Lion Bus is entering the alternative-fuel school bus market with an all-electric, plug-in conventional model that is expected to be in full release by next school year. With the announcement, all large school bus manufacturers will offer at least one alt-fuel option.
Marc Bedard, president and CEO of Canadian manufacturer Lion Bus, told STN that the school bus has been undergoing testing by end users over the past several weeks, and several potential customers from across North America have already surfaced.
The eLion is the result of a collaboration with CNTA on developing the electric drivetrain, TM4 on supplying the motor, EnerDel supplying the battery cells and B3CG providing the battery packs. Battery pack configurations range from four to seven packs, said Bedard, yet that could increase to as many as eight to power the Type C bus.
"Electric is a big, big thing," Bedard told STN. "School buses are perfect to electrify because they only drive for a couple of hours a day, always on the same routes."
He pointed out that electric makes sense for school districts that operate mostly in urban areas, as the stop-and-go driving is best suited for regenerative braking to recharge the batteries. In fact, Bedard said test drives have shown that operators barely need to depress the brake pedal to bring the bus to a complete stop.
He added that each battery pack installed in the eLion has been getting about 10 miles per charge, for a current total range of 70-plus miles.
While the new bus will hit the market with a price tag in excess of $250,000, Bedard said total cost of ownership is expected to be among the best in the business. He pointed to University of Delaware research published in May that claims electric bus data shows operators can recoup the total new purchase cost within 10 to 11 years of operation, especially in terms of fuel and maintenance savings. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, the per gallon equivalent cost of electric remained steady from 2001 through last year, ranging from just under $1 a gallon to a current national average of $1.27 per gallon equivalent. Meanwhile, gasoline has fluctuated from $1.50 a gallon 14 years ago to a current average of $3.52 a gallon. And the national commercial diesel price averaged $3.45 a gallon this week.
Bedard said maintenance costs are reduced because there is no engine to service or oil to change, and wear and tear on brakes is greatly reduced. He did caution that mechanics as well as drivers need training with the electric bus to ensure safety when working with battery packs or the electric motor.
Coupled with the standard lighter, all-composite body that resists rusting and dents, Bedard also said the eLion increases its value as a Vehicle-to-Grid system, or V2G. School bus operators can utilize the eLion to power transportation department buildings and classrooms, and to even generate revenue by selling back unused electricity to local power companies. Purchasers of the eLion could also be rewarded via valuable carbon-emission trading.
"All those benefits make the purchase of the eLion a sound investment from an environmental, economic and social point of view," concluded Bedard.
A company spokesman said a decision has yet to be made on whether the eLion will be displayed at the NAPT Summit in November.
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