Early next year, people in Haryana, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh may be pleasantly surprised to see some sleek, futuristic-looking, zero-emission battery-powered buses plying silently on their busy roads. JBM Group, the makers of these buses called ECOLIFE Electric, has bid for tenders for various state government projects in these states. It is currently awaiting the results of the bidding process. The buses, built with help from European bus maker Solaris Bus, have been tested during the past year and are now ready for deployment.

JBM’s range of electric buses has many features of buses used in European countries. For instance, the bus will have much larger transparent windows or “transview” that allows for better two-way viewing, an important safety feature. The "kneeling" feature allows the bus to tilt 6 cm at the bus stop so that the elderly can enter the bus without any problem. It will also have a pantograph on the roof to connect to charging systems and features to avoid electricity leakage on waterlogged roads in the rainy season. The bus is also equipped with a dual-charging system.

While the initial cost of the e-bus can be slightly higher—it can range anywhere between Rs1 crore to Rs2.5 crore depending on the size—running and maintenance costs are much lower. Fuel cost is around 25% that of petrol and diesel and maintenance cost too is significantly lower because the electric bus has only 18 moving parts, compared to 1,800 in a conventional bus. “...what gives ECOLIFE Electric an edge over other conventional buses is that the total cost of ownership will be much less than a conventional bus and the cost of the bus can be recovered in five years,’’ contends Nishant Arya, executive director of JBM Auto.

The e-bus has a 10-year life span, just like a conventional bus. It can travel 200 km daily on city roads and has a top speed of 70 km per hour. “That is not including the positive impact that these e-buses will have on India’s crude import bill and on the environment and health of the citizens,’’ argues Arya.

The idea of launching an e-bus and its ecosystem came from the company’s decision to anchor its future on sustainability and scalability. “The best way to achieve zero emission is to bet on electric vehicles and hence the decision to focus on the e-bus and the ecosystem that goes with it,’’ adds Arya. Public transportation system, he argues would be the first to be electrified because it makes economic sense. Which is why JBM Auto is investing in renewable energy technologies so that “not only the energy but the consumption is green too.”

The company has been investing significantly in renewable energy, high-power electronics, battery technology, charging station solutions—the ecosystem required to make e-bus a success—some of it in its own R&D centre. It plans to invest another Rs 500 crore in the next three years to be future ready for the new technological revolution.

Among the many innovations coming out from the company’s R&D factory and its joint venture partners are initiatives like reducing the weight of the lithium-ion batteries. “Since e-buses will have to be lighter than conventional buses through the use of aluminium and other materials, so too should be the batteries. The idea is to carry the maximum number of people and not batteries,’’ elaborates Arya.

The company also provides multiple charging options, including fast-charging solution, which allows the bus to travel 100 km or less at one go. Then there are also medium and slow-charging solutions, which can charge the bus for 150 km to 200 km. Since city buses do not travel more than 200 km every day and at an average speed of 15 km to 20 km per hour, the options should work in most cities. The e-buses can be charged either at the terminals, or at the bus stops when the people are either entering or exiting the bus. “We provide our customers all kinds of charging solution ranging from 15 minutes to eight hours, depending on the city’s requirements,’’ says Arya.

According to Arya, the ECOLIFE Electric bus will be ideal for Indian cities because it will not only provide a comfortable ride at an affordable price, but it will also go a long way in ensuring success for the government’s plan to electrify all public transportation by 2030. And that provides a huge opportunity for e-bus manufacturers. Every year, explains Arya state transport corporations induct 70,000 new buses for inter-city and intra-city transport. Moreover, half the number—nearly 35,000—buses are used as city buses. And if those buses become 100% electric by 2030, it will be a huge windfall for manufacturers of electric buses.

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