Will Western bus companies be wiped out?
Sep 14, 2016
Global warming is leading to increasingly onerous laws worldwide restricting carbon dioxide emissions. Even some of today's hybrids will fail to conform so it is back to the drawing board for most of the world's vehicle manufacturers. Soon 70% of us will live in cities and there acidic gases and particulate emissions are killing millions yearly according to the World Health Organisation. This gets worse with the increasing gridlock.
Draconian measure are planned in major cities to combat this. They include repurposing car parks and banning cars altogether. However, the increasing number of taxis and buses are major contributors, often the primary killers. Having a few unaffordable fuel cell buses cruising a city burning hydrogen from fossil fuels is simply gesture politics. That is why more and more manufacturers, cities and governments are prioritising pure electric buses.
This raises a competitive issue. Over 70% of the rapidly increasing number of buses in the world are made by Chinese companies for the Chinese market. Orders for 2000 large pure electric buses at a time are placed pulling in up to one billion dollars at a time, each order being up to ten times the yearly production of many Western and East Asian makers of pure electric buses.
On the calculations of analysts IDTechEx, the Chinese are already capable of flooding the world with pure electric buses at half the price of local competition and in some respects with more advanced technology such as in-wheel motors and solar roofs. Indeed BYD is setting up local manufacture across the world, even including huge articulated pure electric buses in the USA. The cost advantage of the Chinese is boosted by their efficient production and another largely protected local bus market opening up which is midi school buses going all electric to combat the world's worst city pollution. IDTechEx thinks that replacement and growth of this school fleet could lead to demand for pure electric school buses peaking at a staggering one million yearly in China with even foreign battery makers severely impeded from taking a share.
In recent interviews with foreign bus makers about their survival strategy, IDTechEx has received very worrying responses. One US bus company said it will be protected by Buy American for a few years more. One German bus maker said that the Europeans deliberately make such pernickity regulations on bus design that non-Europeans cannot make much progress into Europe. Nonsense.
The only meaningful response by Western and East Asian bus makers, typically with much smaller businesses than their Chinese competitors, is merge, participate in China with Chinese partners if you can prevent bleeding of intellectual property and above all innovate.
The good news is that Proterra in the USA has been innovating. Its Catalyst E2 pure electric bus has recently logged more the 600 miles (966 km) on a single charge under test conditions at the Michelin proving grounds in South Carolina. Although that range is not necessarily possible in regular day-to-day driving conditions, the Catalyst E2 with its storage capacity of 440 - 660 kWh is still capable of posting some pretty impressive figures. According to Proterra, its claimed nominal range of 194 to 350 miles (312 to 563 km) makes it capable of covering most daily American mass transit routes on a single charge, meaning it could directly replace the current fossil fuel buses in service across the country (and the world). Such huge lithium-ion batteries are usually only seen on ships and in the largest Autonomous Underwater Vehicle AUV. They are planned for the monster ore carrying trucks in open cast mines and of course there will be cost issues.
IDTechEx notes that very long range is even more valuable than fast charging of buses in cities because it increases utilisation and reduces the amount of real estate and capital expenditure. A good payback may well be possible.
IDTechEx even believes that some small buses will become energy independent, with extending solar panels and wind turbines when stationary. You can already buy a tiny bus in China that runs, albeit very slowly, solely on solar power on its fixed roof. Sunny countries will benefit first and such designs can be greatly improved by someone such as Hanergy of China which even has highest efficiency solar inside on the dashboard to run the sound systems of its all solar cars and taxis planned for 2020. The Chinese pure electric bus companies are innovating. Their competitors that fail to do so will die. For more see the IDTechEx reports,Electric Buses 2016-2026, Lithium-ion Batteries 2016-2026 and Energy Independent Electric Vehicle Technology Roadmap 2016-2036.