Leading the charge in Wales

News stories are free to read. Click here for full access to all the features, articles and archive from only £8.99.
L-R: Scott Pearson and Ian Downie with the ex-demonstrator Yutong E12. JAMES DAY

With an ex-demonstrator Yutong E12 now a permanent fixture of the Newport Transport fleet and 14 more on the way, Newport Transport has put its zero emission ambitions on display for all. Scott Pearson from the operator, along with Ian Downie from Pelican Bus and Coach, speak to James Day about the new vehicles and future electric ambitions

Back in May, Newport Transport announced that it would be the first operator to take advantage of a scheme from Zenobe Energy designed to encourage the rollout of electric vehicles, and would be purchasing 15 electric Yutong E12 buses.

Are you enjoying this feature? Why not subscribe to continue reading?

Subscribe for 4 issues/weeks from only £2.99
Or login if you are already a subscriber

By subscribing you will benefit from:

  • Operator & Supplier Profiles
  • Face-to-Face Interviews
  • Lastest News
  • Test Drives and Reviews
  • Legal Updates
  • Route Focus
  • Industry Insider Opinions
  • Passenger Perspective
  • Vehicle Launches
  • and much more!
[/wlm_nonmember] [wlm_ismember]

The first of these vehicles is a 66-plate ex-demonstrator, which the operator has now purchased from Pelican Engineering. It is not the first time this bus has served Newport. As a demonstrator, it was used in service by Newport Transport for around five weeks, starting in November 2018.

Shortly after the vehicle returned to the municipally-owned operator, I had the opportunity to sit down with Newport Transport Managing Director, Scott Pearson, along with Ian Downie, Head of Yutong Bus UK at Pelican Bus and Coach, to discuss what the fleet means for Newport.

The demonstrator returns

A new livery has been applied to promote the zero-emission bus. JAMES DAY

Scott explained: “We purchased the demonstrator because we’ve got a six month lead time on the rest of the fleet and I wanted to show our shareholder and customers what we could do sooner.

“In partnership with Zenobe, Yutong and Pelican, we’ve got the vehicle fully refurbished by Bus & Coach World in Lancashire. It has been given new wood-effect flooring, new seat coverings, destination displays and an external repaint, with the vinyl applied by Pennine Signs. It has taken a strong joint venture to get this all organised, with the desire to get something on the road quickly.

“A further 14 brand new buses are arriving at the tail end of February and March. All of those buses will also be Yutong E12s and will arrive by boat in Bristol.”

During the demonstrator’s previous session with Newport Transport, 94% of customers asked said they were satisfied with the vehicle. Scott said this is unusually high for a demonstrator bus, with many of the previous demonstrators trialled by Newport Transport scoring between 70% and 80%.

“We measured passenger reaction to the ride quality, seating and the overall travel experience on board. Since it has been back with us, we’ve used it on the road for some launches and it is due to go back out into service the following week.”

The bulk of the electric infrastructure required by the electric fleet is expected to be in place by Christmas. Until then, the operator is using a temporary mobile charging system supplied by Pelican.

Ian added: “We have a charger we use for demonstration, which will now be provided to Newport. This is not a diesel generator – it gets its power straight from the grid.”

The specification of the Yutong E12 fleet includes separate driver and passenger air-conditioning systems, Esteban lightweight seats with E-leather covering, WiFi and USB charging points.

Choosing a proven product

The display in the dash provides information on the current status of the battery. JAMES DAY

Asked how the deal with Pelican came about, Scott explained: “I was contacted by Ian through Linkedin, and he told me about the partnership idea. I initially saw it as just another sales pitch and passed it on to my operations director, but it became apparent to him quickly that there was an opportunity to look at a genuinely true partnership to bring in electric vehicles. There was also the potential for us to prove the concept for other operators to follow.

“Why Chinese buses? While the UK has been developing electric buses for a few years, as a small business we can’t afford to take risks on something not proven over five or 10 years or more. The Chinese Yutong model has been around for 15-20 years. It has been well tested.”

