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article imageChina is taking the lead on bus fleet electrification

By Ken Hanly     Jul 4, 2019 in Technology
While the US had only 300 electric buses in the entire country, last year China had a total of 421,000. The global fleet of electric buses grew 32 percent in 2018.
China's electric bus fleet
By 2025, China's municipal electric bus fleet is expected to top more than 600,000 according to BNEF the Bloomberg division that researches clean energy. At the same time the US is expected to have just about 5,000. In 2009, China began to prioritize the electrification of its public transport system.
New York-based BNEF analyst Nick Albanese said: “There’s no industrial policy in the U.S. for e-buses. So unless the U.S. manages to become a big exporter of e-buses, China will continue to stand apart.”
Of an estimated 425,000 buses in the world in 2018 only 4,000 were outside China. Europe had only 2,500 electric buses.
In China the government takes the lead
The change to electric vehicles in China is not being driven by free market principles. The government is taking the lead in a bid to curb pollution, a huge problem in many Chinese cities. The government establishes national mandates, subsidizes manufacturers such as BYD and encourages policy competition among its cities. In contrast, the US federal government is not using any of China's tools to foster a transition to electric vehicles.
Only the climate-conscious state of California has mandated that all new buses to be emission-free by 2025. The EU will require some buses to be emissions free by 2025. In contrast BNEF estimates 18 percent of China's entire bus fleet was electrified at the end of 2018.
Why electrified buses matter
The buses are large and in constant use compared to fossil-fuelled passenger cars, so there is much less greenhouse gas emissions per person when they are used for transport. The BNEF estimates that 500 barrels of diesel are displaced each day for every 1,000 electric buses on the road. While electric buses are cheaper to maintain than diesel models their upfront cost is more.
Most US municipalities consider electric buses only when their existing vehicles wear out and need to be replaced. Since the average bus lasts 12 years, according to BNEF, there are only about 5,000 new buses added in the US each year. As of now most of these will be fossil fuel run vehicles. Many municipalities will baulk at the initial cost of electric buses.
US technology is well advanced
North America already has its own electric bus manufacturers focused on gaining domestic orders. However, they do not have the advantage of huge government subsidies as do their Chinese counterparts. Ryan Popple CEO of bus-maker Proterra maintains: “While Chinese companies get more support, the best electric vehicles have been engineered and manufactured by American companies. I like that matchup.”
So far, China has implemented electrification policies with speed that has allowed them to dominate world production of electric buses. China is also home to some of the world's largest battery makers. This gives domestic bus makers an easy access to a key component of the buses.
Shenzhen a large Chinese city north of Hong Kong is a world leader in electrical buses. Shenzhen is home to the Chinese electric bus maker BYD. The company sells as many as 30,000 electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids each month in China. Chairman Wang Chuanfu said the company is hoping to double bus sales in Europe every year for the next three years.
Wang contrasted China's policy with that in the West, noting that China strives for complete electrification of its fleet, not just to adding to the existing fleet.
“It’s not like the approach taken by other countries, to only buy electric buses as additions,” Wang said. He also noted that the Chinese government prioritizes the electrification of public transport: “In the West, it’s quite the opposite. The subsidies are primarily to private vehicles, not public transportation. We propose to governments that they need to learn from China’s example of a staged transition.”
At the end of 2017, Shenzhen had completed its transition to all electric buses. Shenzhen, population about 11.9 million, now has more electric buses than top US metropolitan areas conventional and electric.
An article in January of 2018 notes: "Shenzhen’s transport commission said on Dec. 27 that it had transitioned its 16,359 buses to all-electric models. The city’s 17,000 taxis are next (63 percent of them are already electric). China chose the city as a pilot for electric transit in 2009, now intends to expand the effort nationwide."
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