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Can emerging markets make room for electric buses?

AUTOMOTIVE MEGATRENDS INDIA 2015: experts discuss the viability of electrifying the bus segment

Is the electrification of the bus segment viable for emerging markets like India? If so, how can the industry go about implementing a change from diesel-based powertrains to those that run off the grid?

Growing urbanisation coupled with legislative requirements is driving the demand for innovation in India’s bus segment. At Automotive Megatrends India 2015, several experts suggested electrification holds promise for the country’s public transport industry.

“One of the big trends, active both globally and in India, is to find sustainable solutions. Electrification could play a key role here, and help solve many of the issues that the transportation industry must address. I believe it could be a sufficient solution to many emerging markets,” said Per Aleby, Director Buses & Coaches, Scania.

Scania will test electric buses that use overhead charging in a European project during January 2016
Scania will test electric buses that use overhead charging in a European project during January 2016

A Ramasubramanian, President, Asia Motor Works Limited, echoed this view, adding: “The tech for buses is going to improve. In India’s cities, problems surrounding transportation, like congestion and emissions, can’t be solved through the passenger vehicle segment alone. I think buses equipped with the latest technologies and powertrain solutions will play a big role in smart cities.”

India’s commercial vehicle (CV) sector, including the bus segment, is currently dominated by diesel engines. “They are flexible, but there is the issue of emissions and high total cost of ownership (TCO),” observed Michail Voigt, Sales Manager, Siemens. “Tomorrow’s bus could be a battery-based electric one, with a small genset or small fuel cell. Again the flexibility is there, and the local emissions are drastically reduced. Furthermore, TCO is much lower. Therefore, electrification offers a promising opportunity for the future of the bus segment.”

Despite the positive predictions for electric bus uptake, Aleby stresses the need to look at the emissions produced when powering the grid. “About 70% of India’s electricity on the grid is produced by burning fossil fuels like coal,” he told Automotive World. “There is a huge need for improvements to be made in the whole system surrounding electrification, not just in vehicle development.”

He continues, “The Indian bus market is huge, around twice the size as the European one. There is a massive need for public transport, driven by growing urbanisation, and I don’t think it can be met by adding more two wheelers. We really need more sustainable public transport, which is environmentally friendly.”

To meet the high demand, Aleby believes that buses are the “most cost-effective and quick solution.” He firmly believes that this, alongside a growing awareness of emissions produced by public transport, will make the electrification of India’s buses an increasingly enticing prospect.

Michael Nash

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