Volvo’s new global e-bus platform put to the test

News stories are free to read. Click here for full access to all the features, articles and archive from only £8.99.

The Volvo BZL is about to become a familiar sight around the UK as significant orders start to be delivered. Richard Sharman takes a look at the MCV-bodied single deck variant, which forms part of a 225-vehicle order for Stagecoach

When a global brand launches a brand new zero-emission electric bus that can be utilised in multiple markets, it is a milestone. We have seen hybrid Volvo buses on the streets of the UK and Ireland for many years in the the form of the B5LH and the integral 7900H single decker. The latest offering is the first fully zero-emission offering from the Swedish manufacturer, and one without an internal combustion engine (ICE) option, something that operators of all sizes have come to know and love since 1971 when Volvo, originally under the Ailsa Bus name, came to the UK. So in that sense, it has high expectations to uphold.

Quality, reliability, efficiency

The new e-bus was launched in September 2021, with operators and the press getting their first look at the bodied product in December of that year, in both double- and single-deck form, as the chassis has been designed to be fitted with both body types.

Talking at the time of the launch, President of Volvo Buses Anna Westerberg said: “We are committed to leading the transformation of our industry towards a more sustainable future. With the launch of the new Volvo BZL Electric, our ambition is to offer the world’s most responsible electric bus systems. We do it by focusing on sustainability, safety and reliability.

“With the new BZL Electric we offer a global platform for clean, silent, and energy-efficient public transport to meet the rising demand on important markets that are ready for the shift to electromobility. We have a lifecycle perspective and take responsibility for the environmental impact of our products, from the cradle to the grave. This means we ensure that materials, manufacturing, operation and recycling meet the highest environmental standards.”


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

Subscribe for 6 issues/weeks from only £6Or 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!

“The new Volvo BZL Electric is based on proven and successful technologies already implemented in Europe. All the chassis and driveline components have been developed and manufactured by Volvo. To safeguard the premium qualities of our buses we partner up with selected bodybuilders around the world,” added Dan Pettersson, Senior Vice President Business Unit Chassis of Volvo Buses.

“Through experience, we know that we need to work closely together with our customers and partners to be able to tailor electromobility solutions to each individual city. And through our worldwide service network and dedicated service teams, we can ensure the reliability and efficiency of our products and services even in the long-term perspective. It’s all about delivering zero unplanned downtime.”

As the first production examples start to be delivered, time will tell how well the new Volvo lives up to the early promises and the reputations of its predecessors.

Dan Barwick, Volvo’s Regional Sales Director – North. RICHARD SHARMAN

‘Renewable Energy Facility’

It is not just the bus which has been designed to be more environmentally friendly. The BZL chassis is manufactured in Borås, Sweden. This is where Volvo’s industrial hub for chassis production for its global markets is located, and is one of its first bus production facilities to rely solely on renewable energy for its operation, having been certified by Volvo as a ‘Renewable Energy Facility’ following a number of steps to minimise its climate footprint.

“We are of course very proud that we have reduced our climate impact by only using renewable sources and all the energy we purchase is fossil-free. The electricity comes from hydropower, our district heating is provided by biofuels, and the fork-lift trucks in the factory run on electricity or HVO, which is a renewable fuel,” according to Joakim Wretman, Production Manager at the Borås plant.

In recent years, the factory has also implemented a number of measures that together have cut energy consumption by 15%. “For instance, we have replaced conventional fluorescent bulbs with LED fittings and the manufacturing plant’s lighting is regulated automatically so it is only active during actual production. We also ensure that no electricity-consuming equipment remains switched on when it is not needed,” explained Joakim. “We have noted immense enthusiasm on the part of all our employees, and our local partner has contributed both know-how and practical solutions.”

