Decarbonizing bus fleets

Electric bus adoption in public transport urban fleet is growing all over the world. It started in China, and now Europe is booming: the year 2019 will be remembered as the year when the electric bus sales volumes definitively ramped up. While in 2018 the European electric bus market increased of 48 per cent compared to 2017, the year 2019 saw a tripling in the number of electric bus registration in Western Europe. And in 2020, the year of Covid, the battery-electric bus market in the same region increased of 22%: 2,062 e-buses were registered. It is worth mentioning that six European countries in 2020 have registered a number of zero emission buses (battery-electric plus fuel cell buses) accounting for over 25% of the Class I registrations.

Even during and after the covid pandemic, mass transit agencies in cities all over the world are increasingly responding to the call to initiate positive climate action to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by defining and establishing mandates to transition to sustainable zero-emissions bus fleets.

European electric bus market in year 2021

Electric bus registrations increased of 48% in 2021 compared to 2020 in Europe. 3,282 e-buses were delivered last year, bringing to over 8,500 the vehicles registered in the continent since 2012.

What is worth mentioning is that in 2021, for the first time, as many as three European countries registered over 500 e-buses, with Germany leading the shortlist (555 units) followed by UK (540) and France (512). In the first 6 months of 2022, 30% of all city buses sold in Europe we EVs.

Electric bus deployment forecasts

Aleksandra O’Donovan, Head of Electrified Transport at BloombergNEF, stated in an interview with the magazine Sustainable Bus: «Deployment of e-buses in the municipal environment continues to increase. We now expect municipal buses to go electric faster than any other segments of road transport, with e-buses comprising over 67% of the global bus fleet in 2040. We expect municipal e-buses to rise from 417,000 units in 2019 to over 645,000 units in 2025 (about 39% of the global municipal bus fleet)».

According to another study released in 2021 and signed by financial consulting company ING, a third of the 200,000 buses in European public transport will be zero-emission by 2030. At that year, zero emission buses will cover two thirds of the new city bus registrations. ING clearly reads: «This will be the decade of change».

A growing number of electric buses running worldwide

As of end 2021, in Europe there are over 8,500 electric buses running (in the definition are included not only battery electric buses but also plugin hybrids, trolleybus IMC and fuel cell buses), and the share of electric buses on the sales volumes of city buses overcame the 20 per cent. Still today, roughly 98 per cent of the electric buses in the world are deployed in Chinese cities.

What about the rest of the world? Also India (70,000 buses sold in 2017) is a market with big potential, when even a small part of the orders will be electric. By 2025, the research company Interact Analysis forecasts that «India will account for more than 10% of the total annual demand for electric buses globally, which is more than Europe and North America combined».

And United States? Market penetration was at about 0.5% of the total U.S. public transit bus market at the end of 2017, but in the same time 9% of all transit agencies either had electric buses in service or on order. Things are moving fast! Anyhow, according to BloombergNEF figures, at the end of 2019 in the US «around 450 of the nearly 75,000 municipal buses on the road were e-buses». Zero emission bus deployment in the US has been growing 27% in 2021, up to 3,533 buses (on the road and on order).

According to Dan Raudebaugh, Executive Director for the Center for Transportation and the Environment (CTE), the perspectives are good: “In the long term, I think this market will continue to grow rapidly. In fact, I think the transit market may be the first major vehicle market to completely switch to zero emissions».

China leads the way

When it comes to electric buses, Chinese figures are striking. The ‘Electric Buses in Cities’ report by Bloomberg New Energy Finance, published in spring 2018, tells about this wide-ranging revolution. In 2016 China was able to register 340 electric city buses every single day. In the same year 2016, Europe put about 70 buses on the road each day, regardless of the category (urban, intercity, coaches) and the kind of fuel. In this epochal change toward electric buses adoption, Europe and the United States will need to speed up their pace or risk playing a role of background actors.

Still according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance, at the end of 2017 there were 3 million city buses in operation worldwide; of these, 385,000 belong to the category of electric bus. The incidence on the global fleet is therefore 13 per cent. However, this figure is misleading. In fact, almost all of the vehicles operate in China. Therefore, it would be more correct to say that in China the share of electric buses on the circulating city buses is already 17%. Elsewhere, we are still dealing with decimals.

The plans for electrification of Chinese public transport were quite ambitious. To give some known examples, the city of Shenzhen by the end of 2017 had committed to reach 100 per 100 of electric bus vehicles in operation (16,500 buses), Beijing aimed at the goal of 10,000 by 2020. Other cities followed and many major projects are still ongoing.

Electric buses in Europe. What’s going on?

The Dutch electric bus market is clearly on the rise and at the forefront in Europe. The decision taken in 2015 was that from 2025 on, newly bought buses for public transport can only be emission free. In early 2020 10 percent of the Dutch fleet was already electrified. And this rapid growth brings several challenges and opportunities.

The UK follows, with many deployment projects that are driving the growth of this sector, such as the ones in London, the Greater Manchester area, Glasgow, linked to the Government’s Ultra-Low Emission Bus Scheme, part of the £500m package to grow the market for ultra-low emission vehicles (ULEVs) starting from 2015.

Many other Countries are involved, such as Germany, Spain, Poland, Italy, Sweden, Norway, France, Belgium and Luxembourg. With such a wide market to be penetrated, producers are focusing on design and performance, but also on flexibility of the vehicles, on their lightness, and on software development and user experience.

We spoke about the great opportunity for replacement of buses by clean technologies with Giorgio Sensi KAM of FAIST Industrial division. He told us:

Rising requests for non-polluting and fuel-efficient transportations is driving the demand for electric buses worldwide. The market is segmented into battery electric vehicle (BEV), plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV), and fuel cell electric vehicle (FCEV). The BEV (Battery Electric Buses) segment dominated the market with a revenue share of more than 60% in 2021. The battery-powered bus is a great alternative to zero-emission or low-emission cars. BEVs are quite effective when compared to conventional buses: the battery-powered bus allows faster driving compared to buses powered by fuel or gasoline, and is easier and less expensive to charge. In the electric bus market, by length of bus, the 9-14 m segment is projected to be the largest market in terms of volume. The 9-14 m segment is dominating the electric bus category due to the wide deployment programmed and expected in public transport fleets. Most of the public transport fleets, especially in China, which accounts for almost 99% of the market, have electric buses that are 9-14 m length. BEV are designed integrating 5 main sections: Battery packs, Powertrain unit, Electric system, Main chassis, Bus body.

FAIST is actually involved in the development of a new BEV platform with one of the major market players. Our division is currently focusing in the last 3 items listed above: complex assemblies integrating kinematic systems as well as structural components for the main chassis. Thanks to our wide range of technologies and capabilities we are in condition to cover the production of all the 3 categories, different for the technical specifications and requirements needed; this is including a big variety of raw material thicknesses, surface treatments and welding solutions. FAIST Electronics, another division of our group, covers the design and development for the first two items, and will also be able to be involved in the production of battery packs – we can, in this way propose to our customers an integrated solution that covers most of their needs. We strongly believe BEVs will be a key market within the Green Deal in EU and also in the other regions worldwide: our strategy is to keep investing on it in order to consolidate the current projects and expand our Portfolio in the near future.

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