China’s electric bus boom

China’s electric bus boom

FRANK BEETON reports on China’s rapid and enthusiastic development of the electric bus

You read it here first! Since late 2012, we have been reporting regularly on the progress being made by the new generation of all-electric buses in the global market.

Although these vehicles have been fairly well received in the more developed markets of Europe and North America, we have gained the impression that their adoption in these areas has been at a fairly conservative pace, with operators continuing to rely mainly on more conventional diesel or diesel-electric hybrid-powered buses, while testing electric driveline units on routes that are particularly sensitive to pollution or noise-level issues.

However, a report we recently read on the Transpo 2016 show, which was held in Beijing during May, suggests that Chinese operators have been moving far more quickly into the realm of all-electric traction. Reported sales of electric buses in China increased from somewhere around 10 000 units in 2014, which was impressive enough, to no less than a reported 88 107 units in 2015!

Interestingly, Chinese manufacturer BYD, which has been particularly active in propagating the electric-traction philosophy in United States (US) and the United Kingdom (UK), only ranks fifth among its country’s electric bus manufacturers, having delivered 5 605 units in 2015, well behind market leaders Yutong (13 436 units), Nanjing Golden Dragon (8 796 units), Zhongtong Bus (8 191 units) and Higer (6 670 units).

At the Transpo show, Yutong unveiled a new fuel-cell hybrid-electric, low-floor city bus. It uses a mixture of hydrogen and oxygen to generate electric energy and has a claimed operating range of over 300 km.

The company also featured its H8 plug-in hybrid, medium-duty city bus, available in 8,2 and 8,5 m overall lengths, which complies with new safety standards, drawn up by China’s National Electric Bus Control and Safety Engineering Centre, to reduce the risk of fire and water ingress and to prevent the electrification of non-electrical components.

Zhuhai Guangtong Automobile Company, which built some 3 500 electric buses and coaches in 2015, highlighted its product line-up, which extends from medium-duty city buses to single and double-deck, heavy-duty and articulated city buses, up to 18-m long. All of these are available with fast-charge (eight to 12-minute) plug-in systems.

Guangtong Auto also builds the Vintage Bus; essentially a battery-powered electric replica of a 1913 tramcar, of which 40 are in operation in the Forbidden City, in central Beijing. Market runner-up Nanjing Golden Dragon markets its electric buses under the Skywell brand, while North Bus, Ankei Anhui and Yangtse Motor Group all announced new electric product developments during the show.

The show report certainly indicates that electric buses are achieving a high level of acceptance in China, and this is clearly a response to the high levels of pollution experienced in that country’s cities.

However, BYD’s activities abroad, with production facilities in the US and Brazil, in addition to its ten bus-building plants at home, will ensure that any technological progress driven by high volumes in the Chinese domestic market will soon find its way into the global electric bus scene.

Major vehicle manufacturers would be well advised to keep a wary eye on the Chinese electric bus industry.

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