business transport

Where are all the electric buses?

This week I’ve been reading a book by Barbara Finamore called Will China Save the Planet? I’ll post my review tomorrow. It’s got a chapter about electric vehicles and it mentions that China has 385,000 electric buses, with more being added more all the time. “Every 5 weeks, its cities convert the equivalent of London’s entire fleet.”

I’ve mentioned electric buses in the past as an emerging technology, but it’s clear that it’s now a fully viable option. Chinese cities are making it work, and they are motoring into the mainstream. But here’s the interesting thing: 99% of the world’s electric buses are in China. Why doesn’t everyone else have electric buses?

There are probably a bunch of reasons, but one of the most important is that China has invested substantially in electric vehicles and battery technology, and it is Chinese companies that have got the electric bus to maturity before anyone else. The fruit of all that investment is that China’s car companies are ahead of the game on clean energy, and commanding economics of scale that are dramatically reducing the cost of electric vehicles. China has several large companies manufacturing cars for the domestic market, but few of them are known outside of China. That seems likely to change in the near future.

This is what happened with Japanese cars, after all. Global brands such as Toyota, Nissan or Mazda were unfamiliar in the West until the 60s and 70s. In the early days they were mistrusted, with drivers assuming they would be inferior. Chinese brands are in a similar position now. Names such as SAIC Motors, Great Wall or Geely could well be on our streets soon, and it will probably be their electric cars that we encounter first.

That’s already happening with BYD, which is actually the world’s biggest manufacturer of electric vehicles. Transport for London trialled five different electric double-decker buses in 2016, and have chosen a joint venture between BYD and Dennis. BYD opened a factory in California in 2013, supplying electric buses to Long Beach the following year.

Electric buses reduce carbon emissions, air pollution, noise pollution, and dependency on oil imports. You want them in your cities. China has them already, and they’re on their way.


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