Electromobility: Why buses take the lead?

I frequently get asked the question:

Why are bus manufacturers tapping into the electromobility market, when much bigger industries, such as cars, have been waiting for a breakthrough for the past ten years?

Given the higher volumes of cars, surely there would a cost advantage compared to buses…

To that I respond:

  1. Buses run through urban areas, such as city centres and towns, where noise and emissions have the most critical impact on everyday life. Electromobility raises the attractiveness of buses as a transportation option and, therefore, their demand.
  2. Buses have the highest cost efficiency per passenger kilometer, with the exception of bikes. In the long term, this is expected to become the most important demand for transportation all over the world.
  3. Different to its competitors,  Volvo Buses has found and taken a path, which will step-by-step lower the cost even further.
  4.  The strength in our offer is the modular system (of hybrids, plug-in and electric buses) that will match the demand for different routes with a common infrastructure.
  5. Considering different duty cycles*, buses best match the demands for profitability of electromobility:

Daily Duty (hours)

Predicatable route

Charging opportunity
time between opportunities





Delivery trucks











*Let me just remark that of course there are lots of different types of duty cycles and usage within each category. This is an oversimplification that only servea as an example on how to think when comparing technologies.

In terms of total cost of ownership, the conventional diesel bus used to provide the lowest cost. Today, we can see a change in cost by the opportunities provided by electromobility: depending on what kind of operation the diesel bus is running in, hybrids, plug-in hybrids and electric buses will ultimately provide the lowest total cost of ownership during the lifetime of the vehicle.

Buses run in planned routes with foreseeable traffic conditions. The operating hours are long enough to enable favorable pay-back time for the initial investment. At the same time, however, buses are sensitive to disturbances and failure is not acceptable. The management of disturbances is a key success factor. Volvo provides a telematics solution that helps to manage any delays in traffic or conflicts at charging stations to optimise productivity and uptime.

The development of the new technology has been very rapid. What seemed impossible just a couple of years ago, has now developed into a complete commercial offer. Volvo Buses continues to develop the new technology in close cooperation with leading public transport providers all over the globe. Therefore, Volvo Buses and the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg recently announced a common understanding on the establishment of Luxembourg as a test arena for new public transportation systems. Read more here.

The sustainable mobility sector has been identified as one of the most promising sectors in Luxembourg’s strategy for the diversification and “greening” of the economy. As a consequence, a long-term partnership between the Luxembourg Ministry of Economy and Foreign Trade, the Ministry of Sustainable Development and Infrastructures, operator Sales-Lentz and Volvo Buses has now been initiated.

Luxembourg has been in the forefront of the development of electromobility. Sales Lentz was one of the first operators using the new generation hybrid buses in Europe. Today, all public transport operators in Luxembourg utilize the new technology. As a result of the plans in Luxembourg, we can anticipate an emergence of electromobility services and competencies in the market.

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Busworld 2013

The Busworld exhibition in Kortrijk (Belgium) held its opening day last Friday the 18th of October. On Thursday, prior to the opening, Volvo Buses held a big press day during which our (now relatively new) CEO, Håkan Agnewell, presented our environmentally-friendly Euro VI product range.

 At the exhibition, Volvo showcased each application type ranging from city buses (7900 series) and regional buses (8900 series) to coaches (9000 series): all equipped with the new engine line.

City buses:

7900 double-deckers (10.5m and 12m) with the new hybrid drive train and a further refinement of the Euro V hybrid drive. The double-decker is also available with a D5 diesel engine, excluding hybridization.

Intercity buses:

The 8900 and 9500 models now equipped with the new D8 engine that is available with 280 to 350 hp.


The Euro VI coach models, the 9700 and 9900, are now available with the brand new D11 engine ranging from 380 hp to a remarkable 460 hp with 2200 Nm of torque.

7900 articulated hybrid bus

The 7900 articulated hybrid bus gained a lot of interest at Busworld in Kortrijk.

From everyone I have, so far, come across at the exhibition, the new 18-meter-long Volvo 7900 Articulated Hybrid gained most interest from journalists and operators. Since the introduction in 2010, Volvo hybrid technology has gained a solid reputation in the market globally and an articulated version has been anticipated ever since.

