Creating a more efficient electric bus with help from the aviation industry

Date posted

How do you develop the lightest possible bus? This is the idea behind the Ebusco 3.0, which will enter service for the first time in Germany later this year. The body of this electric bus is made of composite materials, making it a third lighter than its predecessor. These materials have long been used for aircraft components, so the Dutch bus manufacturer teamed up with experts from the aviation industry. 

That is what makes the Ebusco 3.0 so unique, according to Harm Keunen. He worked at Fokker Landing Gear for many years and is now chief technology officer at Pondus, a company set up specifically to develop the composite body of the new bus. “When you develop a bus with professionals from another business – in this case aviation – you start to look at buses and the development process very differently. We looked for unique features that the market might not even know were possible.” 

33 percent lighter

The use of composite material – light but extremely strong – has several advantages. Composite makes the bus 33 percent lighter compared to steel buses and also provides a degree of insulation, Keunen explains. “Also, the material will not age nearly as quickly, so that the bus can certainly last twenty years or so. You could even refurbish the bus at a later date, just as in the aviation world.” Damage can be repaired simply and cheaply by grinding a piece of composite and replacing it, as is already done with many composite products worldwide. 

A completely flat floor

Another major difference is that the batteries are placed in the floor and not on the roof.  “This makes the bus a lot nicer to drive, like a go-kart. It holds the road very tightly, making it easier for the driver to steer.” The floor is also completely flat thanks to a newly developed rear axle spacer. This certainly wasn’t the easiest route to take during the development process, according to Keunen, but it paid off. 

Although there are fewer battery packs in the Ebusco 3.0, the expected range of 500 km is actually greater than before. This has been achieved not only through the lightweight composite, but also by working with other suppliers to look for innovative solutions and mutual connections. “Every company normally guards its knowledge, so you don’t get an efficient system. By putting our heads together, we were able to do that.” 

Debut in Munich

The prototype of the Ebusco 3.0 was presented in October 2019, since when things have been relatively quiet around the new vehicle. But in Deurne things were anything but quiet. “In 2019 we demonstrated that we are capable of making such a bus. The subsequent process included the testing and assembly of all systems and test driving. We are now in the process of homologation.” 

Besides the prototype, there are now two more Ebusco 3.0s in the factory hall. “We started building these buses at the same time, with all the lessons learned from the ‘test bus’. This ensures that we can homologate and deliver these two buses quickly.” These first two vehicles are expected to go into service with the operator Stadtwerke München in the third quarter. 

Made in the Netherlands

This is not the only exiting thing that is happening in the coming months: a factory is being set up in Deurne, in the Dutch province of North Brabant, as the Ebusco 3.0 will be produced entirely in the Netherlands.

This means that the manufacturer will be ready to produce in large numbers later this year, although the Covid crisis could still put a spanner in the works. Demand for electric buses will only grow given the climate goals, but the public transport sector has been hit hard financially.

Ebusco is confident that a catch-up will take place once the worst of the crisis is over. The manufacturer is therefore continuing with its (factory) plans for the Ebusco 3.0. Keunen sees the expected peak in orders as a major challenge for bus manufacturers. “You really have to invest now in order to be able to produce when demand increases later. Here in Europe we must avoid being too late to meet the huge peak that is coming. We are ready for it, so bring on the orders.” 

Harm Keunen, CTO Pondus