The electric bus

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Q & A

Isbrand Ho, Managing Director, European Auto Sales Division, BYD Europe B.V.

Interview & photo: Ashish Bhatia

Q. What is BYD’s plan for India?

A. For BYD, India has been an encouraging market. It is a market that is fast evolving. The dynamics of the Indian market are no longer a drop off point for used buses. The resale value of used diesel buses dropping by 10 per cent over the last one year (FY2016-17) is a clear indication of the Indian market fast evolving.

Q. With the push for electric vehicles growing, do you see diesel engine ceasing to exist?

A. The EuroIV, EuroV, EuroVI engines mark an improvement over the previous engine generations. To me, the development looks like a ‘band-aid’ approach. There is little doubt that diesel vehicles are a baggage for an Original Equipment Manufacturer. They continue to emit. I remember that during a discussion at Paris, one of the diesel OEMs, opined that diesel is the right approach in comparison to electric propulsion technology. We, on the contrary, rooted for electromobility.

Q. Isn’t BYD one of the few OEMs which manufactures electric batteries?

A. A battery is like ‘Intel inside’ for an electric vehicle. The way computers cannot run with the Intel processor, an electric vehicle cannot run without a battery. There has been three to five per cent increase in energy density every year. This implies that even if the price of a battery remains the same, there is an indirect three to five per cent reduction in the overall cost of the battery. Given the rise in demand for batteries, we expect a decrease in price of up to five per cent. It is more than ever before. Looking ahead, we are certain of the advantage of economies of scale.

Q. What is BYD’s presence in Europe like?

A. You would have noticed that we showcased the 8.7 m electric mini-bus at Busworld Europe (Kortrijk) with a travel range of 200 km on a single charge. It is in-line with the needs of our customer base today. Our customers are looking for shorter buses. Based on their feedback, we have come to understand that a 12 metre buses may not be feasible anymore. Earlier the operators used to convert a Sprinter to suit their needs. Now, they are coming to find the mini-bus ideal for operating in cities, and over narrow roads. Unlike the mini-bus, the Sprinter failed to serve the purpose of many operators. With 13-inch dia. wheels, it rode like a truck. Not only is the BYD’s new mini-bus a bus in the true sense, it also rides like one, and is comfortable. Our European buses are engineered to be flexible.

BYD unveils electric long range coach

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Chinese bus maker BYD has revealed the world’s first long range electric coach. Aimed primarily for city sightseeing tours, the coach, BYD C9, is purely electrically propelled. To enter production by the end of this year, the coach has a range of up to 200 km depending on traffic and atmospheric conditions. It can carry up to 51 seated passengers and their luggage. Capable of being charged in less than three hours via mains electric, the bus, a total of fifteen units have been ordered by two Paris sightseeing operators, B.E. Green and Nedroma claim sources. The development comes on the eve of the French capital announcing their intention to ban diesel coaches from central areas. Other European cities are expected to follow. BYD is backed by American billionaire businessman, Warren Buffett, and started building EVs in 2010. It has till date produced over 10,000 pure electric buses, including a newly introduced fleet of 35 eBuses that serve Amsterdam’s Schipol Airport. It is the first major transport hub to choose electric vehicles for its airside passenger transportation.

Electric bus impresses

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Its been over four months after the Delhi Transport Corporation (DTC) put an electric bus acquired from a Chinese company on trial. Industry sources claim that a DTC report has pegged its operational and maintencance cost to be lower than that of a CNG bus. A CNG bus is claimed to cost Rs.18.54 per km as compared to an electric bus which costs Rs.17.25 per km. The bus that DTC has on trial runs 250 km on a single charge, and is claimed to have consumed 27368 units of electricity over the last four months. It translates to an average unit cost of Rs.10.66. A DTC official claimed only the battery (in an electric bus) to require maintenance. A major area of concern however remains to be the initial capital required to acquire an electric bus. Most such buses cost in excess of Rs.2 crore. DTC’s decision to acquire an electric bus will be influenced by the quantum of subsidy under the FAME scheme. Expressed an industry source that there is a need for viability gap funding to make electric buses successful.

BYD to assemble e-buses in India

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Leading Chinese electric bus maker, Build Your Dreams (BYD) has decided to assemble electric-buses in India. The Shenzhen-based company has inked a pact with an Indian company called Smart Dreams (led by Singapore-based entrepreneur B K Modi). Aiming at providing transportation solutions taking into account challenges like pollution, the venture will turn to assembling cars at a later stage. To concentrate on the assembly of e-buses initially, the venture is claimed to have already offered two buses to the Delhi Transport Corporation (DTC) free of charge. The two buses are currently plying on key commercial routes in the city. Backed by investment veteran Warren Buffet, BYD also has an electric bus manufacturing facility in South California, USA. Enjoying a good presence in the electric bus space in various markets the world over, BYD, according to its managing director Liu Xue Liang, sees a huge potential for growth in India. Said Liang, “This is the right time to enter the Indian market.”

With either of the two city electric buses plying in Delhi powered by a fully recyclable Lithium ion battery pack that does 4,000 recharging cycles and can clock 250 kms when fully charged, the time taken to charge fully can be as much as five hours. Charging is done during the night, and when the buses are not operational. According to Liang, the settig up of an assembly plant in India will present an opportunity to keep costs down. A facility to assemble electric buses has already been finalised in ModiCiti near Moradabad in Uttar Pradesh. Banking on a local content of up to 50 per cent to start with, over the next three to five years, BYD and Smart Dreams plan to take this to 75 per cent by indigenising the battery. Asserted Modi, “We are already talking to major STUs in the country and hope to bag good orders. To promote the use of e-vehicles in India, I feel that the industry should be converted to zero tax segment.” “We have plans to line up various electric vehicles and the project overall could invite USD 2 billion in long term investment through the expansion of production facilities across India in the future.” Ironically costs continue to be an issue for electric and hybrid buses in India, and despite an increase in the FAME outlay. The only electric bus on trial (also from BYD) at Bangalore was taken off the trial once the trial period was over. With many STUs not in the pink of their health, it will need to be seen how they are able to absorb electric buses.