China has huge Lead in Electric Buses  



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Sunday April 29, 2018 China has Huge Lead in Electric Buses This week I read an article on Bloomberg about how electric buses were cutting oil consumption to the point where it was beginning to hurt the oil industry.  While this may be true the real story highlighted by the article was the huge lead that China was developed in the electric bus industry. 


China has a big problem, as industry has grown at incredible rates its cities have become extremely polluted.  Polluted to the point where it is estimated that 1.6 million people die prematurely each year due to pollution related health issues.


LA had a similar, though not quite so severe, problem.  Even though LA relies much less heavily on public transportation that cities in China it was recognized that diesel buses were a big source of pollution, especially small particulate pollution which has been linked to many health problems including respiratory had heart illnesses.  To solve the problem LA mandated that all its city buses would be converted to run on much cleaner compressed natural gas (CNG).  Both Santa Monica and Culver City also followed suit by converting their bus fleets to natural gas.


China also recognized that public transportation needed to be cleaned up but instead of following LA and using CNG they tried something different; electric buses.  In 2011 they launched a pilot program with  BYD in the city of Shenzhen.  The results were quite dramatic, while pollution continued to climb in China's major cities the air in Shenzhen actually got cleaner.  The pilot project became a full scale replacement of diesel buses and by the end of 2017 all of the buses in the city had been replaced by electric buses. 
The experience in Shenzhen has been so positive that China is now repeating the process in other major cities.  It is estimated that they are now replacing diesel buses at a rate of about 9,500 every 5 weeks.  To get an idea of the scale of what is happening this is the equivalent of replacing the whole of the London bus fleet every 5 weeks.  By the end of 2017 there were 385,000 electric buses in service around the world and 99% of these are in China. 


This gives the Chinese electric bus manufacturers a huge advantage in both economies of scale and in on road experience, which will allow them to manufacture buses cheaper and deal with the real world issues that come out of operating electric bus fleets.  China is now the world leader in electric bus technology while other countries struggle to play catch-up.

Adding electric buses to a fleet is not always easy.  The high cost of the battery pack means that the up-front cost to buy an electric bus much higher than the cost of a diesel or CNG bus.  The costs are recouped over time because running costs, including both fuel costs and the service costs are much cheaper.  This also means that there will be less time off the road for vehicles as electric buses don't need oil changes and other time consuming maintenance.  Regenerative braking also means less need for brake system overall and replacement brake pads.  There is some uncertainty; the likely need to replace the battery pack at least once during the service life of the bus.  Battery prices are currently falling at a very fast rate but in a lot of cases we don't really know how long a battery pack will last, so this adds uncertainty to the overall cost, and most financial guys don't like uncertainty.


The need for cleaner air is beginning to win out and cities around the world are now starting to add electric buses to their fleets.  London now has four routes that are fully serviced by BYD electric buses and are planning to roll out many more over the next few years.  BYD even showed off an electric version of the famous London double decker busses.  This one has a range of 180 miles which means it can operate all day on many London routes without needing to recharge.  London plans to eventually replace all of its buses with zero emission buses.


In the US things have started off a little slower.  Here in Los Angeles the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) approved the purchase of 35 electric buses for the Orange line in the San Fernando Valley in July 2017 later approving an additional 5 buses.  These buses will be manufactured by New Flyer America, a Canadian owned bus manufacturer based here in the US.  This is part of a plan to convert all 2,200 MTA buses to zero emissions by 2030.


BYD will also be supplying buses to Los Angeles as it replaces 14 aging diesel buses, and add six additional buses to the fleet used to shuttle passengers between terminals at LAX.  They will be using 60 foot articulated electric buses will raise the total number of zero emission shuttle busses at LAX to 32  The buses will be built in a BYD facility located in Lancaster, CA about 75 miles north of LAX.  With the provision of the new buses LAX will have the largest fleet of electric shuttle buses of any airport in the world.


It is clear that China has taken a huge leap forward in electric bus production and will likely continue to dominate this segment.  Other bus makers are also moving toward electric bus manufacture but will have to play catch-up, while many government bodies are slow to take up this new technology, preferring the lower up-front cost of diesel, rather than the long term cost advantage and intangible savings from lost productivity and higher medical that happens when diesel is used.


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