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New Flyer is a subsidiary of NFI Group Inc., the largest transit bus and motor coach manufacturer and parts distributor in North America, but New Flyer alone is the largest transit bus manufacturer in North America. Products include the broadest range of drive systems, including clean diesel, natural gas, diesel-electric hybrid, trolley-electric, battery-electric and fuel cell-electric. Of over 41,000 buses currently in service, 7,300 are powered by electric motors and battery propulsion, and 1,700 are Zero-Emission Buses (ZEBs). New Flyer has over 50 years’ experience manufacturing ZEBs and is the only bus manufacturer to offer all three types—battery-electric, fuel cell-electric, and trolley-electric.
The company recently celebrated delivery of the ten thousandth Xcelsior® heavy-duty transit bus, which is available in multiple lengths and a variety of propulsion systems. The Xcelsior CHARGE™ is the latest addition, a sophisticated battery-electric bus available in 35-, 40- and 60-foot lengths and with multiple energy storage and charging configurations. It features:
- Electric motor powered by rechargeable batteries;
- Direct drive that eliminates the transmission, which reduces fuel, weight and maintenance costs;
- Industry-leading range capability and passenger carrying capacity;
- Regenerative braking while decelerating to recharge the batteries;
- Improved traction and gradeability;
- Sophisticated battery management system to achieve greater longevity and charging efficiency.
“We began the development of our next generation of electric buses in 2010,” says David Warren, Director, Sustainable Transportation. “Our 60-foot, fuel cell-electric bus is a truly unique configuration, using the most advanced technology available for transportation of any kind. With a two-driven axle system (the rear and the center), the battery-electric propulsion system works like all of our Xcelsior CHARGE™ battery-electric buses. The bus is equipped with 120 kWh of lithium-ion batteries to power the motors. To maintain battery charge while in-motion, the fuel cell, utilizing 68 kilograms of stored hydrogen on-board, constantly produces electricity to power a vehicle capable of carrying up to 132 passengers, for distances exceeding 300 miles, without producing any tailpipe emissions.”
According to Warren, “Over the past 12 months, New Flyer has successfully expanded its leadership in zero-emissions technology with hydrogen fuel cells supplied by Ballard Systems, and introduced in our 40-foot fuel cell-electric and 60-foot fuel cell-electric models. In 2018/2019, New Flyer has or will deliver 27 fuel cell-electric buses to four transit agencies in California and Illinois. Sister company Motor Coach Industries (MCI) will soon introduce battery-electric propulsion too, with the J4500 CHARGE and D45 CRTe LE CHARGE joining its product line up.”
Political and practical factors contribute to the growing popularity of electric buses. “Growing political pressure and regulations are driving electric bus market growth,” Warren says. “The recently approved California Innovative Clean Transit rule mandating zero-emission bus purchases to enhance air quality and reduce greenhouse gases (GHG) is one such example.”
Economical and Environmentally- Friendly Transport
But even if regulations, not to mention social responsibility, were not reason enough, electric buses are more economical to operate. Warren points out that, “Maintenance is a very compelling consideration for electric propulsion. With a direct-drive electric motor design, oil changes, emission systems and various filters and belts are eliminated. New Flyer estimates that battery-electric propulsion could reduce the maintenance costs by up to $125,000 over the life of the vehicle and reduce fuel costs by up to $400,000, based on a 12-year life span.”
Another technological tool that greatly reduces maintenance costs is New Flyer Connect®, a real-time, cloud-based telematics system, and CONNECT 360™ analytics reporting. These greatly improve predictive maintenance schedules and further improve Mean Distance between Failure (MDBF); a transit industry standard that measures the mechanical reliability of an agency’s fleet.
While an electric bus may be a more expensive upfront investment, it pays for itself over time. “There is a 25 to 40 percent price premium for electric transit buses over internal combustion engines that closely mirrors the situation in the electric consumer car market,” Warren says. “However, this initial premium is recouped with lower life cycle costs, yielding a break-even investment using today’s technology.” He adds that growing acceptance and adoption of ZEBs leads to higher production volumes, along with ever-improving technology, and may eventually eliminate the purchase price premium.
