Does entry reflect a pivotal change in bus development?
The International Bus & Coach of the Year awards, presented in turn at the IAA exhibition in Hanover and the Busworld Europe show in Kortrijk, Belgium, are the premier trophies in the industry, sought after by manufacturers from across Europe.
To identify which vehicle should be presented with the title, a test is staged and manufacturers are invited to enter their latest production models for evaluation by a jury made up of leading journalists from top industry publications in 22 European countries.
This year’s BusEuroTest, to decide the International Bus of the Year 2017, was held in Brussels and was organised by Didier Tuttyens, the Bus & Coach Editor of the magazine Transporama and also the proprietor of a coach company with five coaches. He was extensively supported in staging the event by STIB (Société des Transports Intercommunaux de Bruxelles), the municipal bus operation of the Belgian capital, who made available their training facility at the Harlen depot as well as excellent conference facilities for the manufacturer’s presentations and one of their own.
It is a unique event in that all of the journalists fund their own participation. Also rare and part of what sets the event apart is that the manufacturer teams have the opportunity to sit in on each other’s presentations and travel on each other’s buses. The week long test commenced on Monday 30 May with the arrival of the vehicles and started in earnest on the Tuesday when there was a route learning exercise, a variety of braking and acceleration tests were carried out and photographs taken. Wednesday morning saw the arrival of the full jury for the first of the technical presentations followed by the start of the on road testing programme which this year used STIB’s route 69, between Jules Bordet and Schaerbeek Station. This is a short but demanding route with quite a number of roundabouts, inclines and sharp bends to negotiate as well as narrow streets lined with parked cars. The afternoon concluded with the first of the bus walk-round presentations highlighting the different vehicles’ features, this year being the first time that a gantry was required to show what was on the roof. In the evening ZF, a longstanding sponsor of the test, hosted a dinner in Brussels’ famous Grand Place. Thursday followed a similar pattern to Wednesday with an evening reception sponsored by Busworld, another longstanding supporter of the event, at STIB’s excellent Tram and Bus Museum. Proceedings concluded on the Friday when, after a jury meeting to elect a new committee, the jury sat down to discuss the merits of the different participants in a detailed debriefing session before casting their votes for the respective buses.
There have been a number of alternatively fuelled or hybrid buses entered in previous tests, indeed the 2015 International Bus of the Year, chosen in 2014 at the Bus Euro Test held at Lucerne in Switzerland, was the MAN Lion’s City G CNG articulated city bus. What was different about this year’s event was that all of the five participants offered alternative propulsions systems, four of them full electrics and one CNG, although there would have been a second CNG entry had Iveco not had to withdraw at a late stage because the customer needed the vehicle. All were production vehicles.
Refuelling for one CNG bus was easy to arrange compared with the need to provide recharging facilities for four electric ones in a city that, while it has large numbers of trams, does not currently have any full electric standalone buses. Once it was realised that there was no easy way (without immense cost) of recharging them at Halen, Didier’s resourcefulness was severely tested. In the end ZF came to the rescue by providing facilities in its local premises for the Irizar and the Solaris, Van Hool low-loadered their Exquicity back to the plant each night and Ebusco made their own local arrangements.
Having set the scene, I’ll tell you more about the buses that took part.
A Dutch company, Ebusco designs electric propulsions systems and other equipment required to operate electric buses which it then has manufactured for it. These units are integrated buses for which the chassis are built on a dedicated line at the Golden Dragon plant in Xiamen and I’m told the bodywork is constructed by the Malaysian company, Gemilang using a licensed Hess bolted aluminium system, although the windscreens had Golden Dragon markings.
Recent successes for the company include orders for two from MVG in Munich, Germany and from PostAuto in Switzerland for two buses to be operated on three-year lease contracts for evaluation purposes.
