Small Steps, Big Plans: Initial efforts

Initial efforts

Indian cities finally made some headway in the introduction of electric buses in 2017. The government made some policy changes and a few cities launched pilot projects. However, when compared with the initiatives in China, the steps taken by Indian cities appear to be minuscule and piecemeal. On December 27, 2017, China’s Shenzhen city became the first city in the world to transition fully to a 100 per cent electric bus fleet. Going forward, several Asian cities including some in India have announced major plans and policy changes to facilitate the deployment of electric buses as they struggle with high pollution levels.

Initial efforts

In 2017, the Indian government expanded incentives for electric buses as part of its drive to make India a 100 per cent electric vehicle nation by 2030. The government modified the scheme for the Faster Adoption and Manufacturing of (Hybrid and) Electric Vehicles in India (FAME India) and increased the quantum of subsidy given to agencies purchasing fully electric buses. It also extended the first phase of FAME to March 31, 2018 (FAME, which has a corpus of about Rs 8 billion to invest in electric mobility-based initiatives, was earlier due to expire in 2017).

The incentives are:

  • A fully electric bus, which has a minimum localisation content of 15 per cent, will be eligible for incentives amounting to 60 per cent of the cost of the bus or Rs 8.5 million, whichever is lower.
  • The government will give additional financial assistance for the purchase of charging equipment (up to 10 per cent of the total eligible demand incentive for the purchase of electric buses). The incentive amount will be decided based on the supply order issued by the purchaser of the electric bus.

Meanwhile, Chandigarh and Mumbai took some initiatives towards the introduction of electric buses. In June 2017, the Chandigarh Transport Undertaking and the State Transport Department commenced trial runs of the 9 metre long Tata Ultra ELECTRIC bus. These trials were part of the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways’ agenda for the electrification of the public transport system. In November 2017, Goldstone Infratech, a joint venture (JV) of Hyderabad’s Goldstone Group and China’s BYD, delivered six e-Buzz K7 electric buses to Brihanmumbai Electric Supply and Transport (BEST). Each bus costs Rs 16.1 million, can cover up to 200 km in a single charge, operate at speeds of up to 70 km per hour, and has a capacity of 31 passengers. Fast charging stations at BEST’s Backbay Depot fully charge the vehicle in three-four hours.

Grand plans

On October 31, 2017, the central government’s Department of Heavy Industry invited expressions of interest (EoIs) from cities with a population of over 1 million and special category states for multimodal transport. Additional incentives to augment charging infrastructure for public transport were proposed by the government. In response to the invitation for EoIs, the department received 47 proposals from 44 cities across 21 states with a requirement of 3,144 buses.

Eleven cities, namely, Delhi, Ahmedabad, Bengaluru, Jaipur, Mumbai, Lucknow, Hyderabad, Indore, Kolkata, Jammu and Guwahati, were selected for funding. Pilot projects are planned to be launched in these cities for multimodal electric public transport under the FAME India scheme. Jammu and Guwahati will receive a subsidy for 15 buses each, while the remaining nine cities will receive a subsidy for 40 buses each. The cities are required to finalise the tendering process and issue supply orders before February 28, 2018.

Separately, Bengaluru, Delhi and Navi Mumbai also announced plans to deploy electric buses besides those by the government.

The Bengaluru Metropolitan Transport Corporation (BMTC) will use an innovative public-private partnership (PPP) model to deploy electric buses. It floated a tender in December 2017 to select an operator to supply 150 electric buses and operate them for 10 years. The project is estimated to cost Rs 3 billion. Upon awarding the contract, BMTC will become the first state-run corporation in the country to operate electric buses on the gross cost model. BMTC will pay a distance-based fee to the operator (per km basis), who will also receive an incentive of Rs 10 million under FAME India.

In November 2017, the Delhi government announced plans, mostly as a knee-jerk reaction to counter criticism over increasing pollution, to procure 500 low-floor, air-conditioned electric buses from the environment cess fund (about Rs 8 billion). The timeline for procurement and deployment is yet to be announced. The state government also announced plans of switching to an all-electric fleet by 2030.