Ian noted that Yutong has delivered 93,467 electric coaches and buses worldwide (at the time of reporting). Its factory produces 370 electric vehicles per day, more than the entire in-service UK-wide fleet of 300 electric coaches and buses as it stands today.

“Some of the electric Yutongs have been in service since 1999, so it’s a tried, tested and proven product under numerous different operating conditions,” Ian said.

Scott continued: “We took a trip out and within an hour of being in the factory, any doubts I had about whether we had made the right decision were put to rest. The research and development facility and experiencing the way Yutong constructs the buses reinforced what I felt. It is a very impressive facility.”

Ian added: “We take people out to China to see the factory because it demonstrates the economies of scale at Yutong. This allows the company to invest in ways other manufacturers can’t.

“Yutong is not a truck or battery manufacturer which has moved into buses, it is a bus manufacturer. We manufacture diesel, electric, hydrogen, gas and hybrid coaches and buses for 137 different countries around the world.

“The feedback we’ve had across our whole of demonstration programme is the electric drive is just one aspect. Yes it’s a zero emission vehicle with no diesel heating – but operators were also impressed by the construction of the whole vehicle. When you have an electric vehicle, you’ve got no place to hide rattles or vibrations because the vehicle is so quiet – they will be heard. Construction of the product is actually very tight. That gives a good impression to the operator’s customers.”

Enabling the investment

The 12-metre vehicle is the first of its kind to be sold in the UK. JAMES DAY

Zenobe Energy is equally important to the success of the partnership. Scott said that Newport Transport could not afford to pay for the full vehicle, including batteries which may need replacing after several years, without Zenobe’s involvement.

“Through this partnership, we buy the vehicle for the same price we would buy a normal bus,” Scott said. “The batteries and supply of the power comes through Zenobe Energy. That takes away all my concerns about battery life and quality and infrastructure cost. I pay an annual lease on the batteries and a reduced price on the supply as well.

“Zenobe puts a battery farm on site, a charging point for vehicles and uses the grid to import and export power.

“To add to that, we have 214 solar panels on the roof, which feed directly into the battery farm. The reason why it is 214 solar panels is because that was dictated by the size of our connection six years ago – it couldn’t handle more than that. With the battery farm option, there is the potential for a solar panel on every part of our roof because the power can feed straight into the battery farm.

“We could put another 200-300 solar panels on the roof. This has the potential provide between 30 and 40% of our electric buses’ power from solar, even if our bus fleet was 75% electric – around 60 vehicles.

“Our solar panels power up the battery farm through the day. The battery farm then charges the vehicle overnight. The excess is sold back into the grid by Zenobe. The company’s profits allow it to then lower our electricity costs.

“It is one of the first genuinely true partnerships this industry has seen in the past 30 years.”

Scott said Newport Transport is looking into wind turbines as well, to try and get as much renewable energy as possible.

Ian commented: “In terms of the partnership, this is the first push-button solution in the UK, meaning it encompasses solar energy, vehicle funding, vehicle supply and charging infrastructure.

“Usually you’ll see a company buy a vehicle, then contact a separate utility company, who will then put in the installation without looking at the funding elements and so on.”

Scott added: “One of the main reasons for going electric is that it is scalable. The more electric buses I use, the cheaper each individual bus becomes. It is far better for us in the longer term for us as a small local authority-owned bus company.”

Zenobe comment
Steven Meersman, co-founder of Zenobe Energy, said: “We’re thrilled to be working with both Newport Transport and Yutong, in the UK’s first end-to-end partnership of its type. Newport Transport is paving the way for the rest of Wales, by being the first to roll out fully electric zero emission buses.

“Not only will the vehicles be more efficient, lowering costs for Newport Transport in the long-term, but they’ll also support the UK wide ambition to be carbon neutral by 2050.

“With Zenobe’s financing and infrastructure an option now for companies wishing to go electric with their transport fleets, we hope others will see how well this partnership model works – where Zenobe can both supply the batteries on the vehicle and the supporting infrastructure avoiding grid upgrades.”

