The UK’s first electric coach driven

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The very first fully-electric coach in the UK has arrived, the Yutong TCe12. Richard Sharman visited Pelican Bus and Coach to go over this important new coach with a fine-tooth comb and put it through its paces around West Yorkshire

The coach and bus industry is currently facing huge decisions on future vehicle purchasing plans due to vehicle emissions being such a talking point at the moment.

electric coach
The exterior styling of the TCe12 is similar in appearance to the popular TC9, which has sold well in the UK. RICHARD SHARMAN

In the main, it is only really the bus side of the industry that has been provided with multiple fuel options, such as biogas, hydrogen and of course fully-electric.

Coach operators have not had many choices other than to opt for Euro VI, an option that already takes the purchase price of a new coach beyond £200,000.

But there is now another option: the first fully electric coach for the UK market is now available to purchase through Pelican Bus and Coach.
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Yutong
Before you read this test of the TCe12, there are some facts you need to know about Yutong. In 2017 Yutong produced 67,268 vehicles for the global market; the next closest was Daimler with 28,676. In 2019, the full bus range numbers over 140 different models for different applications across the globe.

That huge volume of vehicles is produced in Zhengzhou, Henan, China. It is where the world’s largest purpose-built bus manufacturing plant is located, producing more than 300 vehicles a day. Each vehicle goes through 100 work stations whilst being produced; once the vehicle is completed it then undergoes an 18-mile road test on Yutong’s test track.

In terms of electric vehicles, the TCe12 may be new in the UK, but Yutong has produced over 90,000 fully electric vehicles so far. So it is fair to say that the technology is tried and tested. The TCe12 also uses the same motor and batteries as the E10 and E12 city buses in the current UK range.

First impressions

The cab area is ergonomic and all around vision is excellent. RICHARD SHARMAN

Having already driven the E10 electric bus some months ago, and been thoroughly impressed with it, I had eagerly awaited the delivery of the TCe12 since the order for Westway was announced.

I already knew that the E10 was a capable electric bus, but could that same technology be just as well applied to a coach for the UK market?

I was greeted by Bob Elliott, Sales Manager of Pelican Bus and Coach on my arrival at Castleford. The last time I saw Bob was when we took the GT12 coach for a test drive, that road test ending up with vehicle photographs being taken next to a Christmas tree made of pallets. Given it was only August, there was no chance of that on this occasion, so photographs on a sunny heath area would have to do!

The TCe12 was parked in the showroom on arrival. On first sight, the gleaming gold paintwork was much brighter than I had expected. It gives a feeling that this is something special – and it is, this is only the second TCe12 to be produced and imported to the UK. The first production model for the UK is already with Westway Coach Services in London.

On first examination, the panel fit and paintwork finish is excellent and despite the TCe12 being a low-height coach at 3,400mm, it still has a great presence about it. The gold paintwork does set off the dark-tinted saloon windows very well.

Exterior styling
Whilst the TCe12 may share a similar DNA with the GT12, putting them side by side once the TCe12 was reversed out of the showroom showed that it had more in common styling-wise with the smaller TC9 offering from Yutong.

This is not a bad thing; whilst the GT12 is a futuristic, rugged-looking coach, the TC9 and TCe12 offer a softer-styled, almost smiling looking coach. The TCe12 has an integral steel monocoque body.

The headlights on the TCe12 are large and well-styled, with a chrome-effect strip separating them. The daytime running lights are separate and feature five round high-output LED lights on each side under the headlights. Front fog lights are standard, as they should be on all coaches.

The front of the vehicle has four panels. Two corner panels, which can be quickly unbolted and replaced should accident damage occur, a centre panel with a recess for the number plate and an opening panel above the chrome-effect strip allowing easy access to the sequential sweep windscreen wiper motor and demister unit.

The heated, electrically adjustable Mekra mirror arms may look long, but in practice, they are fine for the 12,365mm length. Disappointingly, the orange trim on the mirror housing does not light up; it is just there for show.

