2×700 electric and hybrid buses

More than 700 electric buses have now been sold by Volvo’s Chinese joint venture Sunwin. We have delivered to China, trialed in Hong-Kong, and have internal tests at Nova bus in Canada. 

More than 700 Volvo buses with the in-house Volvo ISAM technology, known as the only commercially viable hybrid, is now sold to more than 20 countries all over the world.

Many cities and bus operators now make investments in new technology such as trams or biogas or hydrogen. We are immensely proud of being a leading, probably world leading, supplier of electromobility technology for buses. However, with this position there is also a responsibility to share experiences and future plans.

My colleagues ask me, why don’t we communicate more about this small revolution? Customers all over the world ask: When can we get this or that version of hybrid or electric buses?
So what can I say today, that I don’t have to take back at a later stage?

First: We have a plan, and it is to secure the new technology step-by-step, working in parallel globally:

i) In China we are gaining experience on super capacitor rapid charging, battery exchange systems, overnight charging, range extender battery buses and much more.

ii) In Europe, we are securing the integrated hybrid technology and energy management. By integrated I mean, not just brake energy recuperation, but also electric take-off, engine downsizing and related energy management, automatic manual transmission implementation and electrification of auxiliaries such as air compressor, air conditioning and steering servo. And, in particular on battery durability under different climate conditions.

iii) In North America we are developing and evaluating charging systems and technologies for electric infrastructure supply in combination with dedicated bus body development.


iv) In South America we are developing hybrid chassis for city, regional and commuter low entry buses. As the new buses are ready for the market we will gradually introduce them, market by market, to meet the local expectations and demands.

Some say that hybrids are an intermediate step towards fully electrical buses. However, I have good reasons for a different position. Within some years, three technologies will exist in parallel, for different applications:
– Parallel Hybrid Buses (ISAM) will be preferred for transit buses, commuting, regional traffic where ever large surfaces are covered with relatively low traffic intensity.
– Plug-in Parallel Hybrid Buses (ISAM plug-in) will be chosen to combine clean and silent transports with high efficiency and high capacity, for the lowest total cost of ownership.
– Electric buses will be set-in for dense city operation, business districts, high profile routs and air ports, where the power outtake is limited and where the passenger capacity is not a limiting factor.

Ok, yes, there will be room for some diesel/gas buses for some applications on some markets and yes, depending on country and city the pace of change will vary. The arguments for my position essentially rely on that all main drivers point in the same direction: total cost of ownership will decrease, the noise will decrease, the emissions will decrease, the passenger capacity of the bus will increase, etc.

Volvo Bus is not waiting for potential future innovations. Since the introduction of the first demonstration of the ISAM technology in Gothenburg and the first introduction of the super capacitor buses in Shanghai, both some seven years ago, we have focused on learning to deal with the new technology as it is.

Truth is, we still don’t fully know all aspects such as life time of the batteries. However, we have gained valuable experience from different climate cycles and learned to limit the ageing to a level that we can stand for. We have foreseen that for cold climate we need to use heated battery cells and for hot climate the bus has an efficient battery water cooling system.

In addition, the system rather accepts more diesel use than use conditions that stress the battery. As another consequence, we are for example not using the full energy in the battery during electric take-off from bus stops. We just use the amount required to get away from the passengers waiting for the next bus.

The Volvo position as world leader in electro mobility for buses has been achieved by hard work and proper testing. We are determined to continue our thorough work and release technology when it is meeting the expectations of operators and cities. Different markets and cities have different demands and expectation. We know that what is acceptable availability on one market is completely overkill on another market. This is all perfectly logical when you understand the success criteria for public transports in different parts of the world.

Therefore, when we are now  introducing electromobility for buses step-by-step all over the world we follow a schedule that meets several critical competitiveness criteria for each respective market: availability/reliability, total cost of ownership and environmental performance.

Our joint efforts and undertakings must not hazard the reputation of electromobility for public transports. Nothing would make more damage to the image and the pace of implementation. I will therefore continue to insist on a step-by-step approach, where each application is secured for each climate condition for each duty cycle before introduced to the market. In some cases we make joint projects together with national or city authorities. In such cases, it is clear that the objective of the project is to secure a certain part of the implementation of the new technology and that this risk is openly and commonly assessed.

The secured implementation will certainly be realized faster than most people expect, but not as fast as some eager enthusiasts may hope. After all, we already have a massive experience of the right technologies and day by day we now accelerate our experience.

About volvobuses

Adjunct Professor of Catalysis at Chalmers University of Technology. Lives in Gothenburg, Sweden, with my wife and three daughters born in 1991, 1994 and 1997. Is a passionate runner.
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