The Electric Bus Revolution

The Electric Bus Revolution

Electric bus use has grown dramatically around the world during the last decade, thanks to a technological revolution.  While early models had significant shortcomings, manufacturers have developed a new generation of electric buses that are much more capable than their predecessors. 

The ongoing wave of innovation has fundamentally transformed the global bus industry and eaten away at the market share of conventional diesel and gasoline models.  Three technological trends are of particular importance to the rise and future success of electric buses:

  • the development of better-performing models
  • innovations in faster and simplified recharging
  • the introduction of non-transit electric buses

In many ways, the future of electric buses is being forged today. 

New Electric Buses Overcome Old Problems

Historically, electric buses had limited range and inability to operate at higher speeds.  However, manufacturers have addressed these and other performance issues through technological innovation.  In September 2016, for instance, US-based Proterra unveiled the Catalyst E2 transit bus with a range of up to 350 miles, which is more than double the range of earlier electric buses.  Because of this extended range, the Catalyst E2 is able to serve the full daily mileage requirements of nearly all transit bus applications and is much more convenient to use.

Previously, operators had also been concerned about the top speed of electric buses and their ability to accelerate.  BYD, a manufacturer based in China, offers a variety of powerful electric models that address both issues.  Introduced in 2015, BYD’s C9 has a top speed of nearly 63 mph (100km/h), which allows it to operate on highways, something earlier electric buses could not do.  Additionally, the C9 is powered by two 180 kW brushless AC synchronous motors, each of which is capable of more than 1,100 pound-feet (lb-ft) of torque.  The powerful propulsion system of the C9 ensures smooth and rapid acceleration.

Charging Revolutionized

Inconvenient charging processes and long charging times (up to six hours) have also been a major concern for bus operators in the past.  In recent years, multiple bus producers and electronics companies have developed more advanced electric bus charging technologies.  For instance, Bombardier, BYD, Scania, and Toshiba all plan to commercialize wireless charging systems for electric buses.  In December 2016, Scania began to test its wireless inductive charging system in Södertälje, Sweden. 

Volvo’s 7900 Electric and 7900 Hybrid buses utilize its Opportunity Charging System.  After the bus stops for a brief period of time at the end of its route, an advanced control system at the final bus stop (attached to a pylon) automatically connects to the bus and recharges its battery in less than six minutes, without input from the driver. 

Proterra offers two rapid charging systems: overhead on-route chargers and plug-in depot chargers.  The company’s overhead on-route system, for example, offers charge times of 5-13 minutes.  In June 2016, Proterra announced plans to offer this technology to the transit industry on a royalty-free basis.

New Types of Electric Buses Are Being Developed

Historically, the use of electric buses was largely confined to traditional, single-deck transit bus applications because of their limited range and inability to reach high speeds.  However, as electric bus technologies have evolved, a variety of non-transit electric buses have been developed to compete with conventional models, including:

Other manufactures are working to develop non-transit electric buses as well.  In early 2017, for example, Blue Bird secured nearly $9 million in government funding to develop a new electric school bus for the US market. 

The Future is Bright

Through technological innovation, manufacturers have been able to fundamentally change how electric buses are used and what they are capable of, allowing them to capture market share from conventional buses.  Global electric bus sales more than doubled between 2006 and 2016, and demand for these products will continue to grow rapidly in the foreseeable future because of their strong environmental credentials and low operating and maintenance costs. 

The structure of the global electric bus industry will continue to be shaped by technological innovation because producers that can more effectively incorporate new technologies into their electric buses will have a major competitive advantage over other suppliers. 

For additional information about technological innovation and competition in the world bus global industry, see Global Bus Market, a new study from The Freedonia Group. 

About the Author:

Gleb Mytko is an Industry Analyst at The Freedonia Group, where his work covers the global automotive, transportation, and machinery markets.