With hybrid, plug-in hybrid and full electric, an optimal solution can be created for each city.'

Hakan Agnevall, the president of Volvo Bus Corporation on electric mobility, why hybrid buses are good for India and how the UD bus brand can enable improved BRT services.

Autocar Pro News Desk By Autocar Pro News Desk calendar 08 Apr 2017 Views icon8710 Views Share - Share to Facebook Share to Twitter Share to LinkedIn Share to Whatsapp
With hybrid, plug-in hybrid and full electric, an optimal solution can be created for each city.'

Hakan Agnevall, the president of Volvo Bus Corporation on electric mobility, why hybrid buses are good for India and how the UD bus brand can enable improved BRT services. 

Volvo has been pursuing electric mobility programmes in Sweden for long. It has also been focusing on hybrids. How do you plan to tap electric mobility in India? 
Volvo started (working) with electric mobility in the mid-2000s, so we have been dealing with it for over 10 years now. It started at the Group level where we undertook strategic studies to understand future drivelines for transporting both goods and people in cities and also for long-haul transportation. Those studies, around the year 2005, concluded that the future is clearly electric. Driving a vehicle with an electric drivetrain is the most energy efficient way to drive, and secondly also for reducing emissions – particulates, NOx and CO2. 

That was the starting point for us. The Group has invested in buses and we were given the challenge to be the leader within the Group as city bus application is the ideally suited for electrics. 
Viewing electric mobility from a global perspective, we see three steps in its development. The first involves reduction of emissions and an increase in energy efficiency. Secondly, when we and others recognise that electric buses are silent and emission-free, you actually get a new tool for public transport as one can bring the electrical bus much closer to the people. Today, no one wants a bus that makes too much noise but if it makes none or little sound, buses can be brought much closer or even into areas where buses are not allowed – you can even bring them indoors! In the future, buses will enter shopping malls. If one visits a shopping mall during winter, then one does not want to stand outside. In India, it is very hot and you don’t want to stand in the heat. Hence, in future, public transport will even go into a hospital. This will change the concept of city-urban planning. 

The third step is when a city owns an electric bus that has the possibility to be connected to the power system both night and day. There are a lot of smart grids when you use the power grid in the new context. This is when you not only have micro generation but also micro consumption. It is here that electric buses can potentially play a role in developing the smart grid of the future. 

When we approached electric mobility, we had three cornerstones – the first is the product portfolio we are offering. We have the hybrid, which has a diesel engine, electrical engine and a battery and recycles the charging energy. There is no external charging but the braking energy is recycled, thereby saving 30-40 percent of the fuel. It makes a silent start from the bus station.

The electric hybrid or the plug-in hybrid has the same driveline as the hybrid but with a bigger battery and the bus is charged at the end station in a fast charge lasting between 3-6 minutes. The highlight about fast charging is that you carry less battery. The alternative is to charge at night when you need much more battery, which is costly and carries lesser passengers because of weight. 
Another option is the full electric bus with still larger batteries and an electric engine; we are still exploring the opportunity of fast charging. There is a lot of interest in electric buses. Our view is that there are three tools – hybrid, plug-in hybrid and full electric – with which an optimal solution can be created for each city. Everything cannot go full electric due to the cost involved and the need for charging infrastructure; if you run a public transport system, you need flexibility. 

When we look at India, we see a lot of interesting applications for the hybrid model. The benefit is that you don’t need a charging infrastructure, the hybrid leads to 30-40 percent fuel savings and is less expensive than a full electric. So, there will be a mix.
A second cornerstone is that we go for electric buses that require charging infrastructure. Volvo is ready to do a turnkey offer for India as it has been done in Europe. We are ready to install the charging infrastructure; we are not yet mature enough to offer it in India but it is under development. The option is to not buy/sell the battery but charge for the battery by kilometre or by usage. 
Thirdly, if a city is investing in charging infrastructure, it cannot be locked in with proprietary solutions as there is one supplier for the charging system. We are working with big solution providers like Siemens and ABB to create an open standard. It is a very robust and simple interface and everyone can join it. 
 
Do you plan to bring it to India and, if yes, how soon?
It is still in an early stage. Air-conditioning is a large energy consumer, so you need to handle the entire thermal stability of the vehicle. We have the pilot installation for the first full electric vehicle and are launching serial production of European buses this year. We started selling the hybrid in Europe in 2010 and have now introduced it in Mumbai. We expect it to deliver 30-40 percent energy efficiency. Just as we have done a pilot for hybrids, we are in talks for a pilot on full electric buses. 

When I look at India, (I see) a lot of interest in electric mobility but if you take a step back, we need to think about the small cities and big cities. Also, there are so many transitional steps on the diesel and BRT side that are needed. 

Electric mobility is not a big solution for India; it could be interesting for some segments, but we need to also look at the big segments for the mass markets where the UD bus brand comes in a big way. We set up UD for the aspirational population that wants to have a good ride. Here BRT is one of the buzzwords and we firmly believe that BRT has a lot to offer for diesel. 
 
BRTS is currently running only in eight cities in India. Is Volvo targeting UD buses only in small cities?
We think that the BRT concept will grow and UD buses will be primarily used for city operation. UD is targeted in the value segment and is a normal as well as a BRT model bus. Wherever the need, they will be rolled out there. The BRT-built UD bus will provide city transport services in India this year. Volvo is offering different products for different segments.
We also have Eicher providing buses for the mass segment. But looking at the government’s smart cities initiative, we think there is a big potential with the UD buses. Our view is that there are many people looking at a good public transport system, so that they can get out of their cars. 
 
BS-VI engines are made at VE Commercial Vehicle’s Pithampur plant from where they are exported to Volvo in Europe. How much tweaking will be required to source them for local use?     
We are already making BS-IV engines in India and BS-VI engines are exported. We are ready with the technology but since India does not use BS-VI norms yet, as and when they are required they will be available in our stable. The normal base of the engine remains the same and tweaking happens according to market needs. 
 
Is Volvo collaborating with the Indian government for driving bus transportation?
In Navi Mumbai, there is the FAME scheme in which we are cooperating at present. There are discussions underway about introducing the hybrid Volvo bus in various cities. Wherever it will be introduced, it will be under the FAME scheme. We are the first to use the FAME scheme in the bus segment.
 
Volvo was planning to make India an export hub especially for Europe. Your comments.
We have started exports to Europe and sold the first buses; we are now beginning to deliver these. We are addressing the entry level inter-city bus segment that is to the tune of 5,000 buses in Europe annually and we will grow this business gradually. This will be our first focus. 
 
How is the bus market different in India compared to global markets?
In Europe there are many bus segments and they require a lot of customisation. Buses require a lot of fit-and-finish requirements that are very challenging. Some of the sub-systems that are installed also need some reach compliance. 
 
This interview was published in the February 1, 2017 edition of Autocar Professional magazine
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