All that said, New Flyer does make buses using other propulsion systems. “There is no one type of propulsion system that fits all needs. Each of our six types of propulsion systems offers unique features, advantages and benefits and these are matched with a specific type of duty cycle or environment,” Warren says. “Transit agencies are seeking the most cost-effective solution, and when viewed on a lifecycle cost basis, electric propulsion has a promising cost-benefit outlook. However, transitioning from one type of energy source to another can require significant investment.”
Warren points out that, “Transit buses are procured largely with taxpayer dollars, so delivering a reliable product while also introducing new technology and environmentally sustainable practice is vital,” Warren says. “Transit agencies are enthusiastic by the many benefits of electric buses; fewer pollutants and greenhouse gas emissions, reduced maintenance costs, up to four times higher equivalent fuel economy, and opportunities for significant energy cost savings through cheaper energy/fuel costs, to name a few. On the other hand, the electric power requirements for a fleet of electric buses can be challenging. For instance, a moderately sized 50-bus transit fleet at one location would require 25 megawatt hours (MWh) of energy each day of operation. This type of load requires significant infrastructure investment involving utility upgrades, engineering, construction and smart charging systems. Capital is required to scale up to large fleet deployments, and this takes years of planning, engineering, and coordination with city and utility stakeholders.”
To help customers transition to electric propulsion and a supporting infrastructure, the company launched New Flyer Infrastructure Solutions™ in January 2019 – a service dedicated to providing safe, reliable, smart, and sustainable charging and mobility solutions. It supports mobility projects from start to finish and focuses on energy management optimization as well as infrastructure planning and development, providing a cohesive transition of bus fleets to ZEB technology.
Better Accessibility and Safety
While not an electrical propulsion system, New Flyer recently released its first all-electric wheelchair ramp, with a two-degree slope and higher load carrying capability than other similar systems, as part of its SmartRider™ system. The technology is an advanced smart leveling system that provides unmatched accessibility for all passengers using intelligent kneeling with variable height capability. It uses intelligent active sensors and controls to kneel and adjust to environmental surroundings and offers optimized boarding from the curb to the aisle.
Another notable innovation is Advanced Driver-Assist Systems (ADAS) for enhanced pedestrian and cyclist collision avoidance. Warren also points out that, “New Flyer’s sister companies have also introduced some recent innovative mobility solutions. MCI, has developed the D45 CRT LE, and ARBOC has the Equess – both fully accessible models that augment accessibility to passengers with mobility needs.”
Over the last few years, the company has invested some $50 million to expand its manufacturing facilities, most recently in Alabama as well as a new high-tech fabrication plant in Kentucky. “Our manufacturing footprint is strong and broad across North America,” Warren says. “We design our facilities around Lean manufacturing principles to eliminate waste and maximize the value of our work. These principles extend beyond our facilities to our supply base—and by having this supply base local we provide the best quality and best value available to build highly customized transit buses using any propulsion system on the same production lines.”
New Flyer anticipates continuing growth opportunities throughout all market segments over the next five to ten years. “Some will be buses to service Smart City deployments that utilize multimodal solutions, and we see opportunities for electric bus rapid transit (eBRT) systems becoming a more compelling option over capital- intensive light rail transit (LRT),” Warren says. “Bus cost and extra funding are a reality and a constraint. This evolution of the fleet will occur over many years, it’s not an overnight revolution. There are over 80,000 transit buses on the road in the U.S. and Canada today, and it will take time to transition.”
He adds, “We have a saying that goes along with our company-wide excitement to be involved in the most transformative period of transportation since the introduction of the automobile – ‘It’s Bright Ahead.’ For New Flyer, we’re proud to be the leader of transit as we enter the stages of smart mobility, electrification, and connected vehicles.”