The electrical system combines Ebusco’s own motor control which weighs 32kg and has a maximum power output of 240kW, a high voltage asynchronous drive motor producing peak power of 220kW and peak torque of 3,000Nm, a 90Ah 3.2Amp high density battery pack with a capacity of 160Wh/kg and 311kWh, an Ebusco BMS (battery management system) taking a rated input of 24-28v and finally a VMS (voltage management system) that can take in voltages in the 300-700DC range and regulate them. A regenerative braking system is also installed.
In contrast to other candidates, the Ebusco approach to charging is to have high capacity batteries and only recharge once a day (overnight), thereby removing the need for opportunity charging equipment such as a pantograph on board. It claims this will give a range of up to 300km per charge in city conditions. In an independent test, a distance of 337km was travelled on one charge, with 6% battery charge remaining at the end. They were a little vague on the likely lifetime of the batteries, which you would expect to suffer from deterioration earlier because they are being more deeply discharged, though clearly it is too early to tell and the reduced number of recharging procedures may counterbalance to some extent.
At €435,000 (£372,150), it was the lowest priced of the electrically driven candidates, but it was also the least well finished and rather old fashioned and basic in appearance. A concern was that the structure seemed to have been designed independently of considerations of where components were to be placed, and in some areas it appeared structural elements would need to be cut to access components. Some exposed wires were also noted. Inside, features such as handrails installed across windows in the low floor area marked as emergency exits were slightly disturbing.
Weirdly, for an electric bus, the interior smelt of diesel from an auxiliary heater unit. The aisle had the narrowest front throat of the candidates and in the low floor area the seats were low in relation to the bottom of the window line. I found the seats themselves quite comfortable and the total capacity of 90, 33 of them seated, was also good. Though the driveline was quiet in operation, this was not true of the heating and ventilation system which wasn’t particularly effective as the windows suffered from condensation at times in the inclement Brussels climate.
Despite other shortcomings, it drove very well with good brakes and handling and no shortage of power. An exception was a rather limited turning circle though the small steering wheel was liked, and you did need to look out for the wheelbase. The retarder came in promptly once the accelerator was released limiting the need for brake applications. Though there were some noises and the interior lacked finesse, travelling on and driving the bus was a good experience.
Irizar may be best known for its activities in the coach manufacturing sector, but it is totally committed to becoming a force within the city bus sector. Having progressed rapidly from being a bodybuilder to an integral vehicle manufacturer, the company started developing electric buses in 2011, launching the i2e 12m fully electric city bus in 2013 with the first deliveries the following year. A 10.8m version is also being developed. The company has now gone one step further setting up a new division within the Irizar group called Irizar e-mobility which will be responsible for electric bus development and manufacturing. This will be based in a completely new factory at Aduna, not far from San Sebastian, which will have an initial capacity of two buses a day when it opens at the end of the year. Also scheduled to appear this year is the prototype of a new BRT bus called the i2e18. MD of the operation will be Hector Olabegogeaskoetxea who fronted Irizar’s presentations in Brussels.
Combining a tubular steel frame with bolted aluminium roof and sides, the i2e is 11.98m long and 2.55m wide with a wheelbase of 5.77m. Shown with two double doors, it has standing height in the aisle of 2.4m and a passenger capacity of 74 with 29 seats and two wheelchair spaces. Hector claimed it had a carbon footprint of 8.45gram/perpaxkm representing an 86% reduction compared with a diesel bus. Noise reduction in motion is 20% lower than a diesel and at standstill it is zero rather than the 68dBA of a conventional diesel bus.
Brought together within the power train are: a Siemens DB2016 PEM electric motor generating power of 180kW and torque of 1,500Nm with creep function and regenerative braking; a ZF AV132 rear portal axle with a 7.38:1 ratio; and batteries with a capacity of 305.5kWh. Unlike the other manufacturers, Irizar has opted to use Sodium-Nickel batteries (nicknamed Sonic) for both the drive and air conditioning systems because it feels they offer advantages in being 99% recyclable, compared with 60% for Lithium Ion. This technology is from Zebra. It anticipates the need for one battery change during a 12-15 year life. The bolted aluminium body structure is seen as another sustainable feature. The front axle is ZF’s RL82EC independent suspension unit, the steering is the ZF 8098 Servocom system, Wabco provides the EBS1C braking system which incorporates regeneration and the electronically controlled air suspension is the Wabco ECAS set up.
