Electric buses at UITP Geneva

By Doug Jack

Every two years, the International Union of Public Transport (UITP) holds a World Congress and Exhibition. This year’s May exhibition in the beautiful Swiss city of Geneva welcomed more than 2,000 delegates from around 80 countries to the Palexpo exhibition center. The center features two adjacent halls, with one designated for the transit bus industry and its suppliers. The other focused on the rail industry.

It has become a tradition at UITP that manufacturers showcase not just their latest products, but often new concepts. This year, the spotlight was on a number of all-electric vehicles, which included trolleybuses despite the clutter of overhead wiring at busy junctions, and battery-powered vehicles.

The main problem with battery-powered vehicles is their insufficient range for a full day’s operation. Too many batteries can limit the number of passengers. The batteries also have to power all the systems, including heavy-duty HVAC.

The solution is to recharge the batteries at regular intervals during the day, perhaps at each end of a route. There are two main systems, conductive recharging and inductive charging. Conductive recharging involves a contact on the underside of the bus that connects with a plate on the road surface or wiring buried just beneath the surface. Inductive charging takes place when a pantograph or collector on the roof of the bus connects with an overhead charging station. Both systems were on display in Geneva.

Bombardier has a trial project in Mannheim, Germany, using two midibuses built by Rampini in Italy. They follow a fixed route where the batteries can recharge regularly through contact with wires under the surface of the street. Bombardier says that they could also serve other vehicles, such as taxis, municipal trucks and local delivery vans. Users could be charged regularly for the electricity consumed.

Conductix Wanpfler uses plates laid in the surface of a street, usually at each end of a route. One system has been operating successfully in Genoa, Italy, for several years.

Hess, the only remaining bus builder in Switzerland, worked with a consortium of Swiss partners to build what is believed to be the world’s first rechargeable articulated bus. This was running a shuttle service between the exhibition halls and the airport.

After each round trip, the driver parked the vehicle under an overhead gantry. The laser-controlled collector on the roof of the trailer connected with the gantry and took a three to four minute recharge. ABB, one of the partners in the consortium, believes it will soon be possible to provide ultra-fast charges at each stop, giving a 15-second boost while passengers get on and off without interrupting the schedule.

VDL Bus & Coach of the Netherlands displayed an all-electric version of its Citea low floor bus. This very neatly packaged 40-foot model stores the batteries and electrical equipment in a tower in the offside rear corner of the vehicle, taking up the space of two double seats. This vehicle has electrical wheel-hub drive motors from German company Ziehl-Abegg in which neither a transmission nor a differential is needed. The company is investing just over $30 million in building and equipping a new factory for this advanced automotive drive technology.

The enterprising Polish manufacturer Solaris showed a 40-foot all-electric bus and announced an order for two from Raginbahn of Düsseldorf, Germany. Solaris says that it will be able to offer options to extend the range with fast charging.

It is a long way from China to Geneva, but two Chinese manufacturers showed all-electric vehicles. BYD has started to take some small orders in Europe from customers who want to gain experience of the new technology. They have changed their body structures from steel to aluminum to save weight. Youngman, a licensee of Neoplan with connections with the MAN Group, had an all-electric bus priced at $350,000. A collector toward the rear of the roof could connect with trolleybus overhead wiring.

Iveco, the industrial arm of the Fiat Group, has abandoned the Irisbus name, created when Iveco and Renault merged their bus manufacturing activities 14 years ago. Now Iveco Bus, the new company celebrated with the introduction of a new city bus range that’s compliant with the forthcoming Euro 6 emissions legislation. The stylish and well-equipped Urbanway is lighter but stronger than the previous range. It’s available in overall lengths of 34-foot 6-inches, 39-foot 4-inches, and 59-foot articulated. They come with a choice of diesel or CNG and with BAE Systems hybrid drive.

Van Hool had a large and impressive stand with three of its Exqui.City vehicles designed for high-quality Bus Rapid Transit systems. Van Hool is able to tailor these vehicles to the exact requirements of its customers. For instance, there were bi-articulated 80-foot diesel hybrid vehicles for Barcelona and Metz that look quite different. The Metz Exqui.City had a more squared-off front and rear styling than its Barcelona counterpart.

The third Van Hool model was one of 33 60-foot trolleybuses for the local system in Geneva. The second and third axles are driven to handle the hills and winter snow.

Daimler has taken the lead in putting Euro 6 buses into service before the deadline of January 2014. Currently 350 are running. Hartmut Schick, head of Daimler Buses, predicted 1,700 would be on the roads before the end of the year.

He made a quick summary of Daimler’s activities in other parts of the world. While he regretted the necessary closure of Orion, he was optimistic about the link between MCI and Setra. Five new models will soon be introduced in the intercity sector in Mexico where Mercedes-Benz has nearly half of the market.

Daimler will soon introduce the CapaChassis in Brazil. This articulated vehicle can stretch to 65 feet with two axles in the trailer section, making it ideal for BRT systems.

Scania had a large stand without any vehicles but instead a backdrop of a Swedish street. Scania’s theme was that the diesel city bus is not dead. It is now extremely clean with minimal emissions, they say. Buses cost much less than trams or metro systems and can be installed far more rapidly. Scania urged cities and politicians not to think about buses in isolation, but to look at a whole package of solutions that could make journeys faster and more attractive. The company’s message was at least partly based on its experience with its vehicles on BRT systems in South America.

Compared with its European competitors, Scania has been much slower to develop hybrid buses. There has been one small-scale trial with ethanol-fueled hybrid buses in Stockholm. Scania said that, in its view, neither batteries nor super capacitors have evolved sufficiently to provide a commercially satisfactory solution when it comes to service life and life-cycle cost. Current hybrid systems are mainly selling on image and are dependent on incentives, not on financial merits or robustness.

The next UITP World Congress and Exhibition will be held in Milan, Italy.

A Swiss consortium built the world’s first rechargeable articulated electric bus.
A Swiss consortium built the world’s first rechargeable articulated electric bus.
A Van Hool Exqui.City articulated trolleybus for Geneva.
A Van Hool Exqui.City articulated trolleybus for Geneva.
Bombardier showed its inductive charging system under a Rampini electric midibus.
Bombardier showed its inductive charging system under a Rampini electric midibus.
The Conductix Wampfler system uses plates in the road surface for recharging.
The Conductix Wampfler system uses plates in the road surface for recharging.

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