IMG_20141224_143737681-1_Scania Ethanol copy IMG_20160203_125746374_Tata Hybrid BKC bus copy IMG_20160204_100433_JBM Citylife copy IMG_20160204_164438_Ashok Leyland Hybus copy IMG_20160204_085543142_HDR_Ashok Leyland Euro 6 truck copy IMG_20160304_123740_BYD bus copy TATA_ULTRA_ELECTRIC_3_4_co_driver_s_side_35876 copy

Commercial Vehicles propelled by alternate fuel technologies have started proliferating in India. They are set to change the way CVs have been looked at until now.

Story by:

Anusha B

The first hybrid city bus from Volvo Buses was pressed into the service of Navi Mumbai Municipal Transport Corporation early this year. Volvo Buses India claimed that it was encouraged to bring a hybrid bus to India by the clear direction laid out under the FAME programme by the government. First CV manufacturer to have launched a hybrid bus in India, Volvo Buses India is a wholly owned subsidiary of the Volvo Group, which is at the forefront of developing alternate fuel buses. Until now, the use of hybrid buses has been for trials rather than for actual service. The BYD (Build Your Dreams) electric bus at Bangalore was also lent to the Bangalore Municipal transport Corporation for a trial. Post the trial, it was taken out of service. A BYD bus has just begun trial with the Delhi Transport Corporation. The exhorbitant costs of an electric bus seems to prohibit the State Transport Undertakings (STUs) from procuring one. Navi Mumbai looks like an exception. Another exception is set to be the beginning of MMRDA hybrid bus service in Mumbai. Tata Motors has announced its winning a contract for the supply of 25 hybrid low floor city buses to the MMRDA. These buses will ply between Mumbai’s Bandra-Kurla Complex (BKC) to the nearby suburban rail stations of Bandra, Kurla and Sion. Each bus is claimed to cost Rs. 2 crore. The FAME subsidy of 50 per cent would mean the government outlay per bus is Rs. 1 crore.

Egged by the MMRDA’s move to press hybrid buses into service, Brihanmumbai Electric Supply and Transport (BEST) recently announced that it would procure electric buses. The current BEST fleet is at best aged and dilapidated. The undertaking is reeling under a huge loss, and is claimed to have bought a new bus in the last five-to-six years. From being one of the best city bus undertaking to the one that is struggling, BEST could be looked upon as a reflection of how many government transport undertakings are fairing in the country. The daily operation report of the nation’s first ethanol-run city bus at Nagpur is claimed to indicate that it is unaffordable. The cost of running this bus is said to be three-to-five times that of a diesel bus. Drawing attention to the Nagpur Municipal Corporation’s city transport committee data for February 23, 2015, an industry expert claimed that the ethanol bus travelled 194.20 km and consumed 145 litres of fuel, averaging 1.33 kmpl. The bus made 14 trips between RBI Square and Khapri, transporting 411 passengers. Though ethanol is cheaper than diesel by around Rs. 10 per litre, the ethanol bus requires an additive that add to the cost, making it as expensive as diesel or more, he claimed further. The price of the ethanol bus is said to be in the region of Rs. 1.13 crore excluding taxes. Compared to a conventional low floor diesel city bus, it is almost five times more. But, then a diesel powered low floor rear-engine Volvo city bus is known to cost about Rupees one-crore.

The present

The present scenario indicates that the ethanol-run bus at Nagpur by Scania may be expensive than a low floor diesel bus, but the price difference is not as much as in case of a hybrid bus, which is claimed to cost Rs. 2 crore. Even after accounting for a subsidy of Rs. 1 crore under the FAME programme, it is quite likely that the Return on Investment (ROI) for a hybrid bus will be significantly more than a diesel bus that carries the same number of people and costs almost four times less at an estimated Rs. 35 lakh. The ethanol-run bus looks promising but subject to the production of the ‘ignitor’ additive locally, and at low costs. The ethanol for the sole ethanol-run bus at Nagpur is currently claimed to be supplied by the Purthi Group. The Purthi Group is said to have been floated by the current minister for road transport and highways, Nitin Gadkari, in 1995. The Purthi Group operates sugar plants, one of which is claimed to produce and supply ethanol to the Nagpur bus. During his speech at the Auto Expo 2016, Gadkari urged the auto industry to look at means to curb vehicular pollution and turn to the use of alternate fuels. In March 2015, Scania announced that it has inked an agreement with the Swed Fund to produce biogas at Nagpur. The biogas, said Scania sources, would be produced from digested sludge from one of the city’s waste water treatment plants in collaboration with local companies, and as part of the city’s participation in the Indian Government’s initiative to improve the environment and transport systems in 100 largest cities. The list of smart city initiative has since then been watered down to 20 cities from 100 cities. Successful generation of biogas over ethanol produced from food-based sources will prove far more beneficial, and at a time when food scarcity is on the rise. Biogas propulsion from city waste would signal the arrival of a truly ‘green’ mode of transport. But then, the same is in the making. The future looks promising.