Changing the bid

Some extra-wide seats are an unusual feature on the ex-demonstrator. JAMES DAY

Newport Transport has plans to acquire many more electric buses beyond the initial 15. Electric vehicles will be rolled out on services in Newport itself first, with the operator working towards electrifying all of its city routes.

“The first seven are going on services 28 and 29 to Cwmbran, because they go through two poor air quality areas,” Scott said. “That was where the bid for DfT funding was first made for.”

Funding from the Department for Transport (DfT) Ultra-Low Emission Bus Scheme triggered the investment from Newport Transport – indeed, it is the first operator in Wales to benefit from such funding – but Scott raised questions about what the funding would be used for.

“The DfT originally granted £800k of funding, but that was for just one bus with the vast majority going on infrastructure. We went back to the DfT as a partnership and said that this would be a waste of public money, and we had a better way.

“Our discussions resulted in the DfT increasing the funding offered to us to £1.342m, which pays for the first seven buses, while the batteries, power supplies and infrastructure go onto an operating lease. We as a partnership managed to convince them to do something different. The DfT have also become partners with the scheme, because they are effectively asking for data demonstrating that the vehicle is doing what it should, which I’m happy to provide.

“The government is keen, because the service plan carries on for the life of the vehicle. They won’t be converted to diesel when the battery no longer has the range.

“The second batch of seven buses are not funded through the DfT at all. It’s all through our partnership with Zenobe. The company set aside £120m for the bus industry to encourage uptake of electric vehicles, and therefore it can not only finance the battery on bus operating lease, but can also offer a full bus lease.”

Ian noted: “A lot of finance companies are moving away from capital assets across all industries. The funding opportunities become quite limited as a result. We all support the DfT’s contribution and long may that continue, because funding does help as a catalyst to enable operators to move towards low or zero-emission vehicles.”

Second life batteries

Newport Transport’s Leyland Titan PD2 beside the Yutong E12. JAMES DAY

Over the time since Newport Transport first trialled the E12 demonstrator, the vehicle on offer from Yutong has seen substantial development. The demonstrator has a 295kWh battery, but the battery available on new E12s had increased to 374kWh when Newport started discussing a vehicle order. The vehicles on the way will each have new 422kWh water-cooled batteries onboard, which keeps them at an optimum operating temperature. The warranty on the battery has also increased to eight years, having previously been five years and then seven years. It is expected that the battery will have 70% of its initial range after eight years of service.

Scott said: “From an operator’s point of view, my concern was that the batteries would go down to 80% of their initial range after six years, at which point we could not cover the routes.

“Zenobe Energy effectively own the batteries, and if the vehicle cannot reach the range promised at point of sale, it will need to provide a new set of batteries. The sweetener is that the replaced batteries don’t get chucked on a scrapheap. They have a second life in the battery farms where Zenobe can still use them.

Ian added: “On a bus with batteries, range is dictated by degradation and the energy efficiency of the vehicle itself, but when it goes onto battery storage, all it needs to do is store a certain amount of kilowatts and be able to dissipate that energy as quickly as possible. The battery can have a further three-six years of life after coming off the vehicle.”

Scott continued: “Currently, Zenobe is buying brand new batteries for its battery farms. In the long term, why would it want to do that when it can use second life batteries? Effectively, the more it is scaled up and the more batteries are coming off electric vehicles, the better it is for Zenobe’s scalability. It’s a win-win for everyone.”


The new vehicles on the way will use lightweight Esteban seats with ELeather covering. JAMES DAY

Ian claimed the vehicles have a range of 130 miles per day after eight years in service, with climate control systems in operation.

“The battery chemistry is not good enough yet for me to go elsewhere without more charging points,” Scott said. “With how fast it is changing, we’re confident that battery technology will improve enough for us to cover longer distances in the future.”