Recharging was a plug in system using a standard Combo II 125A plug with a five to seven hour charge time promising a range of 200 to 220km at an average speed of 15-17kmh suitable for a 15-16 hour day.
Just as Irizar companies Masats supply the doors and ramp and Hispacold the air conditioning, so Datik supply the Eco-Assist system that helps to maximise the vehicle’s range and Jema can supply both depot and opportunity charging systems. It is the group’s intention to not only offer buses but complete turnkey solutions including the development and installation of charging systems, the coordination of civil engineering, finance, cloud based fleet management and handling secondhand vehicles.
Very well presented and finished, the Irizar was coordinated internally and externally in a blue and white colour scheme incorporating graphics and the message, ‘for a better life’. Built to be used on test in Paris it had unfortunately been specified by the operator with uncomfortably hard, though easy to clean, Compin SB09 seats that were completely out of keeping with the passenger pleasing ethos of the rest of the bus. The USB chargers and wi-fi worked well. There were rather a lot of podiums, with a wheelchair in place, only eight seats are directly accessible from the low floor.
On the road it seemed particularly quiet, though readings suggested the Solaris was no noisier, with most of what could be heard apparently coming from the tyres.
Drivers found the cab comfortable, the driving position good and the dashboard very clear to read with a large and easy to understand display. Handling was similarly easy, helped by the short wheelbase, though some thought it rolled slightly in corners. Acceleration and the management of the drive train were good and the hill hold feature proved very efficient. The were vibrations in the dash on bad surfaces and at one uneven point in the yard the front grounded.
Weighing 13.5 tonnes, I understand that the price is in the region of €500,000 (£429,500).
Mercedes-Benz Citaro NGT
Is it really already four years since the new generation Citaro won the Bus of the Year 2013 title after the 2012 Bus Euro Test in Versailles? Just as you think there is nothing left you can say about the Mercedes-Benz Citaro, over 46,000 examples of which have now been sold, they come up with another variant. The latest is the Citaro NGT, with a completely new M936G gas engine developed from the OM936 diesel unit that was introduced at Euro6. Daimler previously used the larger OM447hLAG which was a 12-litre, weighed 15% more and, they claim, used 15-20% more fuel. The M936G features single point injection, a single stage turbocharger and cooled EGR. Unlike its predecessor it does not require a three-way catalytic converter, an SCR system or a diesel particulate filter and oil change intervals have been extended.
Four versions are offered, either two or three door 12m Solo buses or three or four door articulated versions and passenger capacities are increased by up to eight passengers to a maximum of 96 in the Solo bus and 153 in the artic. Between the front wheelboxes there was a wider aisle than on any of the other buses and it also had the most seats in the low floor area (16).
Mercedes-Benz claim that it is 4dB(A) quieter than a diesel (which means that it produces less than half of the noise) and this was very evident in the interior, especially in the cab where the impression you gained was that you could easily have been driving one of the electrics. The time you really notice it is a gas bus is when you are starting it up because you have to turn the key for quite a while and it makes quite a loud noise before it eventually fires. Within the engine bay, there are a number of different systems but the footprint is the same as a diesel and maintenance regimes need minimal adaptation.
It is an inescapable fact that being the only gas powered bus against four electrics made it slightly difficult to compare the Citaro NGT on an equal basis with the other candidates. There was scheduled to be another gas fuelled participant but unfortunately Iveco had to withdraw at a late stage when the customer needed the vehicle that would have been entered. Despite this difficulty, it demonstrated both the refinement of the latest Citaro generation and the effectiveness of the gas option – it was certainly much easier than the other buses to arrange the refuelling for. Refuelling is nevertheless an issue for an operator, especially one not already using gas and one that Daimler will readily help operators with by providing a full infrastructure package. Not all operators have the opportunity to use it, but where it is available, using biomethane as the fuel has the potential to be even cleaner than using electric power, especially if generated from coal.
