Is electric and battery technology ready for the future?

The Yutong TCe12 all-electric coach, driven by routeone earlier this month, is the first of its kind in the UK and a significant development in the UK electric vehicle (EV) market.

Electric technology in the coach sector shouldn’t come as a surprise. The International Energy Agency (IEA) predicted last year that global EV numbers will surge to 125 million by 2030, fostered in Europe by stricter emission standards and development of low-emission zones.

Steady progress

The TCe12 uses the same technology from the well-proven E12 – Yutong’s own M280 CV4-H electric drive motor, and routeone determined a range of about 200 miles on a full battery charge. Yutong advertises a battery capacity of 80% even after 4000 charge-discharge cycles.

But loss of capacity over extended use remains an anathema to some operators.

As electric technology now spreads to coaches – many of which will pass through several operators – will capacity loss impact the appeal of long-term ownership?

Shaun Millar, Business Development Manager at Irizar e-mobility, is dedicated to the electric buses side of the business in the UK. Improving the distance a vehicle can travel is a key focus, he says, and achieving this is not down to battery technology and longevity alone, but also the components surrounding it – and how those components work together to make energy consumption as efficient as possible.

Irizar says its use of European built components increases customer confidence about its vehicles’ life and future residual values. The company adds that its approach to thermal management reduces battery degradation through overheating, thus extending operational life.

In addition, the module construction of Irizar battery packs allows future battery upgrades to be easily accommodated into existing electric buses. The manufacturer claims its opportunity charged battery technology offers batteries with a lifespan similar to the bus itself.

Conversation growth

The discussion on how these improvements apply to used buyers is only just beginning.

“Some people are still only talking about the first application, but I have noticed an increased interest in later life recently – especially when customers are considering leasing options,” Mr Millar says. “At Irizar UK we take a hands-on approach to supporting operators who source used vehicles from us, including training and support – I see this as an important area in second life.”

Some, such as Head of Bus Sales at Pelican Yutong Ian Downie, say electric buses will be well suited to the second-hand market, with refurbishment options already in place to extend vehicle battery life.

Electric vehicles are not unique in this regard – diesel vehicles undergo a similar mid-life refurbishment, and this shouldn’t be seen as a barrier, Mr Downie says.

Pelican offers a finance mechanism whereby the batteries are changed in the fifth, sixth or even seventh year of use, extending the life of the vehicle. Warranties are already generous, in many cases being longer than those offered with diesel vehicles, and Pelican adds that it has capped the cost of any refurbishment work it does – passing on the savings if the future price of batteries shrinks.

Another benefit to buyers of used electric vehicles is their relative lack of wear and tear. It’s a consensus that servicing electric vehicles is much simpler owing to a lack of oils and filters. Overall reliability is not in question, having been proven in thousands of vehicles worldwide.

Looking to the future

Developments are being made to reduce the batteries required to operate vehicles – as well as improvements in their chemistry and output.

Something that should give second-hand operators confidence, Mr Downie says, is expenditure as time progresses.

Emissions regulations are tightening, and while many coach and bus manufacturers must retro-fit their models to meet the latest standards, zero-emission buses and coaches are a safeguard against costs and complications for operators many years down the line.

Mr Downie says Pelican has been listening to operators’ concerns about range and reliability, and that there are answers to all of them. “Batteries are only part of the story,” he adds, echoing the same sentiments as Mr Millar from Irizar UK. “The rest is how to optimise all the other components – it’s how you regenerate the energy.

“Battery chemistry has gone from 295kW/h to 422kW/h within two-and-a-half years. Electric vehicles are driving up build quality, and buying zero-emissions is future proofing your product – you don’t need to retro-fit down the line, as you’ve already got the best you can get.”