volgren electric bus
Supplied

Australia’s largest bus bodymaker, Volgren, will take a huge step forward into an electric future next Tuesday when it launches its first pure battery electric bus.

Built on a 12.2 metre-long K9 chassis from Chinese automaker BYD, which already supplies a third of all electric buses in the US, the electric bus prototype will be unveiled at the upcoming 2019 Bus Expo and Maintenance Conference in Victoria on October 1.

The result of 12 months of planning and development, the 39-seater (22 standing) bus has a 324kWh battery and a driving range of up to 300km.

The year-long collaboration with BYD to develop the bus, plus the time spent building it, has been worth the wait says Volgren product engineering manager Michael Kearney.

“All tests conducted on the vehicle were extremely successful. [It] has been extremely popular with all who have driven it,” Kearney said in a note by email.

“The instantaneous provision of torque ensures outstanding performance, while the absence of a transmission ensures a smooth, continuous ride through all speeds.”

In addition to cheaper running costs, the electric drivetrain offers environmental benefits of no carbon emissions but also particulate and NOx emissions that make diesel buses so damaging to air quality and public health.

Passengers also get the added benefit of a quiet ride, says Kearney.

“The extremely quiet interior is also obviously evident. Interior and exterior noise testing demonstrated the vehicle to be substantially advantaged when compared with a diesel bus,” he says.

There has been a great deal of interest in the bus says Volgren commercial manager Jim Jones, who adds that once more information – and charging infrastructure – is available to transport operators, this interest should involve beyond trial applications.

“Getting the knowledge accurate and up to date on what is available is critical. Then it’s a matter of sorting out the claims from the reality,” Jones said in a note.

“Operators need to find the right application for not only the vehicles, but the infrastructure, to ensure any adoption is successful and viable.  We need to do the research and make fact-based decisions.”

Overseas, electric buses are gradually becoming a normal part of the everyday running of public transport networks – none more so than in China where some 99% of the world’s 425,000 electric buses are registered.

Electric buses are also being embraced in the UK, where 100 BYD double-decker buses are in operation.

Auckland Buses in New Zealand is also adding electric buses to its fleet as of 2020 as part of its Low Emissions Bus Roadmap.

In Sydney, two electric buses built on Gemilang bodies are currently being trialled in the inner west to assess their suitability for public transport by operator Transit Systems.

Kearney says that Volgren is there to assist Australian operators in embracing the zero emissions technology.

“The industry as a whole is now clearly cognizant of the availability of electric buses worldwide and recognises that this is the long-term future for Australian public transport,” he says.

“A number of trials are being planned or conducted throughout Australia and Volgren is ensuring that we are in a position to support bus operators throughout Australia in such trials.”

But there is still a challenge in convincing operators of the feasability of rolling out electric buses on scale, according to Kearney.

“The challenge in moving forward will be the rationalisation and introduction of large-scale EV fleets and the management of charging infrastructure to accommodate large volumes of vehicles,” Kearney says.

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