The gas storage tanks are roof mounted, and a customer can specify between four and eight depending on the range required, with the maximum some 27% greater than previously, putting it on a par with a diesel. Tanks are composites of glass and carbon fibre coated plastic and each one holds 227-litres. Our test bus had six tanks which promised a range of around 600km based on SORT 2 tests and of around 800km based on SORT 3 tests. Integrated on the forward section of the roof within easily opening covers, the look is much more streamlined than was once the case and the overall height is 3.389m.
Inside, the capacity of the bus tested was 92 (26 seated, 66 standees) with a maximum of 96 possible in Germany. With no need for batteries it was considerably the lightest of the candidates at 11.7tonnes. Seats were Daimler’s own design and throughout the finish was very high quality.
On the road the experience was that although on the outside it was noisier than the electrics, it was nevertheless quiet and very smooth in operation, with excellent stability. Though relatively small, the engine provided good torque and power. There were some criticisms of the mirrors on the continental offside, but of little else. Particularly noticeable was the effectiveness of the electronic body system that stabilises the vehicle when turning, a real help with loaded gas tanks on the roof.
Although launched only last year, there have already been two significant orders placed with Stadtwerke Augsburg taking 68 and EMT Madrid 82, both orders consisting of a mix of solo and articulated buses. I understand that the price of the vehicle tested was around €309,000 (£243,300).
Solaris Urbino 12 Electric
Solaris had not started in business when the first Bus of the Year trophy was awarded to Neoplan’s Carbonliner in 1990 yet it now produces buses with one of the widest arrays of driveline options available from a European manufacturer, offering diesel, hybrid, gas, and electric in a number of forms including tram and trolleybus. The Polish company has developed rapidly, building over 14,000 buses to date, and as readers will have seen recently (B&CB issue 1382, 10 June 2016) it now has production facilities the equal of the best in Europe. For the electric market it has supplied battery buses charged both by induction and pantograph, plug in battery buses, battery buses with fuel cell range extenders and zero emission buses with in motion charging. In total, well over 1,300 electrical buses of one of these types have been supplied or ordered already. Not only is there a great choice of electrical systems, they can be installed in buses of a variety of lengths and configurations from 8.9m to 18.75m articulated.
Late in 2014, Solaris launched the latest generation of the modular Urbino bus range B&CB issue 1305, 5 December 2014) which is both lighter and stronger, with stainless steel frame and panelling in aluminium or plastic. It retains the asymmetric look of earlier Urbinos but the rounded corners give way to more angular styling incorporating bold asymmetric shapes. Cove panelling on the roof disguises the form of propulsion to some extent, though an extending recharging arm does rather give the game away on the Urbino electric. The result is modern, bold and attractive with an interior that is both simple and stylish to match.
The latest version to be launched is the Urbino 12 Electric and it was this that participated in Brussels. The actual bus had been seen briefly some weeks before the Euro Test on the visit to the Polish plant and featured three double doors.
Drive is by means of ZF AVE130 electric portal axle. Each of the axle mounted motors has a rated power of 60kW and a peak power output of 125kW. Cooling uses a 50/50 mix of water and glycol. The high energy lithium ion phosphate batteries have a 240kWh capacity. ZF also provide the front independent suspension system as well the Servocom power steering.
Recharging employs a dual system. For overnight charging there is a plug in point behind a filler cap on the nearside which can be supplied with plug-in systems of up to 80kW charging power of the operator’s choice, while, for opportunity charging, there is an extending pantograph on the roof capable of taking inputs of up to 450kW. Battery capacity impacts on overall weight and with the high energy units installed this bus had a ULW of 13.6 tonnes. Range was said to be 240km.
