Who, or what, is Agrale?
FRANK BEETON reports on an unknown Brazilian manufacturer and racing-derived technology for London buses.
While recently perusing some Brazilian truck and bus market statistics, we came upon an unfamiliar brand name: Agrale. Although the numbers were not particularly large, the presence of this name across all of the light, medium and “semi-heavy” segments of the Brazilian truck market – gross vehicle mass (GVM) from six to 15 t – caught our attention.
On further investigation, however, we discovered that Agrale also has a substantial presence in the country’s bus chassis market – to the tune of more than 20 percent market penetration during the first quarter of 2014 – so we decided to dig a little deeper.
It seems that the company was founded in 1962, under the name Agrisa, to manufacture agricultural cultivators and diesel engines. In 1965, it was taken over by the Stédile Group. Its name was changed to Agrale SA Tractors and Engines, and the operation was moved to Caxias do Sul.
In 1982, truck sales commenced, and in 1996, the on-road vehicle line-up was extended to include small bus chassis. In 1998, contract assembly of medium and heavy-duty Navistar International trucks commenced, but this agreement was terminated in 2013.
However, an arrangement was also initiated in 1998 to supply bodybuilder Marcopolo SA with chassis for its Volare midibus. This agreement has resulted in more than 47 000 unit sales to date.
In 2007, a new truck range was launched, and the bus chassis range was extended upmarket to include a 15 t GVM model. In 2009, diesel-electric hybrid bus models were unveiled and, in 2011, a new range of Euro-5 trucks was introduced.
The current domestic bus chassis range for the Brazilian market covers front-engined models with GVM ratings from 8,7 to 17,5 t, while the export line-up extends from 7,9 to 15 t GVM, and also includes low-entry, rear-engine models.
The home market MA 17.0 flagship presents as a ladder-frame, front-engined chassis with retracted front axle, powered by an SCR-equipped International MaxxForce 7,2-litre six-cylinder diesel, developing 165 kW (225 hp), coupled to an Eaton FS 6406A six-speed synchromesh transmission.
Other specification features include Meritor front and rear drive axles, semi-elliptic leaf springs with double-acting shock absorbers all round, wheelbase dimensions of 5,25, 5,95 or 6,5 m for overall lengths of up to 13,35 m, S-cam full air brakes and ZF hydraulic power steering.
The 15-t GVM MT 15.O LE for export uses a vertically mounted MaxxForce 4,8 engine with SCR emissions control situated aft of the rear axle, and driving forward through an Allison T-270 five-speed full automatic transmission.
Front and rear axles are supplied by Dana, both located by full-air suspension. The five-metre wheelbase provides for an overall length of 11 m. The chassis runs on 275/80 R22,5 tyre equipment, and has air-operated disc brakes on the front axle and drums at the rear.
Agrale’s current business profile includes providing automotive products to the commercial, defence and agricultural sectors. Clearly, the extensive and well-accepted use of brought-in proprietary major components by Brazilian manufacturers makes it relatively simple for an operation such as Agrale to compete with global brands in its domestic and neighbouring South American markets.
The large discrepancy that exists between Agrale’s performance in the truck and bus markets is, however, interesting, and a possible field for future investigation.
Flywheel power for London buses
United Kingdom (UK) public transport operator, The Go-Ahead Group, has placed an order with GKN Hybrid Power for 500 Gyrodrive systems for installation in its buses operating in London and Oxford.
The UK-developed system, which is intended to reduce fuel consumption and CO2 emissions, is based on Formula One racing technology, and was used by Audi in its R18 e-tron racing car to win the 2014 Le Mans 24-hour endurance race.
Earlier this year, GKN announced the acquisition of Williams Hybrid Power from Williams Grand Prix Engineering Limited, and set up GKN Hybrid Power to deliver complete hybrid solutions for vehicle, power and industrial applications.
GKN Hybrid Power’s Gyrodrive electric flywheel technology is a Kinetic Energy Recovery System, also known as KERS. When fitted to a vehicle, it harvests the energy normally lost as heat when the brakes are applied. The high-speed GKN Hybrid Power carbon-fibre flywheel stores the energy and returns it to the driveline when required; boosting power, saving fuel and reducing emissions.
When the driver applies the brakes, the advanced EVO electric-traction motor on one of the axles slows the vehicle, while generating electricity at the same time. This electricity is used to charge the flywheel, spinning it up to 36 000 r/min. When the driver accelerates, the system works in reverse, and energy is drawn from the flywheel and converted back into electricity to power the traction motor.
This reduces the work done by the internal combustion engine, potentially improving fuel economy by up to 25 percent. The system also uses a GKN-designed gearbox, is claimed to be significantly cheaper than battery hybrid systems, and is designed to last the life of the vehicle.
The Gyrodrive technology is being further developed for other mass transit applications including trams, as well as construction and agricultural equipment.