Navigating the Bumpy Road Ahead: Challenges for Zero Emission Bus Manufacturers in Canada
The zero-emission revolution in the transportation industry has been gaining momentum globally, with electric buses at the forefront of this transformation. In Canada, as in many other countries, the shift towards cleaner, greener public transportation options is seen as a key step in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and combating climate change. However, recent events, such as Proterra’s Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing, have cast a shadow on the future of zero-emission bus manufacturing in Canada.
Proterra’s bankruptcy filing, while unfortunate, serves as a stark reminder of the challenges that zero-emission bus manufacturers face in the Canadian market. In this blog post, we will explore the difficulties that these manufacturers encounter and discuss potential solutions to ensure a more sustainable and resilient future for the industry.
The Rise and Fall of Proterra
Proterra, a leading electric bus manufacturer based in the United States, had made significant inroads into the Canadian market before its bankruptcy filing. The company’s electric buses were celebrated for their innovative technologies, reduced carbon footprint, and cost-saving potential for transit agencies. However, Proterra’s financial woes serve as a cautionary tale for other manufacturers in the zero-emission bus industry.
Challenges Facing Zero Emission Bus Manufacturers in Canada
High Capital Costs
One of the primary obstacles facing zero-emission bus manufacturers in Canada is the high initial cost of electric buses. Electric buses typically come with a higher upfront price tag than their diesel counterparts, which can be a deterrent for cash-strapped transit agencies, particularly in smaller municipalities.
Limited Funding Options
While government incentives and grants are available to promote the adoption of zero-emission buses, these funds are often insufficient to cover the entire cost of transitioning to electric fleets. Manufacturers must rely on these incentives and navigate a complex web of bureaucratic processes to secure funding.
Additionally, manufacturers no longer receive “regular, consistent procurements”. Unlike diesel procurements, zero emission bus procurements have been inconsistent at best. This leads to longer procurement processing times and supply chain delays
The lack of adequate charging infrastructure is a significant roadblock for electric bus adoption in Canada. Installing charging stations requires a substantial investment and coordination between various stakeholders, including transit agencies, municipalities, and utilities. This infrastructure gap can slow down the deployment of electric buses. Although CUTRIC’s Pan-Canadian Battery Electric Bus Demonstration and Integration Trial has created an invaluable foundation for interoperability between buses and charging infrastructure, more collaborative efforts are needed.
Electric buses must have the range to meet the operational needs of transit agencies. However, the Canadian climate presents unique challenges, such as extreme cold temperatures, which can reduce the range of electric buses. Manufacturers need to develop technologies that can withstand these conditions.
These challenges can be also be mitigated by transit agencies by using data analysis to design specific routing around zero emission bus capabilities, analyzing how factors such as topography affect battery performance and then designing routing around those efficiencies. Identifying efficiencies with operator behaviours is also important, as are seasonal software changes with drivetrain settings and regenerative braking.
In Edmonton for example, preliminary empirical results showed an energy loss of 23 per cent in battery thermal systems during winter. A pilot was conducted where six BEB batteries were wrapped in thermal blankets and subsequently gained 75 km per bus. The remainder of Edmonton’s fleet have since been retrofitted with these thermal blankets during their winter operations.
The bankruptcy of a major player like Proterra demonstrates the intense competition in the electric bus market. Canadian manufacturers must constantly innovate to stay ahead of global competitors and maintain their market share.
The bankruptcy also relates in large part to the aggressively challenging environment that bus manufacturers operate within – sometimes having to deliver multi-million dollar vehicle platforms without full payment until after delivery or commissioning. In a low-profit and low-margin business, any supply chain disruption, delay in payment or delay in commissioning, and even an order that is “too large” and which requires substantial deliveries all at once, can cause low-volume bus manufacturers difficulty in sustaining their operations since they must pay labourers and overheads while awaiting payment themselves.
Maintenance and Training
Electric buses require specialized maintenance and training for drivers and technicians. Manufacturers need to provide comprehensive training and support to transit agencies, which can be costly and time-consuming.
In addition to comprehensive OEM training, there is a need for technical colleges to align their Heavy Equipment Technician programs with emerging technologies, specifically in high voltage and hydrogen. Transit agencies are in need of the ability to recruit qualified technicians from these technical colleges. Many colleges are starting to roll out micro-credential “bolt on” certification in high voltage and hydrogen, however we are still a few years away from where we need to be.
Navigating the Challenges
To overcome these difficulties, zero-emission bus manufacturers in Canada must adopt a multi-faceted approach.
Diversify Funding Sources:
Manufacturers could seek partnerships with private investors, explore alternative financing options, and work closely with government agencies to secure long-term funding commitments.
Collaborate on Infrastructure:
Collaborative efforts between manufacturers, transit agencies, and governments could help accelerate the development of charging infrastructure. Public-private partnerships and innovative financing models can also play a crucial role in expanding charging networks.
Manufacturers could invest in research and development in Canada to create buses that can perform optimally in Canada’s diverse climate conditions. This includes improving battery technology and thermal management systems.
Proterra’s Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing has highlighted the challenges that zero-emission bus manufacturers face in Canada. However, it is essential to view this setback as an opportunity for growth and improvement. By addressing the hurdles of high capital costs, limited funding options, infrastructure gaps, range anxiety, competition, and maintenance requirements, manufacturers can continue to drive the adoption of zero-emission buses in Canada and contribute to a greener, more sustainable future for public transportation. It will take determination, innovation, and collaboration to navigate the bumpy road ahead successfully.
CUTRIC’s Zero Emission Transit & Mobility Conference
Join us for our 6th Annual Zero Emission Transit and Mobility Conference taking place at the Burlington Convention Centre from Oct 22-23, 2024.
Our expert panelists will be discussing zero emission transit workforce development, latest innovations in hydrogen fuel cell bus technology, roadmaps to full zero emission bus rollout plans, predictive vs empirical analysis results of a ZEB deployment, social impact consideration with ZEB deployment and more.
Visit our conference website here for more information and to register.
Canadian ZEB Database ™ Report
This report reveals that the number of zero-emission buses in Canada has risen more than threefold since 2022. It also predicts that the Government of Canada will achieve its goal of introducing 5,000 zero-emission buses by 2026. You can read the full report here.