Manufacturers often include novelties on their entries and sometimes these are little more than gimmicks but Solaris had incorporated a couple that had real potential for benefit. These were an antibacterial trim covering for the seats that provides a long term anti-bacterial, anti-viral and anti-fungal effect and hand poles in antimicrobial copper alloy that do the same. I’m not entirely sure how you would market these features. Yellow seats matching some of the interior body panelling, gave the interior a cheerful, welcoming appearance. Visibility and accessibility were good and most of the 30 seats were directly accessible, though one of the few podests there were at the rear was quite high. Total passenger capacity was 79. As a passenger there were some whining noises at the rear, ride quality from the suspension was good and the seats were comfortable. Heating and cooling is electric rather than diesel powered.
From the driver viewpoint it was comfortable, quiet and easy. The latest Urbino features a digital dashboard on which all of the commands are intuitive. On the central display you can see the charging level of the battery, as well as the charging/consumption ratio which helps inform your driving behaviour. It handled well, the only problem being an issue with the hill hold, which didn’t work properly.
Careful attention had been paid to how all of the electric componentry was insulated and protected and accessibility for servicing and maintenance was straightforward. I have a few reservations about the vulnerability of the protruding lower edges of the side panels but the fact that they are removable means they can easily be replaced.
Overall, it felt like a bus that you could buy and operate, rather than a toy to use on showcase schemes, although we were told the cost is almost twice that of a diesel bus at around €500,000 (£429,500). And a final light touch, the dachshund emblem on the model has a plug and lead, rather than a tail.
Van Hool Exqui.City
A platform suitable for all types of drive systems, the ExquiCity is built at Van Hool’s plant at Koningshooikt in Belgium alongside high added value members of the Van Hool range including the TX coach family. Attractively styled and intended to give the appeal of a tram and the flexibility of a bus, it is available as either a 18m articulated or a 24m bi-articulated vehicle and in both forms has a low, though not entirely flat, floor throughout. Over a 100 have been either delivered or ordered to date with Translink in Belfast, which is taking 30 diesel hybrids, among the most recent to place an order and the only customer so far in the UK. To my mind the most remarkable order is the 14 bi-articulated diesel hybrid examples for Martinique in the French Antilles.
In addition to diesel and CNG hybrid options, electric versions can be charged inductively, conductively, by battery, by trolley or by fuel cell or by combinations of these systems. All versions feature either single or double electric traction motors within a puller chassis, to which the other systems are added to produce an ecologically friendly vehicle suited to the intended application. To a considerable extent, the different key component elements can be located on the vehicle according to application, many of them, including the batteries, on the roof.
Van Hool’s candidate was one of a pair of 18.61m long fully electric buses for the German VHH (Verkehrsbetriebe Hamburg-Holstein GmbH) operation for use on its 19.8km Innovation route. This has charging points at the outer termini as well as the depot. Built with three double doors, it also has a single door at the front as requested by VHH. The first wheelbase is 6.6m and the second is 6.71m (split 1.8m/4.91m for and aft of the articulation unit) with a rear overhang of 3.4m and a front overhang of 1.9m. Overall width is 2.55m and height over the equipment (fully enclosed within shrouds around the perimeter) is 3.3m.
Of the key components, the air conditioning, the 215kWh lithium-ion batteries and the battery charging rail, air compressor, defroster, the cooling system for the electric drive motors, the converter auxiliaries, and the converters for the electric drive motors are mounted on the roof. Apart from the two water-cooled Siemens ELFA2 160kW motors powered by the batteries, other items not on the roof are the braking resistors and the 24v battery system which are within the rear saloon section. Van Hool say the battery capacity gives a range of 120km which is sufficient to complete the route several times. Opportunity fast charging is by means of terminal pantographs that lower to dock with a V shaped charging rail on the roof, taking no more than ten minutes to do so. In addition, the bus is plugged in to the grid and charged overnight at the depot, a process that takes up to four hours to achieve 100% charge.
