Sydney and Brisbane will soon have two more electric buses each on their roads, after Melbourne bus maker Volgren handed over four of its newest vehicles to bus operator Transdev, which will run the buses in the two state capitals.
Transdev says it will charge the Brisbane buses using what it calls a “Green Mobility Megawall”, comprising 250 solar panels and 10 Tesla Powerwall units.
The buses were built at Volgren’s factory in Dandenong in Melbourne’s east, using all Australian parts other than the chassis and 348 kilowatt battery, which were manufactured by Chinese company BYD. Volgren says the finished product is made up of 87 per cent Australian parts.
The 39-seat buses have an average range of 250km over the life of the battery, and up to 300km earlier in its life, says Volgen’s engineering manager Brenton McCallum. One of their buses is already on the road in Melbourne – if you’ve ever caught a bus down Punt Road then there’s a good chance you’ve ridden on it already – and Volgren says the battery’s range has proved more than adequate for the demands of a day’s shift.
While the buses are touted as “zero emissions buses”, the accuracy of that name depends on how the electricity is generated. Transdev is trying to live up to the promise by charging the Queensland buses using solar panels combined with 135 kilowatt hours of battery storage. It says the solar panels can generate up to 159,000 kWh per year.
Volgren, originally an Australian bus manufacturer but which is now wholly-owned by Brazilian company Marcopolo, says today’s delivery will be the beginning of a tsunami of orders for electric buses, driven in particular by the NSW government’s push to replace all its 8,000 diesel buses with electric ones by 2030. That will include 50 new buses on Sydney roads this year.
“We believe there’s another 40 to 50 [orders] to come in the next few months. That’s the forecast, thought it’s not confirmed,” says Volgren’s national sales manager Yuri Tessari.
He says up to now, process time from order to delivery has been around 18 months, but that could be radically improved to around three months, provided the battery and chassis delivery from China is sped up.
“By the time that the chassis is with us, the time is five to six weeks on the [production] line.”
He says demand for electric vehicles is already close to equalling demand for the diesel buses it also builds in Dandenong.
“NSW’s plan is to change the full fleet [to electric buses], so it’s around 8,000 buses in 10 years. So the average of replacement is 800 a year, which is much higher than the reality now.” He said that will turbocharge demand for new buses, which currently is only around 1,200 a year across Australia.
Australian Industry Group, the industry body that represents Australian manufacturers, believes this burgeoning demand should be a boon for local manufacturers.
“There is a real opportunity for manufacturers like Volgren to pursue the agenda which is being created by governments around the country,” Tim Piper, head of AI Group’s Victorian branch, told The Driven. He said he believed even the federal government – widely regarded as a laggard on EV policy – was moving in the direction of net zero, meaning manufacturers should start developing zero emissions capabilities now.
“Buses like this are going to be just the norm. I don’t think it will be that long before diesel buses won’t be able to be manufactured here,” he said. He said we also need to think more about upskilling the broad motor mechanic workforce.
“We have diesel mechanics, but we don’t have electronic mechanics. There will be a lot of jobs being created in this area, and a lot of apprenticeships,” he said. “That’s what Volgren has talked about, that’s what Transdev has talked about, and that’s what Toll is talking about – making sure they have enough people to deal with the number of electric buses and electric trucks we have.”
James Fernyhough is a reporter at RenewEconomy and The Driven. He has worked at The Australian Financial Review and the Financial Times, and is interested in all things related to climate change and the transition to a low-carbon economy.