The Borås factory is also participating in Autofreight, a project designed to reduce transportation between factories at the Viared Logistics Park in Borås and the Port of Gothenburg that Volvo said has already helped cut CO2 emissions by about 30%. In January 2022, the 200,000th Volvo chassis was produced at the site, which rather fittingly was a BZL e-bus chassis. Over 50 different chassis types have been made in Borås including some of the most popular models such as the B10M, B7R/B7RLE and the B11R.

The new BZL e-bus chassis has also been developed to be over 90% recyclable.

Stronger together

A benefit of the BZL chassis is that is can be bodied by a number of partner body manufacturers around the globe, and for the UK and Irish market, the bodywork on offer is by MCV, a long-standing Volvo partner, which has produced the bodywork for the EvoSeti double-decker, Evora single-decker and EvoTor coach, all of which have proved popular with both independent and group operators.

“From the very beginning the BZL was an integrated project between Volvo and MCV in the UK. They were involved very early on in the development of the chassis. It is not a case that we designed the chassis and gave it to MCV to body, they have been integral in this project and have built a body that operators want and to a high standard,” explained Richard Mann, Volvo’s Regional Sales Director – South.

In the Australasian market, the first chassis received a Volgren single-deck body, with Transdev taking 17 for use in Queensland. In Singapore, Volvo has partnered with SC Auto to develop the first electric bus designed, engineered, and manufactured in Singapore. Several other partnerships with body builders globally are in the progress of developing bodywork for the BZL.

Volvo has purposely kept the dashboard to the same style as current diesel models, to make it easier for driving staff to move between the two types, if required. RICHARD SHARMAN

Stagecoach UK launch customer

The BZL single-decker tested forms part of a 25 vehicle order from Stagecoach West Scotland, with the investment being supported by the Scottish Government’s Zero Emission Bus Challenge Fund (ScotZEB).

Stagecoach West Scotland Managing Director Fiona Doherty said at the launch of the fleet: “This is an exciting day for Stagecoach as we launch our new fleet of electric buses, which will serve communities in Ayr, Kilmarnock and Irvine with zero-emission public transport. This multi-million pound investment is part of our strategy to decarbonise our fleet and bring state-of-the-art bus travel to our customers in the urban areas we serve. Bus travel is one of the greenest forms of transport available and we encourage everyone to leave their cars at home and try our new electric buses.”

Domenico Bondi, Managing Director of Volvo Bus UK & Ireland, commented: “Stagecoach West Scotland is a prestigious UK launch customer for the new Volvo BZL electric. They know precisely what they want from an OEM partner, and they expect a strategic-level supplier to understand their needs and support their long-term goals, with a focus on sustainability, safety, reliability and passenger comfort. It’s a terrific order to win, and we are confident these new vehicles will perform fantastically well across Ayrshire, providing a solid platform for sustainable and efficient public transport.”

Dan Barwick, Volvo’s Regional Sales Director – North, told CBW: “The new BZL model was purchased as part of Volvo’s ongoing strong relationship with Stagecoach. These vehicles have been built around the ScotZEB standard and Stagecoach’s standard high specification. I look forward to working with Stagecoach on further orders.”

In addition to the first order for 25 BZLs from the DWS-owned group, a further 30 BZL double-deckers are due to enter service at Stagecoach East’s Cambridge depot in the coming weeks following a £16.574 million project that has been funded through the Government’s ZEBRA scheme, with a grant of £4.295 million, topped up with £2.994 from the Cambridgeshire & Peterborough Combined Authority, £2.25 million from the Greater Cambridge Partnership and the remaining £7.035 million coming from Stagecoach. The BZLs will be used on Cambridge’s park & ride routes and the city’s route 2 from Addenbrookes to Cambridge North and Milton. Charging facilities have been installed at Stagecoach’s Cowley Road depot in Cambridge and are being installed at the Babraham Road park & ride site.

A third significant order, announced on 6 April, involved plans by Stagecoach to introduce 170 fully electric vehicles to its Stockport depot, which is the group’s largest electric bus order to date.