Volvo has always been a forerunner in new technologies and the new articulated 7900 hybrid bus is another step in the path towards electromobility. We have secured a fuel saving of 30% in slow city operation. The articulated 7900 hybrid will in absolute numbers save more fuel in liter per hour than the 12 meter version does.

However, the big buzz came on Friday when the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, Sales Lenz and Volvo Bus announced an Memorandum of Understanding on the establishment of Luxembourg as a test arena for a sustainable public transport system. You can read the full press release here.

I will soon come back with more detailed information about this subject in the blog…

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Singapore International Transport Congress and Exhibition 2013

Singapore International Transport Congress and Exhibition 2013 was the name of the congress arranged by the Singapore Land Transport Authority and UITP. The theme of the congress was People-Centered Mobility for Liveable Cities.

The phrasing is interesting. The attractiveness of public transports was discussed, by me and others. Speaking about People-Centered Mobility is a step in the direction upgrading the public transports to person transports for all sorts of people. It is also a step in the direction of increased adaptation to individuals. A lot of focus was spent on the “last mile”. Meaning that in most cities the transports are pretty good except for the first and the last mile of the travel.

I and Lim Jun Rong, my colleague based in Singapore, contributed with an article in the most recent issue of JOURNEYS (2013 September Special issued by LTA Academy in Singapore). We are addressing the challenge to raise the attractiveness and lower the cost simultaneously.

In our hybrid offer the up-side is less emissions of hazardous emissions, less greenhouse gases and less noise. The cost advantage is realized by fuel savings. In the parts of the world that have low fuel prices the incitement to save fuel is less and it is hence relatively seen more challenging to realize lower costs for the operator.

For this two approaches used:
1) Using the hybrid buses in routes where the saving is the highest. In the graph below we show the saving by the hour for more than 300 Volvo hybrid buses in Europe. It should be noted that even if the saving in % is higher at slower city operation the economy for applying hybrid technology is improved the most in routs with average speed up to 30 km per hour. With European fuel prices a reasonable fuel economy is achieved already in the slow city operation.

Figure,  Average Fuel Savings (liter per hour). The data originates from Double-Deckers in UK and Volvo 7700 Hybrid in Europe driving at various conditions

Figure, Average Fuel Savings (liter per hour). The data originates from Double-Deckers in UK and Volvo 7700 Hybrid in Europe driving at various conditions


2) Selecting buses with high utilization. Since the cost saving is realized in liter per hour, long operating hours is favorable for more rapid pay back.

This effectively means that in each city with high ambitions for raising the attractiveness of the buses by making them cleaner and more silent an analysis can show which routes and which operation that gives the best economy. Often, it is not the route that I spontaneously would assume.


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Hybrid is no longer optional

After some delay due to the economic crisis that hit the industry in 2008, Volvo introduced the first commercially viable hybrid bus in 2010.

We were lucky with the timing. Not that the market recovered, but it gave us some margin to the start of next big challenge, the Euro VI emission. It meant that we had experience from more than 200 hybrid buses in commercial operation late in 2011, when we had to decide on which buses to take to Euro VI, that will become mandatory from 31st of December this year.

No doubt, the market organization within Volvo Buses is under pressure to present a menu of different technical solutions for each possible request from city authorities. In some cities ethanol fuelled buses are preferred, in other cities natural gas or biogas is the choice and in most cities (~95% of the market) diesel fuel is used. Then again, other cities focus on total cost and others put requests for decreased greenhouse gas emissions or energy use. 

In some cases the EU mandatory directive ( 2009/33/EC ) to consider hazardous emissions of hydrocarbons, nitrogen oxides and particulates in combination with emissions of greenhouse gases and energy efficiency is applied. The spirit of the directive is to drive the development of clean and energy efficient vehicles and to harmonize the demand from cities in Europe.

However, with the experience of our low floor and double decker hybrid technology we had the information required to benchmark our diesel, gas and hybrid buses against one another. The feed-back from operators was a big help. The fact that we were forced* to make most of the development in-house gave us cost control and competence. When all aspects (ranging from total cost for the operators to environmental performance in cities) were considered our hybrid technology came out as the clear winner with 2-4% lower life cycle cost for the average bus. This is when the discussion started to make the hybrid our standard product for the low floor city segment. Should we really risk being the only one of the “big five” bus manufacturers that did not present a diesel city bus for Euro VI? It seemed to be a very high risk. Then again the facts spoke for themselves. And, the more the options were analyzed the more the rational to spend development resources on the old diesel buses was questioned.

