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Electric bus manufacturers BYD and Proterra are making serious moves

Two of the biggest electric transit bus titans were in the news recently: BYD plans to build a manufacturing facility for its buses and batteries in Brazil, and Proterra has announced the first sale of its second-generation “infinite range” electric bus.

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The electrification of public transit buses makes a lot of sense if executed well. China-based BYD (Build Your Dreams) and Greenville, SC-based Proterra are two companies that take very different approaches to electric buses, but both have plans for aggressive expansion in the near future.

While BYD opts for long-range buses with large iron-phosphate battery packs capable of traveling 155 miles on a charge, Proterra instead maximizes utility by minimizing charge times. Their “infinite range” electric bus is worthy of the nickname because its lithium-titanate battery pack can be recharged in as little as 5 minutes, enabling virtually seamless integration into urban routes for effectively unlimited operating range.

BYD to manufacture electric buses and battery packs in Brazil

The Chinese EV-maker released plans last week to build a manufacturing facility in Campinas, in the Sao Paolo region of Brazil, that will open in 2015 and be capable of producing 1,000 electric buses with battery packs in just its first year of operation. The company refers to this capacity as “the first stage of manufacturing expansion.”

The impressive production capacity will be the result of a $90 million investment and planned 32,000 square-meter and 20,000 square-meter facilities.

“BYD chose Campinas because of this city’s spirit of innovation and their goal of building a cleaner society, said BYD Chairman Wang Chuanfu. “Along with the buses and batteries, our dream is to build solar panels and energy storage systems here to help the region achieve their zero emissions goals.”

Proterra announces first sale of second-generation electric bus

Proterra’s first product, the EcoRide BE-35 all-electric bus, was quite successful. It established the Proterra name and demonstrated the feasibility of the company’s proprietary automated fast-charge technology, which enables a bus with a relatively small battery pack to operate virtually non-stop.

To date, Proterra has delivered 44 all-electric buses to 9 different transit fleets across the United States. As it prepares to launch its new and improved model, Foothill Transit of West Covina, California has agreed to purchase the first two units of the second-generation transit bus.

This second-generation Proterra bus claims an outstanding efficiency of 20.8 MPGe (compared to a claimed 3.86 MPG for diesel buses), and is capable of traveling more than 26 miles per charge. It uses a 220-kW electric motor and a 2-speed transmission.

Which technology is superior?

Quite frankly, it doesn’t really matter in this particular debate. Each electric bus manufacturer will find customers who fit the proper profile for the capabilities of their product.

Aside from the initial investment, both varieties of electric bus are vastly superior to their diesel, hybrid, and CNG counterparts in every way. Proterra estimates its fleet operators will save $300,000 to $430,000 in operating costs over the life of each bus, so that takes some of the sting out of the high purchasing cost.

Though BYD buses and their 155-mile range will be quite capable of meeting the needs of most fleet operators, it is the strategy of Proterra and buses like Sweden’s Arctic Whisper that provides the most intriguing potential. The makers of the Arctic Whisper claim to be targeting 2-3 minutes of recharge time, and Proterra is no doubt aiming for similar rates.

This fast recharging is of particular interest to the wider EV industry; although it is presently well-suited only for large transit buses, the potential applications to light duty vehicles could change the game.

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kees (not verified)    July 25, 2014 - 7:02AM

If a really expensive bus like the Proterra is filled with batteries and can only drive 26 miles. Imagine how far a EV car with those lithium titanate batteries will go. 2-3 miles? Oh I am just going on a roadtrip for 200 miles. Oh I only have to stop 100 times for 5 minutes. What a joke.

BYD is superior, only companies that buy Proterra are narrow minded rednecks that don't want to try foreign products because they think foreign import products hurt the US economy.

Luke Ottaway    July 27, 2014 - 11:17PM

In reply to by kees (not verified)

Aside from the rather obvious fact that putting the relatively small battery pack from a Proterra into a light duty vehicle weighing about 1/6 as much as an electric bus would result in far more range than 26 miles (not 2-3 miles, I'm not sure what sort of logic you used there), you're missing the point. Yes, Proterra is built in the USA and maybe that plays a role in their success. But it passed the Altoona durability tests (which BYD didn't) and its range and charging characteristics make it a good fit for many fleet operators. The two buses both achieve the goal of all-electric urban transit, just using different strategies.

Gene Grossman (not verified)    October 2, 2014 - 2:45PM

I'm an Occam's Razor believer, and that leads me to believe that a system relying on multiple fast-charge stations is not as good as a simpler system that has longer-range vehicles that use a main-base charge system.

K.I.S.S.: fewer charging stations to malfunction, fewer charging stations to maintain, fewer charging stations to build and install all fall into the Keep It Simple Stupid column, so I'll go with BYD for this bus comparison.

John FIsher (not verified)    January 2, 2015 - 1:20AM

Also noteworthy is that BYD has CV transmission and In-wheel motors, while Proterra is 'conventional' separate electric motor and 2 speed gearbox...BYD save space and materials ans is simpler.

james braselton (not verified)    January 7, 2015 - 3:06AM

hi there you now there are 2 versions of buses one version long range 155 miles per charge 2 version is only 26 miles

Inst (not verified)    January 18, 2015 - 3:38AM

Proterra doesn't scale, though. Proterra requires an expensive infrastructure of $600,000 per charging station per route, BYD only requires a slow-charger at the depot for $6,000. What's more, BYD buses drive the cost for its battery technology down dramatically, while Proterra's SCiB technology is specialist use; BYD LiMnFePO4 can potentially power cars, taxis, grid storage, and more.