The electric fleet of 150 double-deck and 20 single-deck BZLs represents an investment by Stagecoach of £37.2m. The first vehicles are planned to be delivered in summer 2024. They will be jointly funded by Stagecoach and local and national governments, with the £37.2m investment by Stagecoach match-funded by £35.7m from Greater Manchester’s Zero Emission Bus Regional Areas (ZEBRA) bid plus a further contribution of £12.5m by Transport for Greater Manchester.

Commenting on the Stockport order, Stagecoach’s Engineering Director Sam Greer said the company was excited to be announcing its largest electric vehicle order to date, “which will be a major step forward in improving air quality across the region.”

The binnacle has seen little change, other than the word ‘electric,’ a power meter marked in kW, and a the fuel gauge has become an energy gauge. RICHARD SHARMAN

Batteries + two-stage gearbox

The Volvo BZL single-decker is powered by five batteries, all of which are roof mounted. Each battery pack provides 94kWh of power and is of a standard shape and size on both the single- and double-deck variants, which Volvo says makes sense from a parts and after-market perspective as having a ‘one-size fits all’ battery pack is much simpler.

In the double-deck BZL, three batteries are mounted in what would be the engine bay, plus one in the floor ahead of the offside rear axle, and one above the nearside front wheel arch. On the single-decker, one notable feature is that the battery packs on the roof have been styled in, rather than fitted to the roof with a cover over them, which makes for a much more attractive looking vehicle for bus users.

Whilst the BZL may have the batteries on the roof, the space where you expect to find the engine has not been wasted: “Effectively what we have in the engine bay space is a conventional driveline setup. This includes a 200kW electric motor, with a power output of 540hp, on the nearside, coupled to a two-stage automated gearbox, propshaft and an axle. Looking from underneath the vehicle looks just like any standard Volvo bus, as we have tried to carry over as much commonality as possible, so aside from how it is powered, there is a lot of familiarity there for engineers working on them,” said Phil Fletcher, Volvo’s Sales Development Manager.

“A twin motor can be specified as an option, but we don’t see the need for it in the UK, as the BZL already has the two-stage automated gearbox which increases wheel torque at low speed and evens out current peaks, reducing energy consumption and sustaining motor and battery health.

“A maximum of 470kWh of battery capacity is offered, and that can recharge from empty with DC charging only in just 2.5 hours. For the range of the vehicle, Volvo offers a route analysis to operators on a case by case basis as there are so many variables. For example, the weather and average vehicle speed are both big factors in dictating the vehicles range. So we carry out the route analysis to ensure the customer is getting exactly the vehicle they need, and to the right specification for that route. This is what we did for this batch of 25 BZLs for Stagecoach West Scotland.

“Due to the batteries being fitted to the roof, amongst the normal Volvo safety features, Electronic Stability Programme (ESP) has been added as standard to the BZL. This is because there is a lot of weight on the roof. In addition the body of the vehicle is welded stainless steel, and that gives it a fantastic rigidity. It lends itself ideally to cope with the extra weight on the roof line.

“Operators have multiple choices when it comes to selecting the right vehicle length and capacity. In the BZL single deck range we have options for 9.7m, 10.3m, 10.8m – which is what this batch for Stagecoach are – 11.3m, 12.1m and the longest variant at 12.9m. Because the BZL is a modular product, we can also offer it with two doors, as the examples due for Metroline will be, or even three doors for airside work. There is a huge amount of versatility from one product,” enthused Phil.

When it comes to battery life, Volvo offers something called the ‘Useable Energy Commitment’ to operators, as Richard Mann explained: “Due to the number of variables in performance from electric vehicles, for example weather, traffic and driver style, it is impossible for us to guarantee range but we can guarantee the amount of useable energy in the batteries. As such we offer operators a ‘useable energy commitment’ so that they know the minimum amount of battery capacity that will be available to power the vehicle. Our standard offer is a seven-year commitment as this is the duration of a Transport for London tender cycle. We have quoted customers on double that amount of years, but the price does increase for the useable energy commitment in that case. However, we are flexible in the amount of years that we can quote for, and are happy to assist operators by discussing the options.”