Navi Mumbai Municipal Transport announced plans to purchase 65 electric buses by end 2018 and allocated Rs 1 billion in its 2017-18 budget for the deployment of electric buses and other infrastructure improvements.

China takes the lead in Asia

In the rest of Asia, China, as expected, took the lead in introducing electric buses. By the end of 2017, Shenzhen became the first city in the world to deploy an all-electric bus fleet of more than 16,300 buses and install 510 bus charging stations with a total of 8,000 charging points. In 2017 alone, it deployed nearly 5,700 electric buses. Massive charging infrastructure has been installed in the city. The charging station at the Qinghu bus terminal has more than 30 charging poles. A bus can be fully charged within two hours and the charging poles can serve 300 buses a day.

Beijing announced that it had put nearly 1,300 electric buses into operation and installed 100 charging stations by the end of 2017. Each bus in Beijing is 18 metres long, low-floored, and equipped with PM2.5 filters and a security pre-warning system. The bus takes 15 minutes for full charge and has a range of 130 km.

In other cities in China, Hefei added 240 electric buses (supplied by Ankai), Luohe deployed 200 buses (supplied by Yutong), Shaoyang started operating 272 extra buses, and Tangshan started operations on the first batch of 24 electric buses.

In Malaysia, local firm Putrajaya and Japan’s New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization (NEDO) launched the 3.6 billion yen, five-year Putra-NEDO EV (electric vehicle) bus project to replace buses fuelled by fossil fuels with super-quick-charge electric buses. NEDO is funding the project as part of its International Demonstration Project of Energy Consumption Efficiency Technology and System Demonstration.

Eight single-deck buses branded Nadiputra were introduced on two 23 km circular routes in Putrajaya and Cyberjaya. The fleet size is planned to grow to 13 buses by 2018. DRB-HICOM Defence Technologies Sdn Bhd supplied the buses, which are equipped with Toshiba’s SCiB lithium-ion rechargeable battery. Chargers are installed at the bus terminal of the Putrajaya Sentral station. Internet of things systems monitor battery temperature and status as well as the electronic characteristics of the buses and chargers during operation.

Elsewhere, Singapore’s Land Transport Authority (LTA) awarded an S$30 million contract to Volvo Buses to supply 50 Volvo 7900 diesel-hybrid buses by the second half of 2018. In Okinawa, Japan, 10 pure electric buses manufactured by China’s BYD were deployed as a shuttle service to and from the Okinawa Naha Port. In Thailand, the Board of Investment ap-

proved incentives for electric bus manufacturers including tax breaks of five to eight years. In addition, the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand, the Thailand Research Fund, the Bangkok Mass Transit Authority (BMTA) and King Mongkut’s University of Technology Thonburi signed an MoU to evaluate the use of electric public transport in Thailand.

Asian cities unveil big plans

Several cities in China, Malaysia, Pakistan, Singapore, Taiwan and Thailand announced major plans for the deployment of electric buses and the installation of charging infrastructure in 2017.

  • Beijing, China: The Beijing Public Transport Group announced plans to increase the number of electric buses in the city from the 1,000 currently to 10,000 by 2020. The proportion of fully electric buses among the total public transport vehicles is expected to increase from 10 per cent currently to 60 per cent by 2020.
  • Putrajaya, Malaysia: The city government plans to deploy 150 electric buses in Putrajaya by 2025 as part of an initiative to cut carbon emissions by 40 per cent by 2025.
  • Karachi, Pakistan: The Sindh government announced plans to introduce around 3,000 electric buses in Karachi. China-based Eco-bus has proposed to undertake a $600 million project to supply 2,000 electric buses and construct 500 charging stations in Karachi. Initially, the company will supply two electric buses free of cost for trial and evaluation. Later, it will establish a JV either with the government or local transport authority to supply and operate the buses or only sell buses.
  • Singapore: On October 2, 2017, the LTA launched a request for information on electric buses to better understand latest bus types and charging technologies. It plans to call a tender to procure 60 electric buses in 2018. The buses will be deployed by 2019.
  • Taichung, Taiwan: In November 2017, the Taichung city government announced plans to replace 50 diesel-fuelled buses with electric buses and construct 45 charging stations during the period 2018-20. Till date, 70 electric buses have been deployed in Taichung, the city with the largest electric bus fleet in Taiwan.
  • Bangkok, Thailand: BMTA announced plans to invite bids for 35 electric buses in 2018. BMTA will also undertake trial runs of an electric bus made in South Korea on five routes in Bangkok in June 2018. The trial will be used to assess the operating efficiency of the bus.

