The global market for transporting people on buses (metropolitan) and coaches (inter-city) is huge. Right now, it is worth close to £90 billion and this is set to increase by almost 7% a year through to 2028, when the market is expected to be worth over £130 billion. Transport for London has said that road vehicles are the single biggest cause of air pollution in many cities. They produce nearly half of all nitrogen oxides and emit tiny particles of rubber and metal – too small to see with the naked eye – into the air we breathe. While the argument for moving conventional cars and motorbikes across to an electric powertrain are clear, many wonder if electrification will work for large commercial vehicles: Can buses and coaches be run on electricity?
One of the largest suppliers in this area is likely to be BYD. It provides partnership designs where the core of the powertrain, steering, regeneration, battery systems etc are all fixed into a platform – which can then be built upon by whichever local bus manufacturing expert wants to create a solution for their particular market.
This modular approach is popular for all kinds of electric vehicles – allowing organisations like Stellantis and the Volkswagen-Audi group to create multiple ranges from a ‘known to be working' core.
While the concept of a flexible platform is common across consumer and commercial vehicles, the method of ‘ownership' is quite different. To assist authorities and operators in planning for the operational requirements of these electric buses, bus/coach vendors will normally offer something like a 20-year ‘total cost of ownership' calculation – which will take into account factors such as power supply, maintenance costs and available grant funding. The supplier will also recommend funding partners and infrastructure providers to support the transition to zero-emission bus fleets.
Here in the UK, companies like Alexander Dennis (a subsidiary of Toronto-based NFI Group), is a leading supplier and has recently introduced its next generation of battery-electric buses for Great Britain and Ireland. The company has unveiled its Enviro100EV small bus and Enviro400EV double decker models, marking a significant advancement in performance and an expansion of zero-emission bus options.
As with a lot of new bus/coach products, these have been built from the ground up as zero-emission vehicles. This allows them to opt for a striking design, while reducing weight. These buses are part of a broader family of next-generation zero-emission buses, catering to the evolving needs of public transportation in the UK, Ireland and further afield.
So what is the anatomy of a next-gen passenger bus?
Well, the Enviro400EV is a double decker just over 11 metres long and has been designed to efficiently transport passengers on busy urban and interurban routes, providing electrification options for core services. It boasts an impressive range of up to 260 miles, making it a practical choice for various transit routes.
For smaller/tighter streets, buses like the Enviro100EV offer a highly manoeuvrable vehicle measuring 8.5 metres in length and 2.35 metres in width. This gives the passengers the comfortable feel of a larger vehicle, while at the same time achieving up to 285 miles on a single charge – making it an excellent choice for urban and suburban routes.
The battery system on these buses comes from Impact Clean Power Technology (ICPT) and uses NMC lithium-ion cells to provide a higher total energy throughput – up to 1.4GWh in the case of the Enviro400EV. These batteries are strategically positioned within the chassis and rear of the vehicle, as well as under the staircase in the Enviro400EV, offering protection against external loads and impacts.
The use of standardised pack dimensions and interfaces ensures that any replacement batteries can take advantage of advancements in battery technology without requiring vehicle modifications. ICPT is already working on future iterations of NMC batteries, expected to further increase the buses' range.
The design of the Enviro400EV double decker optimises weight distribution and passenger comfort, featuring a conventional lower saloon layout with a flat floor. This design improves legroom for seated passengers and increases overall passenger capacity by up to 19%. Passengers can access the upper deck via Alexander Dennis's proven ‘squarecase' design, offering practicality and safety. The upper deck offers a panoramic view through full-depth windows and optional skylights.
The driving experience for bus operators has been enhanced with a new steering wheel, configurable dashboard display, and improved heating, cooling, and ventilation in the cab. The redesigned vehicle front provides better visibility for the driver and ensures the safety of vulnerable road users. These measures align with the Transport for London's Bus Safety Standard – so should be compatible with transport authorities across the globe.
Commercial buses and coaches come with extended warranty options, so authorities can know and fix their costs at the point of acquisition. Naturally, suppliers will have an extensive/local aftermarket divisions that take care of spares, training engineers and ensuring service and support are taken care of. Onboard connected systems will provide operators with vehicle and fleet performance data, diagnostics and repair information to enhance vehicle uptime – vital when offering commercial services.
Chinese EV maker BYD is key to the success of a lot of commercial vehicle designs. Buses based on BYD's platforms are already in service in markets across the globe. It looks as though BYD's expansion into Europe could be driven by a new manufacturing plant in Hungary. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban met BYD Chairman and President Wang Chuanfu on a visit to the company recently and it now seems that full scale BYD production will begin in the near future. Indian motor group Tata is also increasing its manufacturing capabilities – with a battery plant in the UK one of its key investments.
With so much pressure to decarbonise and the potential long term financial savings that EVs can bring, it's likely that a big percentage of the coach/bus infrastructure will move across to electric motors over the next decade.