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Electric transportation is at a turning point. Just as gas powered automobiles eventually displaced the horse and buggy, electric vehicles are poised to surpass the internal combustion engine as a primary means of propulsion.
Though not quite yet.
“Widespread adoption of electric transportation is getting closer to reality,” notes Myléne Tassy, Vice President of Sales/Marketing for Nova Bus, a manufacturer of transit buses and a transport solutions provider with factories in the US and Canada. “Government incentives, social awareness and technological innovation are all combining to the growing embrace of electric vehicles.”
She is quick to add, however, “We’re still learning about how to best integrate electrification into our customer transit agencies. We are examining data from the telemetric systems and collaborating with transit agencies to understand and establish with them the best way to account for their needs relative to the best routes and charging practices. And of course we continue to offer hybrid buses which can serve as a step into electrification for the agencies as well as our natural gas and diesel option to ensure that the agencies can meet their immediate transportation needs as they ramp up to electrify their fleet.
One step to wider acceptance of electric buses and zero emission transportation is the recent unveiling of the new Nova Bus 100 percent electric, long-range dual charging bus, the LFSe+. The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) recently placed order for three LFSe+ buses is just the latest example of the Nova Bus commitment to electrification and sustainable modes of transportation.
The new all-electric LFSe+ bus is built on the proven and reliable Nova Bus stainless steel LFS platform. With modular battery options capable of storing up to 564 kilowatts of on-board energy, with dual charging options overhead and plug-in at the depot, the LFSe+ accommodates up to 68 riders.
According to a company press release, “The new LFSe+ integrates the proven electric drive motor and next generation power electronics from BAE Systems, which uses advanced materials such as silicon carbide to improve heat management. The lower weight and increased power density of the BAE Systems technology also contribute to bus performance and durability. Powered by an integrated modular system, the electric drive motor significantly decreases maintenance costs and emits no greenhouse gas emissions.”
Tassy points to additional features, such as a turning radius of slightly under 41 feet and an easy to access engine compartment that makes the LFSe+ a leader in its class. “Zero emission buses provide a quieter transit experience as well as a healthier riding environment. Nova Bus offers vehicles that have the range and value that help our customers get closer to achieving the reality of an all-electric transit system,” she says.
Building an Infrastructure
Tassy points out, however, that the bus alone is not a one-size-fits all answer to the implementation of electric transit systems.
You also have to start with the charging infrastructure,” Tassy emphasizes. “You don’t just order an electric bus and that’s all there is to it. You have to know how long the routes are, which leads to how many charging stations you are going to need. If you are a transit system in San Francisco, for example, and your buses have to go up a lot of steep hills and expend a lot of energy to climb them, your infrastructure planning is going to be different from a transit system that only traverses flat terrain.”
She adds, “The U.S. transit ecosystem is more diverse than the one in Canada. The East coast in the U.S. doesn’t have the same clean air mandates as California. Every customer operates under unique conditions. Before an agency can deploy any electric vehicle, they have to make certain the building blocks to operate these fleets are in place.”
Asked whether Nova Bus has to educate its customers on designing an efficient electric system, Tassy chuckles. “They actually know as much or more than we do in certain cases, we have to work together, partner with our customers,” she says. “We listen to the customer and collaborate with them to design a transport system that works for their needs. Customers trust Nova Bus because of our extensive experience working with transit systems to provide innovative solutions that use the latest clean technologies and improve their operational efficiency.”
Nova Bus employs some 1500 in three manufacturing locations: Saint-Eustache and Saint-François-du-Lac in Quebec and Plattsburgh, New York.
There are additional challenges to manufacturing buses beyond adapting production for electric transportation systems. “Like a lot of manufacturers, COVID prompted a re-examination of our manufacturing and supply chain processes,” Tassy notes. “We’ve made it a priority to identify suppliers that are closer to us with the raw materials we require and the best technologies so we can more cost-effectively meet demand. We are always looking to improve our products and processes to reduce pollution and waste in every aspect of our business.
An additional issue is recruiting and retaining skilled labor. “The situation in Canada is similar to that in the United States,” Tassy notes. “Manufacturing might still be viewed as repetitive sometimes boring work, when in fact it is just the opposite. We make high technology buses that requires the same coding skills as any other kind of high-tech product or systems.”
In response, Nova Bus is discussing with schools and colleges at job fairs to “get the word out” that manufacturing is a rewarding career path. “Electric vehicles are the future, there’s no question about that. What could be a more exciting place to work than one that is helping to shape the future of transportation?”
That future, she adds, includes autonomous driving vehicles. “The technology exists today,” she says. “But what we have to make sure of is that the deployment of that technology is completely safe for everyone. That’s going to take some time, but it is going to happen.”
Before autonomous electric busses become an everyday reality, the next evolution on the horizon is extended battery range and further implementation of charging hubs. “Better batteries mean longer range, which means charging intervals are longer. Confidence that a vehicle can reliably get you where you want to go wherever you want to go is driving greater acceptance of electric vehicles,” Tassy says.
Wherever and however electric vehicles evolve, Nova Bus will continue to pull ahead.