EVM launches new range of lightweight composite-bodied minibuses

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EVM’s new CM body is aimed at the school and accessible sector. EVM

Minibus manufacturer EVM has taken a step to widen its market presence with the introduction of a new composite body structure for the school and accessible transport sectors

Following the recent announcement of low-emission certification and zero-emission drivelines for its range of Mercedes-Benz Sprinter-based minibuses, EVM has announced what it calls a ‘whole new concept for minibus design.’

Targeted at the school and accessible side of the market, EVM believes the composite modular (CM) body will allow it to grow outside its traditional executive segment: “We have enjoyed a steady growth in our presence in the school and accessible market over the last five to six years with our Trend, Elegance and in particular our Cityline model,” explained Peter Flynn, Sales and Marketing Director. “Substantial successes in tendering to Municipals across the United Kingdom have refocussed us on developing solutions specifically for these markets.”

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Modular bodies are not new, but EVM believes that the technology has never gained traction in the PSV market due to the bespoke nature of the customer requirements. However, the manufacturer believes that it does yield some synergies which make it a suitable product for mini and minibus design. Danny McGee, Managing Director of EVM, said he has had his eye on this form of construction for a while now: “We have been actively looking at this concept for some time. The traditional method of building minibuses fails to embrace the unique characteristics of new and modern materials including composites,” he said. “The body build process starts with a 3D cloud of data originating from our expanded design and development team, headed up by Cosimo Facecchia, and becomes a detailed layer by layer process creating the body with a clever mix of composites including GRP, aluminium and extruded RTM. The result is a body that is lighter than the equivalent van conversion but stronger and more efficient in every way, structurally, thermally, acoustically and logistically.”

Battery power
The CM body is available on the Sprinter 5 and 5.5 tonne chassis in capacities up to 24 seats in school bus layout, and up to 22 seats with six wheelchairs in accessible format, as well as the Iveco Daily 7.2 tonne chassis, on which the capacity increases to a maximum of 33 or 35 seats in school bus layout or 28 seats with up to eight wheelchairs. Both chassis are also now available with zero-emission battery-electric drivelines, both with claimed ranges of up to 200km using 150kW motors, and three battery packs giving a total capacity of 115kWh. The batteries on both models are located in what would be the engine bay and below the floor between the chassis legs. The 150kW motor is mated directly to the rear axle giving 1250Nm of torque and a maximum speed of 100kmh/62mph.

‘More space for less weight’
“Our initial goal in utilising this build process was to achieve a greater capacity vehicle in the 5 tonne and 7.2 tonne vehicle categories,” continued Danny. “The CM body has allowed us to increase capacity to 24 passengers on Sprinter 5 tonne and 35 passengers on Iveco 7.2 tonne, which gives us a very competitive solution for operators, schools and councils looking for maximum capacity, without the need to move to a 10 tonne+ solution.”

Unveiling its new product, EVM highlighted that weight management is crucial in minibus building, and especially so when considering electric drivelines as the additional weight of batteries eats into the payload available, with direct consequences for capacity and profitability. “Our customers need to transfer to zero-emission but do not want to sacrifice capacity to achieve this,” said Danny. “Our only alternative is to make our conversion as light as possible and the CM body is the foundation of our path forward in this arena. The weight savings really begin to increase when we move to the 7.2 tonne chassis, allowing us take the capacity to a class leading 35 passengers.”

EVM explained that the build process for the CM allows for targeted structural integrity with key structures supported where they are required whilst maximising the weight savings where they are not. “We have the ability to build all routings for electrical, airflow and structural channels into the body design,” continued Danny. “Once completed at design stage, it delivers a fully prepared body with mounting for lifts etc already prepared for.”

The structural components are laser cut from a cloud of data, which EVM says ensures a perfect fit, first time, every time, with every seam pre-treated prior to assembly to ensure the body is completely corrosion-proof. Doors and access points are double sealed with stainless steel hinges to provide both reliability and thermal integrity.

EVM highlighted that the multiple extruded RTM and GRP layers help isolate the saloon from exterior noise, and with 121mm of insulation in the floor, and 53.5mm in the walls and roof, the saloon also becomes easier to heat and cool.

“Thermal efficiency is now more important than ever for us with the transition to 100% BEV,” said Peter. “Raising or lowering the saloon temperature throughout the year is an energy sink that we have to manage as tightly as possible when range is still critical to our end user, so the composite body gives is a quantum leap forward in energy efficiency, requiring less power to run heating or air conditioning.”

With an increased requirement to supply via tender and framework awards, EVM acknowledges that the CM looks far more attractive on paper than in the flesh. “This is a solution built to win tenders,” said Peter. “While the obvious USPs of strength, thermal and acoustic efficiencies and 100% recyclability are somewhat obvious, the benefits it brings to the delivery timescales are probably not as obvious! The unique synergies allowed by the build process mean we can have bodies prepared and ready to fit at short notice allowing us an unbeatable delivery timescale to our customers.”

EVM also believes that the CM body brings a new dynamic to the term ‘whole life cost.’ In the ambulance industry, the authority buys the ambulance body and leases the chassis, the company explained, because the lifespan of the body is far beyond the lifespan of the chassis by a factor of four or five times. Once the chassis reaches its normal end of life, the body can be removed from the chassis and transferred on to the next generation of chassis, be that Euro VI, hybrid or fully electric, meaning that the customer is only paying for the lease of the new chassis and the cost of transferring the body. This saving results in a much lower whole life cost.

“On top of the savings in whole life cost, it also gives the operator a chance to commit to Euro VI diesel today but the opportunity to transfer to fully electric in five years’ time without the additional cost of replacing the whole vehicle,” added Danny. “It gives our customers a transition path they can commit to and achieve in line with government requirements for zero emissions.”

With an optimal two plus two arrangement in the saloon and varying lengths achieving capacities from 16 all the way to 35 seats, EVM is confident that its CM body gives great flexibility in seating arrangements to suit even the most of obscure requirements.

“Our goal is to have a solution that can be configured to suit any arrangement the operator desires,” added David O’ Leary, EVMs newest member of the team covering the south of the country. “With the CM, we can give our customers infinite flexibility, but without having to compromise as you would in a van conversion, while still being as light and nimble as a delivery van.”

“The narrow and compact footprint of the finished vehicle is key for accessing narrow urban routes in the modern working environment for accessible and school vehicles,” added Lorna Miller, EVM’s Sales Manager for the North and Scotland. “Feedback from fleet managers tells us they want an all-round solution with a sturdy build, easy to maintain vehicle, and now we have it.”

EVM also believes its CM body wins on ease of maintenance and repair: “The development of the CM body involved consideration for its complete life cycle, from initial design concept, through build methodologies and of course its life in service and ending with its 100% recyclability,” recounted Lead Design Engineer Cosimo Facecchia. “We designed every element of the vehicle for ease of maintenance and repair, from the easily configurable and removable lower panels for access to ancillaries like wheelchair lift pumps and spare wheel carrier, to panel repair and replacement in the event of an accident.”

The CM body comes with a minimum five year warranty, extending up to seven years depending on configuration. At the end of its life, the body is completely recyclable, and can be ground down and re-used in the transport or building industries. “Our customers now have to make commitments about the choices they make when purchasing their new vehicles,” said Peter. “Every operator or council has commitments to sustainability and recyclability that they are measured on. They share this responsibility with us, the suppliers, through their scoring in tendering.”

EVM expects to have demonstrator Euro VI Sprinter-based vehicles available in the coming weeks, followed by Iveco and an electric platform in the coming months.