Towards a promising future

While Scania chose to unveil a low-floor city bus (Citywide) that can run on biogas at the Auto Expo 2016, Tata Motors displayed an ACGL-built hybrid low floor city bus that will find its way to BKC. Tata Motors also displayed an electric Ultra bus, which could well work as a feeder service bus or the one that can manoeuvre through congested and narrow city roads. Ashok Leyland unveiled a Euro 6 compliant 49-tonne tractor at the fair. Pointing at the race as well as the need to comply with the Bharat Stage VI emission norms by 2020 rather than the earlier 2023, the truck was fitted with an Selective Catalytic Reduction (SCR) unit sourced from a captive entity in Germany, Albonair. Ashok Leyland’s endeavour would be to develop SCR-based BS VI compliance system at much lesser costs than it took CV makers in Europe to develop a SCR-based Euro 6 compliance system. Both, Tata Motors and Ashok Leyland have the advantage of being ‘local’ over Volvo and Scania. This, in the future, is likely to reflect from the understanding of the market as well as the product costs.

The hybrid Hybus displayed by Ashok Leyland employs ultra-capacitors rather than Lithium-ion batteries. According to N. Saravanan, Senior Vice President – Product Development, Ashok Leyland Ltd., the Hybus is a serial hybrid that used ultra-capacitors instead of Lithium-ion batteries. The ultra-capacitors have the ability to charge and discharge faster, and augurs well for frequent stop-start usage. The diesel engine can be replaced with a CNG or a LNG engine. The Hybus promises a significant improvement in the city cycle, he mentioned. Hybus is claimed to result in 25 per cent savings on fuel consumption and emission reduction.

Volvo Eicher unveiled a hybrid school bus. Not a surprising move as school buses are typically a city phenomenon with numerous start-stops, the hybrid air-conditioned school bus is fitted with a hybrid system that combines a conventional internal combustion engine with an electric propulsion system, drastically reducing emissions and improving fuel efficiency. With the demand for air-conditioned school buses on the rise, the Skyline Pro air-conditioned hybrid bus is well poised to set the tone for ‘green’ future school buses. A new entrant into the CV space, and buses in particular, JBM displayed a nine-meter trolleybus, which marks a collaboration with Solaris Bus & Coach S.A. The bus, Ecolife, contains fast charging Lithium-ion batteries. Charged through a pantograph, the bus has a range of 150 to 200 km in 10 to 15 hours of city bus operation. The bus can also be plug-charged and features a corrosion resistant monocoque structure.

BYD recently announced that they have decided to assemble electric-buses in India. For this, the Shenzhen-based company has joined hands with Smart Dreams, led by Singapore based entrepreneur B K Modi. Claiming to have already offered two buses to Delhi Transport Corporation (DTC) free of charge, BYD and Smart Dreams are banking on the FAME programme to promote their city buses. These buses are powered by fully recyclable Lithium-ion battery that has 4,000 recharging cycles and can clock 250 kms on a fully charged battery. For a complete charge, the bus has to be at a halt for minimum of five hours, which is achievable only at night. To offer an electric bus at a competitive price, the two partners have zeroed in on a location at ModiCiti near Moradabad, Uttar Pradesh, to assemble the buses locally. Targeting 50 per cent localisation from the start, plans are on to hike it to 75 per cent by locally producing the battery. The joint venture is already in talks with STUs in metro cities apart from the upcoming smart cities.

The reality

Smart Dreams has offered two electric buses to the Delhi government for a free trial. One BYD bus already spent close to two years with the Bangalore municipal transport until recently. The undertaking did not buy it. Tata Motors has been sharing its hybrid buses for trials with various undertakings. Despite the FAME outlay, which promises a subsidy of up to 50 per cent, the issue of cost and infrastructure are the limiting factors. The cost of operating a vehicle, the fare charged in case of a bus, and the time taken for ROI. Benefits like low fuel consumption, low cost of ownership, incentives and tax credits need to be weighed against the costs involved. Even more important is the need to curb pollution. The need for a sound supporting infrastructure is irrefutable, the fact is, alternate fuel CVs, may it be a truck or a bus, are set to be a reality in the near future. The hybrid tech is also upon us. Soon it will be electric, biogas and many more.


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