As major cities seek to curb air pollution and improve the
viability of their transport systems, public transport is
unmistakably heading towards electro-mobility, and buses are
at the forefront of the upgrade.
France and the UK both announced in recent weeks that sales
of combustion engine vehicles (ICEs) – your average
petrol or diesel car – will be banned by 2040.
London mayor Sadiq Khan has made reducing the UK
capital’s high levels of air pollution a top
priority of his term in office. Many European capitals are
facing similar problems, and are working on their own
Swedish carmaker Volvo has been capitalising both on this
gradual shift and, to an extent, taken the lead in setting
new targets for its industry, when it announced it would
phase out ICEs by 2019.
From then on, all new models launched by the carmaker will
be partially (hybrid) or completely electric.
According to Edward Jobson, chief engineer at Volvo Bus
Corporation (also known as Volvo Buses), the focus on electric
from governments and city councils is good news for automakers:
"[It’s all] very positive," he told
Aside from the rhetoric and media hype, the electric
discourse in public transport has already had a positive effect
on demand for hybrid and electric buses, he said: "We see that
the volumes are picking up in many markets in Europe and there
is also a strong focus on electro-mobility in North and Latin
America and China."
Currently, Volvo has three city buses in its portfolio for
the European market, including a plug-in or electric hybrid,
which can drive electrically and have a combustion engine, and
a fully-electric model.
The carmaker has been investing in electro-mobility since
2005, with the first hybrid launched in 2009, Jobson told
IM. It has not manufactured any diesel city
buses since January 2014, offering only hybrids or
Volvo’s 7900 electric bus will
reach the UK next year.
Its flagship model, the updated Volvo 7900 fully-electric
bus, now operates in Sweden and Luxembourg, and will be
launched in Harrogate, northern England, next year.
The 7900 has a pack of four lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries,
which sit on the roof of the vehicle and are charged at end
terminals or along the bus route. Charging takes between three
and six minutes, allowing for about half an hour of driving
range before another charge is needed.
According to Volvo, the model consumes up to 80% less energy
than a diesel bus. Also appealingly to authorities in large
polluted cities, generation of Co2, nitrogen oxides (NOx) or
particulates is slashed.
The driving range of the 7900 was intended to cover the
distance of an average bus route within a large city
"The Volvo 7900 Electric is very suitable for city traffic
on distances of 10-15 km," Jobson said to IM.
"It can handle long operational hours since it fast charges at
end stops in just a few minutes, and then continues to operate.
It fits well in city centres, being so quiet. Most city routes
in Europe are about 10 km: this model is optimised for these
While 15km on a full charge may sound very low compared with
the hundreds that electric cars can travel before in need of
recharge, the size, weight and driving requirements of buses
drastically reduces their range. Battery banks are also very
heavy, so manufacturers need to find a compromise between
extending the range while containing overall weight.
"It depends on the version of bus and the type of traffic,"
Jobson said on the state of technological advancement in
relation to driving range on a full charge for electric buses.
"As the batteries become better, we will make this range
Improvement in battery storage has been one of the main
drivers for the electrification of the automotive sector. For
buses, whose weight can exceed that of an average car by up to
seven times, battery performance is equally fundamental.
With the improved availability of lithium-ion batteries,
producers had a much higher energy storage potential at their
"This opened up standards we were not used to before," Jobson
said. "When you look to the future, we see battery
development will continue and it will impact the range and
price of new vehicles. As the prices go down, the
competitiveness will increase.
"It will not take long until you will have to justify why
you will not go electric," he added.
Futurism – rethinking city
Although it is still early days for the electrification of
transport systems of many cities, Volvo reckons that a point of
no return has already been crossed. Authorities are clear about
how they want public transport to evolve, and automakers need
to adjust to be best positioned to benefit from the trend.
Ulf Magnusson, senior vice president for business in Europe
at Volvo Group, recently said in a statement: "We believe
electric bus systems are the future of urban public transport,
as environmentally clean and comfortable as a tram or light
rail, but at a fraction of the overall cost. As major cities
look to improve air quality, reduce noise and future-proof its
public transport, electric bus systems have great potential to
be part of the solution."
The implications of a fully-electric bus system in large
cities can be wide-reaching.
Reduced emissions and noise levels on the one hand, coupled
with further advances in vehicles’ autonomy, could
open up new options for city planning such as indoor bus stops,
or bus stops placed within residential or commercial buildings:
in cinemas, shopping centres or office blocks.
"This opens up new possibilities for city planning,"