To help boost the range of the vehicles, Ian said his company is working with Zenobe to provide a pre-heating function, where in colder months the buses are heated in the depot before they go out in service.

“Vehicles require a lot of energy to heat, but once they are up to temperature, the energy required to maintain it is relatively low. The vehicles would be heated using grid power before being put into service.”

During testing of the demonstrator, which has been driven over 50,000km, the vehicle averaged between 1 and 1.1kWh of energy use per km. This is without using a diesel heater to extend the range, and includes different terrain across the length and breadth of UK.

Ian noted: “Because we are into long term partnerships rather than short term deals, we will always discuss with the customer what their route and application is and we’ll talk about what is achievable with that vehicle in the seventh year as opposed to the first. We would rather overachieve than underperform.

“We can’t guarantee this range, but Zenobe can with its battery lease arrangement.”

Running cost reduction
Scott said he expects to see a 33% reduction in maintenance and operating costs from the electric buses. This is due to a massive reduction in diesel along with a lesser cost per mile of electricity as a power source rather than fuel.

“We think the 14 new buses will enable us to continue to scale up, to get as much of the fleet electrified as possible in the next seven years,” he said. “The vehicles operate without the use of AdBlue, have no gearbox, engine, oils, filters and no major vibrations or chassis issues. The maintenance saving is massive. The challenge for us is to recruit a master tech for the vehicle, because there are not many electric bus master techs out there.”

Ian added: “We don’t dictate how we’re going to support the product to the operator. We discuss with them what their requirements are and work together to meet them.

“We will be working with Newport to train its staff to do the appropriate warranty and maintenance work.”

Ian also said an honest and open dialogue would be maintained, to identify any issues and concerns and decide what mitigation is required to de-risk the vehicles. “By working in partnership with Newport we can understand their position, our position and mitigate the risks,” he said.

Effective driving
The E12 does require a change in driving style, as Scott explained.

“We spent the last 50 years telling drivers to use engine braking up to junctions to maximise fuel use and not give the customer an uncomfortable ride. They’ve now got to change their whole attitude, as they need to brake smoothly up to junctions to regenerate the batteries.

“We’re currently writing a full training programme, and the demonstrator is going out with a select few trained drivers initially.”

Ian said: “WIth Yutong electric buses, regenerative braking only occurs when the driver starts to brake (gradually). The vehicle carries on as normal when the driver takes their foot off the brake – there isn’t the immediate engine braking you get in some other electric vehicles.

“This also helps to prevent pedal confusion, as in other vehicles the driver’s foot may naturally be hovering above the accelerator pedal instead of the brake when they approach a junction.

“Depending on conditions, we expect 20-40% energy recuperation from regenerative braking.”

“Drivers absolutely love the E12,” Scott noted. “It’s vastly important that they enjoy driving something they have to sit behind the wheel of for four or five hours at a time.”

Future vehicles
While electric vehicles are the current focus at Newport Transport, this could change in the future.

“One of the reasons why we went with Yutong is it is offering a whole range of vehicles,” Scott said. “If I have any questions I can pick the phone up and get answers.

“Where will Newport be in the next five to 10 years? I don’t know, but we will take the most efficient and environmentally friendly avenue for our customers. My board is 110% behind the company moving the fleet towards the most environmentally friendly mode of power we can find.”
Ian commented: “Our position at Yutong is not that electric is the only answer. We still believe diesel Euro VI is a very fine engine. We’re developing diesel, electric and fuel cell vehicles.

“We’re the world’s largest coach and bus manufacturer and have been for eight consecutive years. Our market share last year was 15%. In China, we’ve been market leader for 15 years, with a 32% market share last year. The company is well prepared for the future.”

Authority support
Scott also wanted to highlight the fact that Newport City Council has been very supportive of the project.

He said: “We’ve had meetings with them as the shareholder to talk about their concerns, and they’ve really got onboard. They recognise the importance of the environmental challenges they have, bearing in mind that the Welsh Government has declared climate emergency in Wales.

“Newport is leading the way so far.”