Radical Electric Hybrid Design Line Buses

This entry was posted Tuesday, 26 January, 2010 at 4:33 pm

Triangle Clean Cities, The Forest Foundation and Greenway Transit sponsored an impressive tour of Design Line’s new manufacturing facility in Charlotte.  We started with a relatively frank and open conversation with Marketing VP, Don Markarious.  The HEV is highly efficient and similar to a train, is seven years ahead of the competition and their R&D is keeping them ahead, while they slowly scale up their production.  They expect 5-600 units per year out of their NC based facility and have been offered an opportunity to site a second US based facility in NY to supply NY City with its annual replacement needs.

After passing the NY City Shaker Transit 500K (or 12 yr.) test, driving their vehicle off the dynamometer, NY, Baltimore and a few other municipalities are consuming all their production.  If Greenway wanted a bus (after handing over $585K) they may be able to slip a single unit in the next year, but larger orders are way out.  Planning to go public, they may be able to gain the capital to grow as their technology and market strategy deserves the leadership and the market share.  From start to finish their buses are smart and simple.  Competitors are Allison.

Some of the specs.:

v    $45,000 per year savings over other hybrids and straight diesel buses., Half fuel costs.  40% reduction in lifecycle costs.

v    49 units on the road since 1998, 4 in NY and 7 in Baltimore

v    Sizes are 30, 35 and 41 feet

v    Auxiliary Power Unit (APU)C30 Kw Capstone 42 hpw. microturbine that recharges batteries continuously as the batteries drop below 90-40% (higher than Eatons 26-67 %), maintaining longer battery life.  The turbine is exempt from EPA emission standard.  However, they voluntarily exceed CARB without after treatment, stating that the air going in the intake is dirtier than coming out because of the high temperature 1400 degree inner core temp. and 200 degree at exhaust. (See http://www.capstoneturbine.com/prodsol/products/index.asp)

v    Engine controller system comes from Capstone

v    Two Inverters and Motors.

v    Vehicle Maintenance System (VMS) is impressive, with a GPS and wireless real time data collection allowing analysts to diagnose and fix any on board problem while the bus is on duty.  Also includes USB connectors for downloading data.

v    Route tests can gain additional performance to profile loads and distance, speeds and acceleration

v    Turbines are certified for blends as high as B100

v    750 volt proprietary battery pack with a 6 year warranty (currently lasting 12 years and with a replacement cost of about $55K); recharge times of 20 minutes with the C65 Kw turbine.  750 lbs weight.  Expectation is for the battery costs to continue to drop.

v    80% of breaking regenerative, 20% service brakes, reducing brake maintenance and costs

v    40Klbs GVW

v    All electric AC and heater (everything is run electrically, except the air brakes).

v    Bus outer shell built in replaceable panel sections.

We then had an opportunity to take one for a tour, one of their phase II buses built in New Zealand.  The bus was extremely smooth and quiet, posing the problem of pedestrians being able to hear the bus for safety queues.  Currently, they are producing Phase IV, with one of Charlotte Airport’s two having returned for an upgrade, they are upgrading and retrofitting their buses.  Dave Nuery, the most competent and technically knowledgeable tour participant from the local Freightliner dealership, disabled the bus when he pushed the emergency stop button, designed for quick shut-down and requiring a relatively complicated restart.  With all the novis participants, the irony was great!

Walking their assembly line, the process of production was not nearly as efficient as Freightliner.  Gains will be likely in production time and standardization in the future.  Battery assembly is done by a produced and installed by another company on site.  Chassis are built by subcontractor and delivered to the site.  The Facility has room to grow, but will need improved production line systems to gain efficiency.

New innovations are dual battery packs and drive trains for safety in redundancy, as well as a goal of lightening the vehicles by 3500 lbs. by increasing carbon fiber composites.  An all electric plug-in is available for around $1.2 million, with a 208/3phase connector.  By far, the micro turbine is a leap in technology and has potential applications in Hybrid Hydraulic systems and may solve the smaller drive systems needed for hybrids.