Once we decided that the hybrid would no longer be an option among others but the base technology for our city buses, we could release a lot of resources that elsewise would have been required to squeeze the old diesel and gas buses into the Euro VI legislation. While it still makes sense to use diesel in more rappid regional traffic with higher average load, where we still offer the diesel alternative also for Euro VI. First we needed a brand new engine fully developed to be combined with hybrid drivetrains. The new engine development has enabled further reduced service cost and further efficiency increase simultaneously, and the baseline is of course Euro VI emission performance.

Next, in order to secure the full range we needed to make an 18 meter articulated hybrid bus, this was not a part of the offer in 2010 and therefore a new development was required. The articulated hybrid bus pose several challenges when it comes to drivability. As for the 12 meter buses we have succeeded in increasing the passenger capacity a lot, by the hybridization. Initially we were very cautious not to cause excessive ageing of the batteries, and we still are. The experience is very positive and we now dare to increase the power outtake further to the benefit of drivability and performance. This and a lot more has been enabled by focusing our resources on developing the hybrid technology.


Volvo 7900 Hybrid Articulated

The Volvo Hybrid Articulated bus is a new workhorse for the European market. The fuel saving is at least 25% and higher depending on traffic.

Volvo has a history of taking rational decisions when it comes to new technology. In 1959 Volvo was the first car manufacturer to make seatbelts a part of the standard offer, for the legendary Volvo Amazon. In 1976 Volvo introduced the three way catalyst as a standard offer for the cars in the United States. This step enforced the new emission legislation in the USA. How it came to take 13 years until an emission legislation enforcing three way catalysts entered Europe is still beyond my understanding. Who would today question the rational in those decisions?

The 31st of December in 2013 Volvo will make hybrid the standard offer for city buses in Europe.

This is the short version of the story about how the hybrid technology became the standard fit for city buses. Someday, I might write a book about the full story…

*Forced, because when our former CEO Leif Johansson in 2005 promoted the decision to industrialize the hybrid technology, very few suppliers were ready to support the development and we were hence left to do most of the work in-house. A motivated team of coworkers at Volvo Buses and Volvo Powertrain in Göteborg and in Lyon, did not hesitate to take on the challenges that realized the award winning technology that now is our technology base.


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Coach fuel consumption

Thanks to an extensive database Volvo Bus can present detailed fuel consumption data from real use on a yearly average. In the example below my colleague Anders Tuomivaara has aggregated data for Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Germany, Poland, Netherlands, Belgium, UK, at real world conditions far from the laboratory.

In 2006 Volvo Bus and the DH12 (in B12B and B12M buses) engines secured a leading position in fuel consumption in real use on a yearly basis. The breakthrough came with a new engine generation in combination with a new gearbox, the now a days legendary I-Shift. The fuel consumption was determined to in average 26 liter per 100 km (for the average speed of 60 km/h), including all idle and auxiliaries such as air conditioners and winter heaters.
When Volvo Bus introduced the 13 liter engine in 2010 the forecast said an expected average fuel consumption decrease by 4-5% depending on the average speed. We have now gathered enough data to confirm that the average saving is 4-6% in real operation.

Several factors have high impact on the fuel consumption. In the data below we have grouped the coaches in three groups. Coaches with a yearly average speed of 35-45 km/h are represented by the speed 40 km/h. The group with speeds between 45 and 55 are plotted as 50 km/h and so on. Note that at constant speed the fuel consumption increase with higher speed, this mostly not the case in real operation of buses.

volvo 9700 yearly average fuel consumption

Graph: Fuel consumption for a 9700 12 meter with 4×2 axle configuration one example automatic gear box is compared to the I-Shift gear box plotted for average speed of 40, 50 and 60 km/h.


Last year, 2012, Volvo Buses presented another new engine range for coaches based on the D11 engine. Although we have not yet a full year of data we have an indication that we are heading in the right direction. Even if the decimals are not in place we have now enough information to state that the superior fuel consumption of the new product line is confirmed, again.

 volvo 9700 yearly average fuel consumption

Graph: Fuel consumption for a 9700 13.5 to 14.5 meter with 6×2 axle configuration with the I-Shift gear box plotted for average speed of 40, 50 and 60 km/h.


