Second wind

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Baumot can significantly extend the life of Euro V vehicles with its range of exhaust retrofit systems. Peter Jackson spoke to one of the firm’s directors to learn more about its history, current offering and future plans

As the battle to clean up the nation’s air continues, no one solution is emerging as the obvious way forward when it comes to coaches and buses. Sure, electric buses are gathering momentum and the technology is improving at a rapid rate, but their range (or lack thereof) and significant charging times mean they’re not perfectly suited for every application – least of all touring coaches. Hydrogen and biogas have their merits too, but bring with them significant costs in terms of infrastructure.

In the midst of all this talk of zero-emission vehicles, it’s easy to forget just how clean Euro VI diesel coaches and buses are; Euro VI diesel buses emit on average 10 times less NOx per passenger/km than a Euro 6 diesel car, according to Go-Ahead subsidiary Unilink.

This is where retrofits come in. There are hundreds of Euro V vehicles out there that may be in excellent shape visually and mechanically, but simply don’t meet the criteria for Euro VI. Companies like Baumot, however, can develop and install systems to clean up older vehicles so that they’re every bit as environmentally-friendly as the latest showroom-fresh models – and for a much lower price.

Baumot’s Silverstone head office

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Specialists in coach and bus

David Hobbs is Director of Sales and Service at Baumot UK, a subsidiary of the German firm Baumot AG. I began by asking him a little bit about his background and the company’s history. “Baumot established a foothold in the UK in 2008 and has been at the Silverstone head office since 2017, mainly to cater for the growth of retrofits in the bus market as Euro VI was introduced,” he began.

“There was a huge amount of government funding available for that, so Baumot AG – the parent company based in Germany – decided to establish a firm foothold in the UK as opposed to selling through distributors or agents.

“That meant we then had a development centre. It was geared up for various different types of vehicles but mainly focused on the bus market to start with, as that’s where the majority of the funding was at the time.

“A team of development engineers were set up with a project manager and an MD from Germany to oversee that. I joined the company in April of 2018; I’d done some consultancy work for them for the previous three months, but was then asked to join full time alongside another colleague who’d also been working behind the scenes. I joined to head up the sales department and develop the service department as well.

Nottingham City Transport used Baumot systems to breathe new life into some of its older vehicles. PETER JACKSON

“I’d worked in the bus industry for quite a few years previously, and my colleague Alan Martin had worked for Scania as a project manager for around 17 years following time at Volvo and Leyland – there’s quite a wealth of industry knowledge in the company now. Having that market knowledge is at least half the battle, because if you know what you’re dealing with you can adapt and fine tune your products. For example, bus products won’t just work in trucks, even if the engine is the same; yes some things will transfer across, but it’s a completely different duty cycle and environment.

“Last year, Baumot AG decided it wanted a dedicated UK management team, which led to me taking up the role of Sales and Service Director.”

Branching out

Since David joined the firm, the company has been busy working on a raft of new vehicle applications. “2017 and 2018 was purely development really,” he said. “We focused on a wide range of bus applications – including Cummins and Scania engines – and developed retrofit systems for the different vehicles which use those engines. During 2018, we got orders from various customer bases; that has continued, and we’ve grown as a company ever since.

“From last year we started to focus more on the coach market, developing a range of new applications. We’re still installing a fair range of bus products, but we’ve been adapting them for use in coaches. First was Scania’s DC09, and then we did the Volvo DH12 and DAF PR engines. We’re planning to continue to applicate for different coach engines, albeit delayed due to Covid.

“We’re also looking to the light commercial market now; our parent company in Germany has done systems for cars and light commercial vehicles (i.e. vans and minibuses) as there’s more of a support scheme in place over there for them. There’s a crossover between some car and minibus engines; for example, a Mercedes-Benz E-Class can use the same engine as a Sprinter. So we can use the systems they’ve developed for some cars to produce minibus retrofits, and put them through the UK testing cycles in order to get approval for them.

“The business has grown organically in that we’re reinvesting in our own products rather than taking support from the parent company as we had to at the beginning – we’re pretty much left alone to look after our own market. There are a number of different sectors we cater for, it’s just a case of deciding which one to focus on. That’s dictated by things like low-emission zones and government grants – the more things become confirmed and we know for sure what’s happening, the easier it is to plan ahead. Like any business, sometimes you have to take a bit of a risk and develop something instead of waiting for customers to come along – it doesn’t really happen like that nowadays.

“Our parent company over in Germany provides the main filter components that we use in our systems, but the average retrofit comprises 300-500 parts and 95% are manufactured for us here in the UK. So we are pretty much a standalone business. We always aim to source as much from the UK as possible, because it gives us so much more flexibility. Previously, things like the metal surround for the filters and the insulation was manufactured in Europe, but now it’s all UK-based; the surrounds are made 20 minutes away from our base in Silverstone.”

An involved process

I asked David to talk through the process of developing a new retrofit system from scratch. “If we get a new vehicle type in that we haven’t done before,” he began, “the first thing we tend to do is data log the vehicle. We’ll put some electronic measuring equipment on, and we’ll drive it on a cycle to see what temperatures the vehicle reaches and obtain as much information about the engine as possible.

