Those that continue to travel by public transport will likely have to put up with longer journey times. According to Dutch research, buses will have to wait at a bus stop up to four times as long to let passengers on and off and maintain separation. A typical diesel bus would be wasting precious fuel during the stop as boarding passengers huff down the fumes. Not so with e-buses, which might just accelerate market penetration beyond expectations.

Busy Bus

The municipality in Orleans, France, bought 29 electric buses from Spanish coach and bus company Irizar, part of a plan by local authorities to electrify the public transport system. In Germany, Leipzig’s public transport authority is taking consignment of 21 electric buses from Dutch manufacturer VDL Bus & Coach. In Belarus, local company MAZ launched the MAZ 303E10, which has a range of 300 kilometers and uses a ZF CeTrax drivetrain. Polish bus company Solaris is also using ZF’s CeTrax in its electric-only Urbino 15 LE. Optare’s Metrodecker H2 double-decker fuel-cell bus will enter service in 2021.