Moving to the side of the coach and it is fair to say that it has a good quality appearance, although the TCe12 is practical and not over-styled. I guess a UK comparison would be the Plaxton Leopard. The sides of the TCe12 are straight from the roofline down to the lockers, with the only styling cues being the flared wheel arches and the louvered air vents built into the lockers where batteries are situated to keep them cool.

As you would expect, locker space is quite limited on the TCe12 as the batteries have got to go somewhere. There are seven LHP (Lithium Iron Phosphate) battery packs in total, with a combined capacity of 258kWh. These are stored in modular packs, meaning they can be easily upgraded later in life if technology advances. These batteries are mainly located at the rear of the coach, with some ahead of the rear axle and some mounted on the roof, combining that space with the air-conditioning unit.

The first two hinged locker doors on each side, plus the fourth locker back on the offside have a combined capacity of 200kg. Bearing in mind that this is a low height vehicle, it is not that bad. There is only one small locker’s width of space occupied by the battery cells, as where the fourth locker door would be on the near side is occupied by the twin-leaf outward opening exit doors.

The centre doors on the near side of the coach give the TCe12 an almost European look about it. The centre door steps will also contain a wheelchair lift once Westway Coach Services has decided on a supplier. Once fitted, the operator will then be able to remove a section of the floor and two rows of seats opposite the door to allow wheelchair passengers to travel.

The rear styling will make you think ‘where have I seen those rear light clusters before,’ as they remind me of the old Neoplan styling, which is no bad thing. The asymmetric rear window is deep, but half of that glass area features the black frit area (masking). The black painted area above the rear window contains the high-level light clusters and the reversing camera, which is linked to a dash-mounted monitor.

The rear has three lower panels; the centre panel is also fitted with a blanking plate, allowing a tow bar to be fitted. Again, the rear styling resembles a European-style vehicle. The vehicle tested is to be fitted with destination equipment before entering service.

Interior quality

electric coach
The interior is well put together and has a high quality feel about it. RICHARD SHARMAN

As we know from the GT12 touring coach, Yutong can produce European-standard quality, and the TCe12 is no exception.

Boarding the coach through the wide entry area requires four steps up to the saloon floor; all are shallow and boarding is made easy by a grab rail mounted to the side of the dashboard. Dark grain laminate-style flooring has been specified for this Westway vehicle, which certainly brings a high-quality feel to the vehicle as you board.

The platform of the TCe12 is large and uncluttered; the courier seat is set well back. Stepping up to the saloon of the vehicle and you are greeted by a nice mix of tan and cream leather trim on the seating, contrasting with the cream roof and luggage racks. The full-draw dark red curtains set these colours off nicely.

The luggage racks are high-quality and solidly built with multiple securing arms. Passenger service units are of equal quality with large white LED reading lights, a passenger service button and a speaker.

Seating capacity on the production vehicles is higher than expected. This vehicle had 49 passenger seats plus courier and driver seats. The passenger seating had yet to be spaced, and Westway will be doing that to suit their own needs. Due to the legal weight limit of 11,500kg on the rear axle in the UK, this would be the maximum seating capacity of the TCe12 due to the electric coachcombined weight of the electric motor and batteries being more than a standard engine and gearbox.

The same model in France is able to carry 59 passengers, as the rear axle weight limit is greater at 13,000kgs. Over 50 TCe12s have been in service in Paris during the last two years.

The Yutong YTF 032 seats fitted are full leather and very comfortable. All seats have USB charging points, armrests, three-point seatbelts and can recline.

Air-conditioning is provided by a Yutong independent roof-mounted heating and cooling system. It has a cooling capacity of 3,200 Kcal/h. Additionally, four floor-level 2.5 kWh independent heaters are fitted in the saloon.

The only two observations I have about the interior is that the cream textured plastic roof panel may prove hard to clean in the future, and may look better with a smooth finish.

The second is the repeat brake light that is mounted to the lower half of the interior window frame with three brackets and the wires on view to the passengers seated at the rear. This could be better designed on future vehicles, maybe with a cover so that the brackets and wires cannot be seen.

