Electromobility in transport companies: E-buses are slowly getting rolling

Status: 03/10/2023 5:08 p.m

By 2030, every second city bus in Germany should be electric, but there is still a long way to go. Although the e-bus industry is booming, the switch is expensive and federal funding is limited.

“We are in the decade of the electric bus,” says Maximilian Rohs from the consulting firm Pricewaterhouse Coopers (PwC). He conducted a study on the subject, the “E-Bus Radar 2022”. According to this, 1,269 buses with electrified drives were rolling on Germany’s roads at the end of 2021. Since the study, at least 500 other zero-emission buses have been added.

There are particularly many e-buses in Hamburg, Berlin and Wiesbaden, where more than 100 are on the road. “If you consider the relationship to the city size, Wiesbaden and Osnabrück are the battery bus capitals,” says Rohs. There are around 40 battery buses per 100,000 inhabitants, in Hamburg only ten.

In Osnabrück, e-buses have been serving all main axes in the city center since 2022. The eye-catching buses, bright red at the front and green at the back, come from the manufacturer VDL in the Netherlands. It is one of the five largest manufacturers of e-buses operating in Germany.

Where are the buses from?

Globally, China is by far the largest supplier of vehicles. So far, more electric buses have been built there than in the rest of the world combined. In Germany, however, the Chinese do not play a major role.

In this country, the market leaders are VDL and Ebusco from the Netherlands, Solaris from Poland and the German companies MAN and Daimler Truck, the latter with its subsidiary Evobus. Most of the buses come from Evobus. The company has been mass-producing the purely battery-powered Mercedes-Benz eCitaro city bus since 2018.

All electrically powered city buses are manufactured at the Daimler Buses plant in Mannheim. “In the past year alone, almost 300 new eCitaro were registered in Germany. Today, a total of almost 700 eCitaro are in use in German transport companies,” said a spokesman for the company. This is also reflected in Daimler Truck’s successful annual balance sheet.

Climate protection is the main reason for switching

The transformation started with the topic of air pollution control in the cities. There were action programs and subsidies for this, says Rohs. North Rhine-Westphalia has particularly benefited from this. There are many large cities in the state for which particulate matter pollution was a major problem.

At the end of 2021, North Rhine-Westphalia was clearly ahead in a nationwide comparison with around 300 electric buses. This is also because it is the most populous federal state. For countries with fewer inhabitants and long distances or many hills, e-buses were initially less attractive because the vehicles’ range was limited. That’s why there are hardly any electric intercity buses.

The buses currently have a range of around 250 kilometers. According to Rohs, the range is constantly increasing. He assumes that this restriction of the limited range will become less important in the medium term.

Conversion is expensive

According to his study, the e-bus industry is booming, and the number has been growing exponentially since 2018. Many transport companies want to change. In some cases, the operating costs are even cheaper than with diesel buses, explains Rohs.

But the change is expensive. The buses themselves cost about two and a half times as much as a diesel bus. For a purely battery-powered bus, that is around 550,000 euros. In addition, a charging infrastructure must be set up, and that requires space. “Regardless of whether I’m charging at the depot or on the track, I need the appropriate space, and that’s scarce,” says Rohs. In addition, the processes at the depot would have to be changed. For example, you have to make sure that the loaded vehicles are in front at the start of the operation. In addition, the IT systems would have to be converted.

The federal government is promoting the switch to e-buses. 4,400 funding applications were recently submitted to the Ministry of Transport, but there are only funds for 2,500 vehicles. Nevertheless, the Bundestag decided not to increase the funds for alternative drives for buses in the 2023 federal budget.

Criticism from the industry association

The industry association Association of German Transport Companies VDV cannot understand this. “The purchase projects are now being put on hold because the municipalities could not take on this financing. The climate protection goals in the transport sector cannot be achieved by 2030,” says a statement.

The federal government had set the target for every second city bus to be electric by 2030. So far, however, hybrid and electric buses have only made up around 2.4 percent of the entire public transport bus fleet.

Switching is mandatory

Pressure is also coming from the European Union. The EU’s “Clean Vehicles Directive” stipulates mandatory minimum quotas for the procurement of clean or emission-free buses. From 2026, at least 32.5 percent of new purchases must be emission-free. And 65 percent clean, i.e. driving with alternative fuels.

Manufacturers have long been converting their production. Till Oberwörder, Head of Daimler Buses, says: “From 2030 at the latest, we will only be offering CO2-neutral new vehicles in the city bus segment in Europe and will no longer invest in Euro VII. We are concentrating our development strength entirely on emission-free and fully electric vehicles powered eCitaro.”

PwC consultant Rohs believes that local authorities should therefore be given financial support when making the switch. Otherwise the municipalities would have to thin out their local transport services in order to save costs and thus comply with the specifications. “That would damage the traffic turnaround enormously.”

Rohs therefore sees the federal and state governments as responsible. It is certain that more and more e-buses will have to roll on Germany’s roads in the future. PwC assumes that more than 3,200 electric buses will be on the road in Germany by the end of 2023. Because, according to Rohs: “We live in the decade of the e-buses.”

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