The chassis has been designed for charging flexibility using both OppCharge high-power charging on route as well as CCS charging in the depot. The BZL chassis also includes the Volvo Connect system, with features such as Volvo’s Zone Management, allowing the operator to create safety zones where the maximum speed is limited, ideal for depot environments or where a 20mph maximum speed zone has been implemented.

Right day for a road test

I arrived at the Volvo Bus & Coach Centre in Coventry on just the right day for a BZL test drive, as on 6 April – about five minutes before I arrived – Stagecoach announced the 170 vehicle order for the BZL in both double and single deck formats, so it seemed very timely that I was about to venture out onto the roads of Warwickshire in Volvo’s latest offering.

The weather was very changeable on the day of test, having gone through heavy rain and hailstone showers, mixed with warm sunny spells, but still rather breezy. For this reason the BZL was parked inside Volvo’s swish customer handover area, allowing me to have a good look around the exterior no matter what the weather was doing.

When it comes to the styling of the MCV bodywork on the BZL, I personally like it. It stands out in that it is not a square box, which electric buses are often designed as these days. The front end is curved and meets the Transport for London Bus Safety Standard, hence the recent order by Metroline for 48 single-deck dual-door examples which will arrive later this year. There is also a good amount of curvature on the roof line from the front of the vehicle, underlined by the piece of glass shaped the same above the driver’s window and passenger entry door which allows the batteries to be fully styled into the design, hidden by four removable cantrail trims that can be removed to give access to the roof-mounted equipment.

The front headlight cluster on the BZL is also something of a masterpiece. Recessed Hella main beam headlights are underlined by eight circular high intensity daytime LED running lights on each side of the vehicle, plus front fog lights as standard, an essential safety feature and driver aid often not specified by operators, nor designed in by manufacturers, to cut costs. All exterior lighting, except for the main beam, is LED.

The front of the vehicle features five panels, with the main headlight panels being hinged to allow access to the screenwash fill point. The lower centre panel features a nice silver accent that matches the dash. It is just a shame that the centre panel backlight that featured on the BZL double-decker demonstrator wasn’t carried over to the production model. A neat touch built into the nearside front fog light recess is the door open and close button control for the driver or cleaner to operate when boarding or leaving the vehicle.

On the side profile of the BZL, Volvo has listened to customer feedback when it comes to the practicality of the vehicle style. Rather than having one long skirt panel, it now has multiple panels, include the wheel arch panel being divided into three sections for ease of repair. Local Volvo dealerships will carry spares for the BZL model in areas where they are operated, to allow swift repairs to be made when required.

Bridgestone U-AP 002 275/ 70R 22.5 tyres are mounted on Alcoa alloy wheels, although steel wheels can be specified.

At the rear of the BZL, it has been equally well styled, with a three piece rear bumper for easy repair, modern-looking LED rear clusters, high level indicators and centre brake light, whilst the rear glazing looks like it starts at the roofline thanks to the gloss black finish above it, also making it practical for cleaning in the winter weather. A full width rear Hanover LED display is also fitted.

The interior is light, airy and is of good build quality. RICHARD SHARMAN

Interior quality

Having test driven a number of MCV-bodied Volvo products in the last few years, I had no doubt that the BZL bodywork would be of the same quality. In fact, I remember thinking at Euro Bus Expo last year how good it was on the BZL single-decker demonstrator displayed, but this was my first opportunity to look at it in the daylight, now the Stagecoach example had been pulled out of the showroom.

