From left, designer Frank Reardon with Richard Bayes
New Zealand’s first electric bus to be built from scratch will soon roll out of a workshop in Dairy Flat and begin trials on local roads.
There have been a number of electric buses built in New Zealand, but these have used Chinese chassis. However, bus designer and builder Frank Reardon says what makes this project unique is that the bus has been put together from the ground up, using high quality components from around the world, particularly Europe and the United States.
Innovations include placing the batteries in the roof, adding solar panels and using cameras and monitors instead of wing mirrors, reducing driver blind spots.
Frank worked with Auckland Transport (AT) on its “road map for zero emissions” and says the e-buses AT trialled from China and the UK were heavy, carried less passengers and did not take full advantage of electric vehicle (EV) technology.
“EVs are often designed simply by replacing the engine with electric components and adding a big battery, while the body remains more or less the same,” Frank says.
Together with Dairy Flat-based Bayes Coachlines, Frank formed Zemtec in 2018 and the company began work on its own bus, the E-City.
Key design considerations were to find ways to make the bus lighter as this relates to power consumption, wear and tear on the vehicle and on roads, as well as performance. They also wanted the e-bus to carry the same number of passengers as a standard bus while improving the layout and experience for drivers and passengers.
“It was not only a chance to electrify, but also to bring in much needed improvements to bus design and better environmental outcomes.”
Rather than one big battery, the E-City uses 21 smaller capacity ones, which spreads the weight.
Placing them in compartments in the roof, topped with solar panels, rather than under the bus, allows the floor to be level and the interior spacious. Frank says the bus is also 20 percent lighter than the closest thing currently available in New Zealand.
The solar panels are a world first, Frank says, and will provide big power savings over the life of the bus.
Instead of three axels, there are only two, which reduces wear and tear, power consumption and the need for replacement of components such as tyres and brakes.
The bus is also shorter than a standard bus at 12.5m as opposed to 13.5m, meeting Australian regulations that demand the smaller footprint on the road.
Most of the fully stainless steel frame and exterior were locally made, involving a number of Silverdale based companies.
Zemtec ideally wants to be able to mass-produce the buses locally for the New Zealand and Australian markets, but is unsure whether this will be possible. There is the potential to eventually employ around 200 people.
Bayes Coachlines director Richard Bayes says the process so far has required an investment of $2 million.
He says the first prototype will be tested on local roads and then on school runs. After that, AT will move it around bus operators for further trials.
Covid-19 held up the first test drive because engineers involved overseas want to be part of that process. With the exterior, interior fit out, wiring and software still to be completed, it is hoped that the first prototype can begin trials in a few months.
Work is about to begin on a second prototype and the next project on the drawing board is an electric truck that could be used commercially and for things like Fire and Emergency vehicles.