New entrants and technology developments

Asia is home to some of the biggest manufacturers of electric buses and batteries and accounts for nearly two-thirds of the total global production. The region witnessed the launch of several innovations and new models in 2017. Some manufacturers also entered into tie-ups and signed MoUs to enter new markets.

  • Testing of driverless electric bus in Taiwan: EZ10, a driverless electric bus manufactured by French autonomous driving company EasyMile SAS, was tested at the National Taiwan University campus in Taipei. EZ10 is powered by a lithium LiFePO4 battery and equipped with Level 4 autonomous driving features such as six LiDAR sensors, two cameras, inertia navigation devices and global positioning systems for sensor fusion. It can carry a maximum of 12 passengers, reach speeds of up to 40 km per hour and operate for 14 hours on a single charge.
  • Launch of all-electric buses in Taiwan: Efficient Drivetrains, Incorporated (EDI) collaborated with bus manufacturer Master Transportation to develop a plan to replace all 10,000 diesel-fuelled buses in Taiwan with electric buses by 2027. The prototype bus, planned to be launched in 2018, will be the first of its kind to meet the Made in Taiwan policy (a government initiative to establish a local supply chain, requiring that at least 70 per cent of the components be from manufacturers in Taiwan).

EDI will provide the PowerDrive EV all-electric drivetrain and PowerSuite vehicle control software for buses. Local supplier Yiding will supply the battery packs and a Shenyang-based supplier will provide the lithium-ion phosphate cells.

  • Launch of first mass-produced electric bus by Hyundai: Hyundai Motor Company has launched an electric bus with a 256 kWh lithium-ion polymer battery. It has several safety features including Around View Monitoring and a Full-Color Digital Cluster. The bus has a driving range of 290 km on a single charge.
  • Driverless electric bus development in China: Test runs on two driverless electric buses developed by Dongfeng Xiangyang Touring Car Company Limited and the Beijing Institute of Technology began in Shenzhen in November 2017. Each bus is 6.7 metres long, accommodates 25 passengers and has a maximum speed of 40 km per hour. The bus has a range of 150 km on a single charge and can switch between manual and automatic operation.
  • Launch of hybrid, electric buses in India by Tata Motors: Tata Motors launched hybrid buses (12 metre long Starbus Hybrid) and electric buses (9 metre and 12 metre long Starbus Electric) at its Pune facility. Each bus costs between Rs 16 million and Rs 20 million.
  • Launch of electric bus in Thailand: Kwaithong Motor introduced its electric bus powered by the lithium-titanate battery technology with an aim to penetrate the Thai market. The battery allows quick charging – buses can be charged in 10-15 minutes. The bus is 12 metres long, 2.53 metres wide and 3.34 metres high. It can accommodate 80 passengers. Germany-based MAN Group has provided technological support to the company.
  • Entry of South Korea’s TGM into Thai market: South Korea-based TGM Company signed an MoU with Thai bus assembly companies Act One and Bus & Truck, gas installer PLT Green and vehicle components manufacturer Cobra International to enter the Thai electric bus market.

A final word

Europe is generally considered the leader in the deployment of electric buses. However, recent findings suggest that Asia is in fact taking path-breaking initiatives in this area. China is leading the efforts and the deployment of electric buses has increased at a rapid pace in the country, which has 200,000 electric buses in operation, a target set for 2020. The total electric bus fleet in Shenzhen far surpasses the combined bus fleet of Chicago, Los Angeles, New Jersey, New York and Toronto. Other Asian countries, such as India and Thailand, present big market opportunities. Regional bus suppliers (from China, South Korea, Japan, India, etc.) are investing in product development to benefit from market opportunities created with favourable policies for the deployment of clean buses.