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David Soyka reports on this Made in the U.S.A. manufacturer that builds vehicles to transport people with the greatest possible safety, economy and sustainability.
Nova Bus designs and manufactures buses with best-in-class technologies that are good for the environment, good for the ride and good for a transit authority’s budget. Just don’t call it a bus maker.
“Of course we’re building buses,” notes John Kardos, vice president of business development, “but we’re building buses as part of sustainable transit solutions that address the unique requirements of a city and its highly variable 24/7 transport condition with eco-friendly, high capacity vehicles and integrated intelligent transportation systems.”
Nova Bus is based in St-Eustache, Quebec, Canada, a suburb of Montreal. In 2009, the company opened a brand new 140,000 square-foot plant in Plattsburgh, New York. “Some questioned why we would spend so much during a recession to build a plant,” Kardos says. “But it heralded our return to the U.S. market.” Building this plant was a strategic corporate decision that has proven to be invaluable for the company. Last year, the facility underwent a 10,000 square foot expansion to accommodate an assembly production line for Nova Bus’ sister arm of the Volvo Group, Prevost. Today, the plant generates over 530 domestic jobs.
The buses that come off of the Plattsburgh assembly line fulfill Buy America requirements. Kardos adds, “It’s sometimes a challenge to find the best and most economical U.S.-made supplier for a particular component. We make it a point to encourage local suppliers and found the best U.S.-made products. I’m proud to tell that all our vehicle structures are made from U.S.-sourced stainless steel. We know our American customers want a Made in U.S.A. product and we deliver one.”
With customers in Chicago, New York and Houston, among others, after six years Nova Bus gained 15 percent of the U.S. bus market share. At the same time, it stands as a major supplier of public transit vehicles across Canada, and is the leading bus provider to the Quebec province public transit system, a consortium of nine large public transportation providers. In addition, its parent company, Volvo Bus, is also one of the largest bus suppliers in the world.
Kardos emphasizes that a Nova Bus’ transit solution is multidimensional, encompassing factors that range from price to sustainability to the length and incline of the bus route. “There are something like 70,000 active buses in North America. About 4,500 to 5,000 of them are under consideration for replacement each year. Each of those vehicles has very different specifications—there’s no one model fits all,” Kardos says.
“We strive to design a solution that offers superior overall value in balancing affordability, sustainability and usability as it applies to the specific operating conditions. Our success in North America attests to our abilities to deliver that value.” Kardos added.
While Nova Bus makes traditional fossil-fueled vehicles, it is also a leading provider of hybrid-electric buses and pursues extensive research on the development of fully electric buses that underlay its Electro Mobility strategy.
Nova Bus is currently testing the LFS HEV hybrid vehicle integrating an advanced propulsion technology that can switch from diesel to a temporary full-electric mode, the first technology of its kind in North America.
“The electrification of transportation is a major Nova Bus initiative that has already reached several milestones in the past few years. Next year we’ll have three fully electric buses in service in Montreal,” Kardos notes. “These are fully functioning revenue vehicles, from which we will collect data we’ll use to refine features and functionalities of future iterations and customize them to the operating conditions of the specific transit authority.”
While Nova Bus sees electric propulsion as an environmentally-friendly alternative to fossil fuels, widespread adoption for the immediate future is uncertain. “We expect for the next 10 to 20 years at least, most transit authorities will still rely on conventional fossil fuels, including compressed natural gas.”
He adds, however, that, “We do see hybrids cresting throughout this period as a cost-effective and sustainable compromise between all-electric and diesel or CNG. Regardless of fuel choice, the cornerstone of every Nova Bus transit system solution is improved sustainability. That encompasses everything from improving fuel efficiency to smarter design. We don’t, for example, just pile a bunch of batteries into a bus so we can have electric power when needed. Batteries are heavy and the materials they are made out of are not the easiest to recycle. So, our R&D efforts focus on developing systems that have the precise number of batteries to perform according to the vehicle’s specific operating requirements. No more, no less. Our public transit buses are designed to transport people, not batteries.”
Kardos notes that being part of the Volvo Group enables Nova Bus to tap into an extensive global R&D effort. In addition, all Nova Bus vehicle parts are easily available from Prevost Parts, its sister arm. Kardos is quick to point, that Nova Bus vehicles do not require a major structural midlife overhaul as they are made from rust-resistant Stainless Steel. And they are often running at top performance even towards the end of a transit bus typical 12-year lifespan and well beyond.
“We work closely with all our sister companies in Volvo in our efforts to provide customers with transit solutions that meet all their challenges regarding mobility, safety and productivity,” Kardos says. “Our driving objective is to design what is best for the customer and their riders, and what’s best for cities and environment they travel.”