Other than those points, this is a high-quality interior with great build quality.

First drive
The time had come to take to the TCe12 out on the road to see how it performed, although the first task was for Bob to talk me through the controls on the dashboard. Many of the controls are the same as a standard coach but starting the TCe12 is not. As with many coaches these days, it has keyless ignition and will start as long as the fob is in range.

There is a push button to start and stop the ignition mounted forward of the handbrake. To start the vehicle you need to press the button once so that it shows an orange light, which initiates the ignition – there is no master switch.

To allow the vehicle to engage drive you need to press the start button again; a green light will then show, the vehicle’s systems then initiate and the dash binnacle comes to life, showing a digital display of the speedo to the left and the power level to the right.

The exit doors are wide and also rattle-free whilst the vehicle is in motion. RICHARD SHARMAN

The vehicle remains silent once ready to go unless the air-conditioning is operational. The drive selector is quite unconventional looking, consisting of four buttons. As you would expect it has the normal drive, neutral and reverse buttons, but it also has a button marked L. We will get to that that later.

The dashboard layout is ergonomic and vision of the dash binnacle is perfect. The Yutong sound system, air-conditioning, HSAE monitor for the centre doors and rear camera, demister unit and powered driver’s blinds are mounted to the left of the dashboard.

To the right are the interior and exterior lighting controls, fire suppression system status display and the suspension controls. Under the cab window is the drive selector, handbrake and no fewer than four charging points. The door controls are also mounted here, but the same button opens and closes each door, so only two buttons are required.

Mounted on the adjustable steering column are the indicators and wipers on the stalk to the left, whilst on the right is the stalk for the retarder; using this instead of the brakes allows greater regeneration of the vehicle’s batteries.

The steering wheel is comfortable in use and is multi-functional. The controls to the left allow you to scroll through the dash binnacle screen, of which there are many different screens that feed the driver a multitude of information about the vehicle and its systems. A loud horn is activated from the centre of the steering wheel.

As I get ready to depart Pelican, I notice that so far this vehicle had only covered 216 miles since leaving the factory. That mileage is due to the 18-mile road test it receives from the factory and then the drive to the port to board the ferry. The vehicle arrives in the UK at Bristol and is then driven to Pelican.

Sitting in the Isri black leather driving seat (which goes a long way back for tall drivers!), all-around vision is perfect and the mirrors are well placed. The interior mirror is also well located.

Ready for the off and Drive is engaged; taking the handbrake off the vehicle held perfectly still. As I pull away the acceleration is smooth, the ZF steering light, and the noise? Well, there is no noise apart from the tyres on the tarmac at this low speed.

As I exited the business park I felt immediately at home in the TCe12, but one thing you do have to watch on the first drive is your speed. Before you know it, and with no effort, you are already at 30mph! As I approached the awful twin roundabout at Junction 31 of the M62 braking was smooth.

electric coach

I have an HGV and a BMW to either side of me and as the lights turn green I accelerate in the normal fashion as if I were driving a diesel. Once again that acceleration comes quickly, much to the disappointment of the non-indicating BMW driver! So just a few minutes into the drive I am now aware that the TCe12 does not need to be driven like a diesel, a light press on the accelerator is all that is required to reach 30mph.

The plan is to head towards Doncaster on the A roads. Whilst departing the Castleford area many roundabouts needed to be taken before reaching the open road. The road holding proved to be very good, the ZF steering being light and responsive.

As I climb the hill out of Castleford the TCe12 is managing 46 mph, even with the air-conditioning on full and all interior and exterior lighting turned on to simulate real-world conditions.

Dropping down the hill towards Agbrigg I took a sharp right-hand turn towards Heath Common, the location where the vehicle photos would be taken. This required full use of the steering lock, which luckily is plentiful on the TCe12.

Once on the common, some reversing manoeuvres were undertaken to position the TCe12 in the sun. Again, the acceleration is precise, only requiring a very slight press to get it to move.