We are immensely proud of our new engine technology that has been realized by our engine development colleagues at Lundby and Lyon.  And, it will continue to progress already by the end of the year, when introducing the Euro VI engines. One of the secrets behind the progress for the larger 6×2 coaches is that the new D11 engine has the same power output as we have for the larger D13 engine.

And, I am immensely proud of our contribution to the lower emissions of greenhouse gases. Coaches in general have a filling factor of about 60%. On some markets it is higher and on other markets it is a bit lower.


Carbon dioxide emissions per passenger kilometer (g CO2/km) for Volvo 9700 4×2 12 meter, with the new D11 engine range.

  Average Speed km/h













Carbon dioxide emissions per passenger kilometer (g CO2/km) for Volvo 9700 6×2 14.5 meter, with the new D11 engine range.

  Average Speed km/h

















Note that the data above are average European numbers, higher values are expected in the Alps and lower values are expected in the flat countries.

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The Year of Air

2013 has been proclaimed “The year of air” by EU.  Although the EU emission standards have made the emissions from the vehicles much cleaner than before, the air quality in many cities needs further improvement, as clearly expressed by the European Commission. The objective is “to achieve levels of air quality that do not result in significant impacts on human health and the environment”.

To support the member states EU has proposed National Emission Ceilings Directive (NECD). Every year a status report is published on emissions of Nitrogen Oxides (NOx), hydrocarbons (NMVOC), Sulphur dioxide (SO2) and Ammonia (NH4). In 2012 it was reported that 11 out of 27 member states do not meet the national ceilings.

If you are curious about the air quality right now in a city you can try the EU homepage Air Quality Now where the emission data is continuously updated. This is really interesting reading, not only for geeks.

When considering the high emissions in some cities, some factors to consider are:
- age of the vehicle fleet, the older the higher emissions
- efficiency of the transports (capacity, load factor, etc.)
- potential super emitters, vehicle with very old technology or defect emission performance

Several cities are now threatened by fines for exceeding the norm. The idea is that it should become more attractive to do something about the air quality in comparison to paying the fines.  It seems that the new Volvo product line for Euro VI city buses will become increasingly attractive, considering the air quality challenges.

Volvo 7900 Hybrid range

Volvo 7900 Hybrid range

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Impact on city planing

Last summer an operator introduced 25 hybrid buses in Göteborg. Some students performed a traveler survey asking the people riding with the new hybrid buses about their experience.  On the question: “Have you noticed any difference in the noise?” 86% of the travelers answered that they noticed less noise in the Volvo 7700 Hybrid bus. Some of the travelers commented that they occasionally waited for the next bus if it was a hybrid*. They felt that the noise level in hybrid buses allowed a conversation in contrary to the conventional alternatives.

Now, one year later the travelers on the bus route with hybrid buses were asked the same question and 36% answered that they noticed less noise from the by now one year old buses. Interestingly, people rapidly get accustomed to the new situation!

In another example, a hybrid bus operator in Europe was rescheduling the Volvo 7700 Hybrid fleet in a city and moved the buses from one rout to another. This resulted in massive complaints, from the people and café owners situated close to the bus stops. The silent take-off was valued highly. The bus operator had to move the hybrid buses back to the original rout.

The 17th of June Olof Persson, President and CEO Volvo, and Anneli Hultén, Chairman of the Gothenburg municipality board, launched the Gothenburg ElecTriCity initiative that will introduce a rout of electric buses and connected services. One of the targets is to raise the attractiveness of public transports utilizing the new technology. At the occasion of the announcement a plug-in hybrid bus was used to transport the officials and the press and a temporary bus stop was introduced inside the “Nordstan” shopping mall.

Are bus stops inside a part of the future?

Temporary bus stop inside the Nordstan city mall. Are bus stops inside a part of the future?

The new generation of buses provide a number of benefits for the users. Less noise is one of the most appreciated. The introduction of electromobility for buses are undertaking a silent revolution of the cities.

How can city planners make use of the new technology?

Will the silent drive make people ask for a bus stop closer to their door?

Will there be indoor terminals in the future or will parts of the cities become emission free with roofs?

I welcome all feed-back and ideas!

*The real time passenger information system in Göteborg allows the travelers to see number of minutes for all bus routes.

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