Chinese-built zero-emissions electric doubledecker bus prepares for service in London
Fully electric doubledecker bus with new compact battery to launch in autumn, as London prepares for ultra low emission zone, reports China Daily
For years, London’s red doubledecker buses have dominated the capital, where nearly 1,000 routes are operated by 8,700 buses, many of them doubledeckers. Although there has been a gradual move to hybrid vehicles, many are still diesel-powered.
This will all change in October, when the world’s first pure electric zero-emission doubledecker bus, designed and built by Chinese automotive manufacturer BYD, will enter service in London.
The electric doubledecker bus represents a technology breakthrough in public transportation, said Isbrand Ho, managing director of BYD Auto Europe.
“In the past, electric vehicle manufacturers have produced electric buses with three batteries – at the vehicle’s front, back and top – but this design would not work with the doubledecker bus. BYD’s advanced technology is able to make the batteries more compact, so the battery on top of the bus is no longer required,” he said.
“London has the most dense population in Europe and has the highest visibility of doubledecker buses. London is replacing 700 to 800 doubledecker buses every year, so there is a big market.”
According to Ho, the inspiration to supply doubledecker buses to London came about two years ago when Wang Chuanfu, chairman of BYD, met with London mayor Boris Johnson.
“Boris Johnson said to our chairman, ‘If you can make it, I will buy it’.
“Actually, electric cars came before gasoline cars, but because of the weakness of the batteries, gasoline cars became more successful. But now is the time for electric cars to take over gasoline cars,” Ho said, explaining that the environmental benefit and the fuel cost savings of electric vehicles give them a distinct advantage.
Denis Naberezhnykh, the head of ultra-low emission vehicle and intelligent transportation system technology at the UK’s Transport Research Laboratory, praised BYD’s achievement.
“Until now, fully electric doubledecker buses have been considered unfeasible. This is mainly due to the competing requirements for battery space and passenger capacity,” Naberezhnykh said.
He says unlike their single-decker counterparts, doubledecker buses in London typically cannot accommodate batteries on the roof due to the height limits of the vehicle.
“A purely electric doubledecker bus not only provides further options for the electrification of London’s bus fleet, but with growing pressure to improve air quality in cities and the impending introduction of the ultra low emission zone in London, it provides another way of reducing emissions,” Naberezhnykh said. The zone is set to launch by 2020.
“Over the next few years, we can expect to see a growing shift toward the electrification of public transport vehicles, as we seek to reduce air pollutants in urban centres and improve local air quality. Ensuring that these vehicles are able to operate the demanding duty cycles without excessive charging time requirements will be a vital factor in accelerating this shift.”
London has already introduced hybrid buses in a bid to reduce the environmental impact of public transport.
The latest development is the New Routemaster bus, designed by English designer Thomas Heatherwick, which is 15% more fuel efficient than the existing hybrid buses and 40% more efficient than conventional diesel doubledeckers.
The first New Routemaster vehicles, nicknamed “Boris buses” after the mayor of London, began service on a limited number of routes in 2012, and it is planned that more than 600 of the buses will enter passenger service by 2016.
BYD chose London for the launch of the all-electric doubledecker bus because of the vehicle’s iconic significance, but the same technology can be applied to many other markets, including European markets such as Germany and Asian markets such as Hong Kong, Malaysia and Singapore.
Many of these markets would require localisation of design to suit customer needs, for example, with regards to wheelchair access, but the core technology of battery, control system and electric drivetrain would all be the same, according to Ho.
The first batch of BYD doubledecker buses will consist of five vehicles, all manufactured in China. Ho says BYD will explore the possibility of local manufacturing if the quantity supplied increases.
BYD won’t disclose the cost of the buses, explaining that it is highly dependent on customer specifications and volume, but says the electric buses can help save about 70% of the costs of fuel, producing long-term savings.
The latest New Routemaster costs £325,000 each, compared with £200,000 for an existing hybrid vehicle, according to the mayor’s office.
“For a bus, the largest part of the cost is actually the fuel, so over the long term electric vehicles can give a big cost saving effect,” Ho says.
The main challenge for electric buses is the lack of charging points, as is the case with other electric vehicles, because the technology is still relatively new, he says.
His team is working with Metroline, the London bus operator, to install charging infrastructure at bus depots, and is providing guidance on how to install the charging points, where to install them, what type of power requirements are needed. The company has invited Metroline engineers to China to see similar facilities.
Two years ago, BYD supplied two single-decker buses to the London bus operator Go-Ahead, which are still in use. BYD also helped Go-Ahead with installing the charging points.
The charging points are installed at bus depots, where the buses are parked at night, so the way the buses operate during the day is not affected. Most bus routes can be serviced for a full day on a single charge, needing only four hours to recharge during the night, using cheaper off-peak electricity, he says.
Founded in Shenzhen in 2003, BYD is already a leader in electric vehicles in both its domestic and international markets.
Ho says in Europe the company hopes to focus on the commercial vehicle market first, producing buses and taxis, because these vehicles can reach a wider user base and help BYD to build up a brand in Europe.
BYD has supplied vehicles to many countries, including Sweden, the Netherlands, Denmark, Belgium, the UK and Spain. Its European headquarters is in the Netherlands.
Looking ahead, Ho is optimistic about growth in the use of electric vehicles in Europe, because cities are becoming increasingly densely populated with many people preferring to live in the city, creating a big demand on public transport.
Meanwhile, the environmental credentials of the electric vehicles is also a big contributor to this trend, as European cities move increasingly to reduce pollution, he says.
According to China’s ministry of industry and information technology, some 19,000 plug-in electric cars, buses and trucks were produced in China in May. The International Energy Agency says China ranks third on the list of countries using pure electric cars, with 80,000 sold since 2008.