The only conventional equipment fitted in the power bay of the TCe12 is the coolant and radiator to the left to keep the electric motor cool. Any high voltage cables are coloured orange; the main ECU is the silver unit. RICHARD SHARMAN

Photographs successfully taken and it is back out on the road again. Heading towards Doncaster the TCe12 continued to be quiet, at higher speeds there is some very minimal noise from the rear-mounted Yutong drive motor which is rated at 350 kW and produces 2,400 Nm of torque. The interior fittings are completely silent, with not one rattle during the two hours out with it.

A feature to assist the driver whilst on the move is a coloured band system built into the right of the dash binnacle. Keeping this in the green ensures that you are using the least power from the batteries whilst using the accelerator. Keeping your foot flat to the floor results in the band showing red on the crystal clear digital display, which is to be avoided if you want to use your battery power over a longer period.

Another way of increasing the range of the vehicle is to use the retarder mounted on a stalk to the right of the steering column, which can increase the range by up to 40%.

Of particular note whilst on the test drive was the Yutong air-conditioning system fitted. It was a very warm day, around 26 degrees by the time it had reached midday. I set the digital display to a cool 15 degrees and had the fan set on high; this temperature was quickly achieved even at the front of the vehicle. An impressive and effective system.

Before returning to Pelican, it was time to take the TCe12 out on to the M62 to see how it performed there. Needless to say that the 100 km/h was effortlessly achieved and that it easily kept up with the flow of traffic. The only noise that can be heard is the road noise from the tyres. The TCe12 also comes with cruise control which I tried out on the M62, which worked as well as if it were a diesel-powered vehicle.

Returning to Pelican the TCe12 had managed to retain 83% of its charge after two hours of running with all electrical systems operative and at full speed for some 25 minutes of the test. 35 miles were driven, with some of those stuck in traffic near Doncaster.

Whilst parked on a clear stretch of road, it was time to find out what the button labelled L that would normally be in the gear selector control unit does. Pressing L and pressing the accelerator fully down, the TCe12 springs into life and rapidly reaches 18mph, which is where it stays. The function is for use in the city or traffic to limit the vehicle’s speed. Ideal for use in London.

Purchase cost

The charging point of the TCe12 is on the offside corner of the vehicle; to the right is one of the battery packs. RICHARD SHARMAN

The TCe12 as tested costs £305,000 and has a fully charged range of 200 miles, with an additional 40% with the regenerative braking. To put that cost into perspective, it is £80,000 more expensive than the diesel-engined GT12 touring coach.

However, the savings on fuel costs would eventually make that additional cost worth it. The only other thing to factor in is that you also need to purchase the charging equipment, the cost of which is £19,500 for the four-hour 60kW DC charger unit, or £35,000+VAT for the quicker two and a half hour 120kW charger. Both units are capable of charging two vehicles at once. These are the options available from Yutong, but the TCe12 can also be charged from any DC charger with a CCS2 charger connector. Many local authorities are looking into providing this type of charging infrastructure.

The TCe12 comes with a whole vehicle warranty of 24 months, with the electric driveline coming in at 60 months. The driveline is maintenance-free, aside from a six hour connections check done every two years. That check will result in a maintenance saving through the life of the TCe12.
200 miles may not seem much of a range, but it is enough to be able to run day trips from London to destinations such as Oxford or Windsor Castle.

Other applications could include shuttle services, college or university contracts or use where there is a zero-emission zone in place. The TCe12 is not designed to be a direct replacement for a diesel coach. There is now an opening in the market from corporate companies, private schools and so on, that are willing to pay a premium for transporting their clients or students in a zero-emissions coach. Pelican have confirmed that all early credible enquiries are from operators looking to source a vehicle to operate that type of work.

Westway Coach Services ordered three Yutong TCe12s in total, whilst an unnamed Scottish coach operator also has one on order.
In summary, I was impressed by the Yutong TCe12; it can deliver zero emissions to the coach operators right now with tried and tested technology. You are also getting a high quality, well-built vehicle at a price which is not much more than a diesel coach.

Gallery

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