To successfully match the aspiration that it should have the same passenger appeal as a tram, the styling is streamlined with large glazed areas giving a near 360 degree view, enclosed wheel arches and tapered front. Inside, the materials are high quality, there is a wood effect floor and the colour coordination is attractive. Quite a high proportion of seats are podium mounted, despite the low floor, with a total capacity of 117 of which 38 are seated. The floor layout was unusual, and though low was not flat with slopes up and over the central articulation unit. I was slightly troubled by the arrangement for the wheelchair in the downward sloping section as this did not seem an ideal solution for passenger comfort. A feature I particularly liked were the LED lit ceiling panels which really made it feel spacious and bright, a similar panel being sited above the driver.
A really unusual aspect is the driving position which is at a height of 2.0m but offset nearer the centre of the bus than to the continental offside. Whilst it does give good vision, aided by the cameras and monitors that supplement the conventional mirrors, it made driving it on the demanding course selected quite challenging. A considerable front overhang does not assist in this regard, though the puller configuration did mean that the rear section followed the front quite precisely. Though the A-pillar looks as though it may be a problem, in practice it isn’t. Noise was very low and in the cab the dashboard was easy to read. Those who drove praised the smooth way you could creep the bus forward when necessary.
I was sat on the vehicle when we carried out the braking tests and in this the Van Hool performed the best of the five candidates, no doubt assisted by the greater number of wheels it has, although it is also the heaviest of them by some margin at over 19 tonnes. It was hugely impressive how it pulled up in a straight line in only 12.5m, though what would happen to all of the standing passengers if you tried it in service doesn’t bear thinking about.
Though half the price of a tram it still isn’t a cheap option, but it does offer a lot of class.
With all of this year’s candidates having non-diesel propulsion systems and an immense amount of the industry’s development efforts going in to buses with alternative forms of propulsion, not to mention the political pressure for these to be introduced, it begs the question whether there will ever be another diesel powered winner of the International Bus of the Year award?
The winner will not be revealed until 21 August prior to the IAA exhibition in Hanover and B&CB will carry a deeper look at the vehicle at that time.
Our base for the Bus Euro Test was the Halen depot of STIB (Société des Transports Intercommunaux de Bruxelles) where we took over the large yard and offices normally occupied by the company’s training school, with its fleet of Van Hool A300 training buses. It is the largest of STIB’s depots and the headquarters of the northern district, one of four within STIB’s bus operation. It is said to be the largest combined bus and tram depot in Europe, around 200 of the 706 strong fleet is allocated there. This allocation includes both 12m and articulated Mercedes-Benz Citaros and large numbers of Van Hool low floor models in the distinctive two tone metallic champagne and bronze livery with art deco detailing.
STIB’s bus operation employs 2,272 drivers and maintenance staff and 209 other employees and executives, operates 50 day routes and 11 night routes, has 2,150 stops, and in 2014 carried 99.9m customers a total of 22.22m km at an average speed of 16.5kmh. Since 2015 the business has been committed to ordering no more diesel buses and is expected to order hybrids and electrics in the future.
In the group as a whole, buses represent 27% of travel by transport mode, trams account for 36% and the Metro system also handles 36%.
New Committee elected
For me it was a slightly emotional week because after 15 years as the President of the International Bus & Coach of the Year Jury I reluctantly decided to stand down and my former Vice President, Tom Terjesen of the Norwegian magazine Buss Magasinet was elected to lead the organisation forward. The new Vice President is the Dutch journalist, Jos Haas. Completing a total change in the committee line up, the German journalist, Andreas Heise has taken on the role of Secretary. I wish them all well. Despite this step back from the hot seat, I will continue to represent the United Kingdom on the Jury, albeit from the back benches, as it were.
I would like to put on record my gratitude to the former Secretaries, Anne Katrin Weiser and Birgit Bauer, both of whom have recently joined MAN Truck & Bus, and without whom the task of being President would have been impossible. I would further like to recognise the immense effort put in by Didier Tuttyens, the Bus & Coach Editor of the Belgian magazine Transporama, who organised this year’s Bus Euro Test. On top of all the usual planning and organising that had to be done he also had to ensure that the four electrical vehicles could be recharged every day, which proved a not inconsiderable challenge that was solved thanks to the help of long term Euro Test sponsor, ZF.