“We’ll then take the original exhaust out and look at how much space we have to play with in the engine bay. The next step depends on how long we can keep the vehicle for. If possible, we prefer to keep it for 4-6 weeks, but if that’s not possible we can give the vehicle back after 10 days. In that instance, we can scan the engine bay to give us our space envelope, but otherwise we’ll produce a prototype system with no filters.

“After we know how much room we have to play with, we begin designing the components. A fair amount of them are generic from system to system (like the pump and electronic control box). We would then install the prototype system complete with all of the electronics and harnesses etc, before testing it to see how our system performs and what affect it has on the vehicle. At this stage we also check to make sure our electronics integrate with the OEM systems so there aren’t any warning lights on the dash.

“Providing that all works out, we then make a second system. The prototype system can either then stay in the vehicle or we can re-fit the original, depending on the customer’s wishes. After that, the testing phase begins to get the system certified, which normally takes a day or two once everything is set up. In a perfect scenario, it normally takes us about 10 days to do the prep work, 3-4 weeks to produce the prototype system, and then it’s a case of booking a slot at Millbrook. Lately that has been easier, so a system for a new vehicle can typically be turned around in a 12-week period. It rarely goes that smoothly though because you always have challenges along the way!

The electronic interface is probably the most difficult part of it.

“We have to integrate our systems into the vehicle but without making any major changes to it. We tend to run it in parallel, so our electronics work alongside the OEM systems without interfering too much with it – but our system has to ‘talk’ to the OEM electronics and engine management. The OE engine and ECU are looking for certain parameters to keep it running correctly; if the ECU doesn’t see them, it’ll shut down the engine. So it’s not just the challenge of making an exhaust retrofit that will fit inside the engine bay, it’s about making sure it works with the vehicle’s OEM electronics.

“Different engines, whether it be a Scania, Cummins, Volvo etc, all have different quirks and different requirements too. The exhaust system components can be similar between different vehicles (although the layout will change considerably) but it’s on the electronics side where things really differ.”

The firm can carry out installations of its systems at operators’ depots

Future developments

What does the future hold for Baumot? As most companies would say, that is hard to predict in these strange times, but David remains optimistic that demand will bounce back in the coming months: “When it comes to buses, we’re on a finite timescale; there are only so many Euro V buses left that will be converted to Euro VI,” he said. “That may go on for another 18 months or two years maybe, it’s hard to say. We do have more clean air zones coming in (like Sheffield, Bristol and Birmingham) which should hopefully accelerate things, but we’re going to try and grow the business to focus on other sectors as bus retrofits won’t continue forever. Although the coach sector is being hit very hard at the moment, it will come back at some point, and we also have light commercial vehicles to focus on.

“Like a lot of other businesses, we stopped around the end of March for about two months, but we’ve had no cancelled orders. We started back towards the end of May and beginning of June at our Silverstone facility; because operators had a lot of vehicles parked up, there wasn’t always space in their depots for us to do the work, so we began installations on our own premises instead to meet social distancing guidelines. Things are ramping up more now, and we expect we’ll be nearing 100% again by the end of the year.

“Enquiries have been positive; there have still been some healthy enquiries from potential new markets. We’ve had a fair bit of interest from the light commercial and coach sectors lately as well, with people wanting to know what new applications we’re working on. Since the start of July, enquiries from the bus side have been picking up again too, especially after the Scottish government announced £9m more funding for retrofits.

“Planning longer-term is difficult at the moment, because nobody knows for sure what’s going to happen. We’re currently making quarterly forecasts, but they’re changing monthly as well! But it’s clearly apparent that the clean air ‘project’ in the UK is ongoing, so the demand should remain reasonably high. With that in mind, we’re reasonably confident that the business will come back to the levels it was at before; when it comes back is difficult to predict. From the conversations I’ve had with operators, they’re all really in the same mindset – they don’t know what’s going to happen either.”

In terms of applications, Baumot has plenty more up its sleeve for the remainder of 2020: “On bus, we’ve pretty much got the applications that we’re comfortable with; unless there’s all of a sudden demand for something else, we probably won’t develop any more bus applications,” David explained. “We’ve got three coach models at the moment and we’re working on three others: a system for Scania’s 13-litre engine, the DC13, one for the Volvo D11K, and we’ve begun working on one for an MAN engine as well. We expect all three of these to be done before winter.

“The coach market has obviously not been supported through the pandemic like the bus market has, so it’s not been easy for operators to commit to ordering systems. We are working with some of the dealers though – including Scania – retrofitting some of their Euro V stock to increase its value. We’ve got one of their Irizar coaches in at the moment having a system fitted; we have a working relationship with Scania. We also have had discussions with Volvo, and we’ve taken one of their stock coaches to develop a system for.

“Besides bus and coach, our next steps are to look at the light commercial and truck markets, as well as taxis. The VW Transporter/Crafter would be high on our list, especially as they’re popular in the leisure sector too with motorhome conversions – people tend to keep those vehicles a lot longer than panel vans. We’ve been having some conversations with local authorities about retrofitting community transport minibuses as well.”

Baumot works with dealers – such as Volvo – to retrofit used stock and increase its value. ANDY IZATT