Buses made in the U.S.A.
With Joseph J. Smith at the helm, DesignLine builds under all-electric, hybrid and CNG power
By David Hubbard
Established in New Zealand in 1985, DesignLine initially manufactured standard diesel vehicles. Nonetheless, its visionary leaders were already marching to the beat of a distant drum to pioneer cleaner, greener modes of bus transportation. Five countries and 21 years later, the company entered the U.S. market in 2007 and introduced its first hybrid transit buses for demonstration. DesignLine USA opened its first North American production facilities in Charlotte, NC, in 2008.
Transit industry veteran Joseph J. Smith, formerly senior vice president, Department of Buses, at MTA New York City, watched this move very closely.
“When I ran the largest transit operation in North America, I was always on the lookout for such a vehicle,” he says. “DesignLine caught my attention toward the end of my tenure, the moment the company arrived in the U.S.”
Today, Smith serves as president and CEO for DesignLine. Shortly after retiring in 2010 from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) for the state of New York, Smith served as a consultant for Cyan Partners, LP, the sole arranger of DesignLine’s debt and equity capital raises, and took a seat on the Board of Directors. The corporation named him interim CEO this past March and made his appointment permanent in July.
Smith joined MTA NYC originally as a bus operator and mechanic and worked through the ranks to hold three executive positions of president, MTA Bus Company; president, MTA Long Island Bus; and senior vice president, Department of Buses, MTA New York City.
During his tenure with MTA in New York, Smith says the life cycle costs were his biggest concern.
“I was always asking what we could do differently to keep maintenance costs down,” he says. “Was there another way to skin this cat?”
Basing his judgment on his worst maintenance nightmares, Smith says the DesignLine buses appeared to hold the solution. He says his positive experiences the hybrid buses carried into his transition as a DesignLine executive.
“I have always looked at buses from a preventative standpoint,” he says. ”My headaches were always with batteries, radiators and belts.”
DesignLine solves those problems with ultracapacitors and EMP fan cooling systems.
“Our engineering begins with the premise: If an agency is to operate this bus for the next 12 years, what must we implement to keep the costs down?” he says, “In doing so, we provide customers a quiet, clean and comfortable ride in a stylish bus the general public can accept.”
The DesignLine products
DesignLine manufacturers three environmentally sensitive transit vehicles — an all-electric bus, a hybrid diesel-electric vehicle and a CNG commuter coach — constructed with advanced extruded aluminum technology similar to that employed in light rail cars, which the company says achieves greater strength and frame life while substantially reducing vehicle weight. Operating with a simple 4-cylinder engine, DesignLine believes its diesel buses to be the most fuel efficient on the market.
“Horsepower pushes the bus down the road,” says Smith. “Less horsepower equates to fuel cost savings.”
The vehicles also are available in super low floor design to facilitate elderly and physically challenged passengers.
All-electric Eco-Smart II
DesignLine says its all-electric Eco-Smart II is capable of operating for up to 120 miles on a single charge under high-density, stop-and-go, urban transit route conditions. The electric bus replaces additional battery packs in place of the auxiliary power unit (APU) found in the hybrid Eco Saver IV. DesignLine says while the price of the Eco-Smart is approximately $600,000 to $700,000, they cost less than a comparably equipped standard diesel bus. The savings on a REEV amount to 100 percent of traditional fuel costs, including certain operating costs over the life of the vehicle. The Eco-Smart II is not presently running in the U.S.
DesignLine Corporation and Liberty Automotive announced in 2011 a $30 million joint venture to open a production facility in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates (UAE), to specialize in zero emission all-electric buses. The company anticipated this new facility to manufacture 300 buses annually with projected revenue its first year in excess of $80 million.
As the world leader in the application of green technology, DesignLine UAE enters is now in its second year running zero emission Eco-Smart II buses, while other Middle Eastern countries are in negotiations with DesignLine to convert their diesel transit fleets to either all-electric or hybrid vehicles.
The Eco-Saver IV is a full series hybrid that employs a relatively small APU as opposed to a full-sized diesel engine and is capable of operating on battery power only, capturing benefits from regenerative braking. The electrical system drives all the parasitic loads that include HVAC and power steering, radiator and air compressor rather than by a large internal combustion engine with hydraulics or belts.
The hybrid bus includes the proprietary DesignLine vehicle management system, battery management system, pack design, the APU turbine; as well as the regenerative braking system.
DesignLine says its hybrid Range-Extended (RE) Eco-Saver IV is capable of operating in a zero emission mode up to 40 percent of normal transit service. The bus uses a Capstone 65kW or 30kW turbine generator with the proprietary software and hybrid control system.
This bus is compliant with California Air Resources Board (CARB) standards and according to DesignLine, already meets the proposed 2014 mandates without relying on an after treatment device.
Hybrid RE Eco-Saver IV buses are in service at transit agencies in Denver, CO, Charlotte, NC, Arlington, TX, and Baltimore, MD.
“This bus addresses everything that kept me awake nights when I ran bus operations in NYC,” says Smith. “The frame is stainless steel, the body is aluminum. Because of corrosion from the salts and grime over six to eight years, it was all we could do to keep up with the damaging effects. Even though we tried to maintain the undercoating as best we could, there was always massive cracking and rusting.”
CNG Eco Coach
The CNG Eco-Coach is a commuter vehicle currently in production for the New Jersey Transit Authority. The contract calls for 76 such buses at a total value of over $45 million. In this initial application, the Eco-Coach is essentially a motorcoach to carry transit commuters from southern New Jersey to the Port Authority in New York City, and could easily apply to Bus Rapid Transit (BRT). The CNG Eco Coach has a range over 600 miles, one of the longer ranges on the market according to DesignLine, which CNG covers at a much lower cost than a diesel-powered vehicle.
Smith speaks to how the rough duty cycles the MTA NYC buses had to endure have influenced the development of this product.
“I lived with this torture of buses breaking down on a daily basis, and trying to answer all the questions on why we would buy a particular bus,” he says. “For that reason, the New Jersey coach is perhaps the most tested model in the history of the bus industry just to validate that this coach can do everything we say it can do.”
In addition to mandated testing at Altoona, DesignLine has subject the Eco Coach to shaker table and climate booth testing.
DesignLine says it can build the Eco Coach in 40- or 45-foot versions, without changing any component or design characteristic. Smith says either length incorporates the same chassis and very easy to customize.
The company says because it builds the Eco Coach entirely in Charlotte, NC, it has more U.S. content than any motorcoach operating in this country, and keeps over 100 parts suppliers and vendors in the Carolinas busy. It recently purchased another building to build the frames, water test booth and paint booths.
Smith says between the capitalization from the joint venture with Cyan Partners and increased demand for 30-, 35-, and 40-ft hybrid-electric buses, DesignLine expects to create new employment opportunities. “We doubled our workforce at the beginning of the year,” says Smith. “And we are going to double it again by the end of the year, so we are definitely going in the right direction.” BR