Boarding the BZL through the near silent Ventura electric doors you stand on the solid-feeling Compak fold-out wheelchair ramp, designed to take up to 350kg. A nice welcoming feature is hidden white ambient lighting to the saloon floor when the doors open, giving off an instant high quality feeling, as does the dark wood effect Gerflor high grip floor covering.

Moving down the saloon, a single seat is mounted over each front axle, with room for a small amount of luggage behind them. The interior is to ScotZEB and Stagecoach spec, so has a buggy bay fitted to the offside with a single tip-up seat, and a good size wheelchair to the nearside with three tip-up seats. This gives the 10.8m bus 12 seats in the lower saloon, providing a wheelchair is not in place, before you reach the first step up. That step is shallow and of a good length prior to stepping up to the next level. High backed Kiel Ligero seats in standard Stagecoach e-leather trim are used and are comfortable for both short and long journeys. Dual USB ports are fitted to the rear of the seats, with the tip-up seats having wall mounted units. There are plenty of hand poles for passengers to use, fitted with BMAC wireless bell pushes.

Passengers benefit from white LED Hanover destination screens on the exterior, with a Hanover Announce passenger information system with a scrolling LED display at the front of the vehicle on the inside.

On the road

I was quite looking forward to putting the BZL through its paces, seeing it as a modern day Volvo B10M, the standard single-decker flying machine during my youth whilst working for Stagecoach. MCV and Volvo have immediately ticked two boxes when it comes to the cab; it’s high up and roomy. I don’t think any driver wants to be sat on the floor with passengers looking down at them.

One thing that was explained to me on the day was that Volvo wanted to make it as easy as possible for operators and drivers to move from a diesel vehicle to an electric one, as fleets will ultimately be mixed in the coming years. To this end, the dashboard is exactly the same as you would find in something like an MCV Evora-bodied Volvo B8RLE, with the only difference being the dash binnacle having a power meter rather than a rev counter. In addition, and something I was very pleased to see, was that the standard Volvo handbrake had been retained, something many drivers who are not a fan of electric handbrakes will be happy with. Also retained is the historic Volvo broms brake system that does not allow the vehicle to move until the air is fully built up and the button pushed in.

Sitting in the comfortable Chapman seating you are greeted by narrow A-pillars and an excellent deep curved windscreen allowing you a clear view of the road ahead.

In terms of heating and ventilation, air-conditioning is not fitted, but vehicle pre-heating and cooling whilst charging is. Heat and cool air is blasted into the saloon from vents along the roof line. The driver has a powerful demister unit with two vents for the face in the dashboard and a separate fan.

It was time to hit the road, and departing the Volvo’s Coventry site everything felt very familiar. The 200kW motor kicks in like the turbo spooling up on a B10M, without the noise of the 10-litre engine! At the first roundabout I found that the acceleration was quite measured; you don’t get an instant 540hp at your right foot, but you do get no delay and enough power to pull out in a gap on a busy roundabout.

Once you get going, with an open road ahead of you, you do notice the two-speed gearbox giving you high torque when required, and there is a change in the tone of the vehicle as it does so. The BZL is limited to 50mph, but it does so with ease, and despite the breezy day, the steering wheel remained straight due to the ESP.

Driving around the streets of Coventry there was an opportunity to test the gearbox on a few steep hills, Volvo described the BZL in its first press release as an ‘untiring hill climber’ and to be fair I would back that up. It does seem to fly up any hill put in front of it.

On the city streets I found the steering dynamic and with plenty of lock on tight roundabouts. The suspension also smoothed out some of Coventry’s potholed roads. Overall, steering, braking and chassis dynamics all felt like the typical Volvo standard, just powered in a new way.

Would I change anything? No I don’t think I would. It delivered what I expected of the MCV and Volvo combination and more. Whilst the BZL maybe ‘the new kid on the block,’ with the orders rolling in and 225 on order for Stagecoach alone, it will soon become a common sight in our towns and cities.

You can check out our virtual test drive of the Volvo BZL from Thursday 20 April on our YouTube channel