NFI Group moving more electric buses
Published by Winnipeg Free Press
Local manufacturer positioning itself as a leader in transit technology
On the heels of a 40-unit sale of battery-electric buses to two Montreal-area transit authorities — the largest battery-electric bus sale in Canada to date — NFI Group Inc. is finishing off a successful summer filled with efforts to grow the zero-emission bus market.
That announcement follows another, earlier one that the Toronto Transit Commission has bought 10 40-foot, zero-emission battery-electric buses, with an option to purchase up to 30 more over the next two years.
"The market is for real," said Jennifer McNeill, NFI’s vice-president sales and marketing.
"Cities across North America are conducting pilot programs in large quantities. Most of the orders are small but there are a lot of them."
The NFI Group (formerly New Flyer Industries) already has a commanding share of the zero-emission bus (ZEB) market in North America — it was awarded 47 per cent of 2017’s ZEB contracts.
But the environmentally friendly technology is also providing a new tool for the Winnipeg bus-maker to get into new markets or ones that have lapsed over time.
For instance, the deal with the TTC is the first sale NFI has made to the largest transit authority in the country since 1999.
And the company is increasing its production of electric-battery buses in response to the demand.
McNeill said, "We’ll be building battery-electric buses in all three of our manufacturing lines starting in the fall of this year.
"We’re seeing the volumes ramp up. I think you will see some good successes going forward as well."
In addition to the sales in Montreal and Toronto, the company is looking to lock down industry standards when it comes to the actual hardware used to re-charge buses.
McNeill said NFI has been actively promoting charging standards throughout the industry with the goal of interoperability, so the market does not end up with a situation where a New Flyer bus can only use a New Flyer charger.
"That way cities can deploy buses from multiple manufacturers with the same charging infrastructure," she said.
This summer, NFI joined Volvo as the only other North American bus manufacturer to become part of an organization called OppCharge, the global initiative to support interoperable charging systems for electric vehicles.
Earlier in the year, New Flyer joined CharIN (Charging Interface Initiative), a German-based organization whose mission is to promote combined-charging systems (CCS) as the standard for all types of battery-electric vehicles.
It is also the first bus manufacturer in the world to sign on to the Shared Mobility Principles for Livable Cities, along with the likes of Uber, Lyft and ZipCar.
"Cities are evaluating the technology and implications on their infrastructure and their operations," McNeill said.
"Depending on the choice of charging technology — either en route or depot charging — there can be chargers throughout the transit route in the city or (in the case of depot charging) electrical service implications for garages that are not inconsequential. We definitely have a vested interest in their (the transit authorities’) success in being able to deploy the buses."
The Toronto, Montreal and Laval transit authorities are working to reconfigure their fleets to become 100 per cent zero-emission, as are most of the largest cities in North America.
Toronto will buy only emission-free buses starting in 2025 with the goal of becoming completely emission free by 2040.
The two Montreal-area transit authorities — Société de transport de Montréal (STM) and Société de transport de Laval (STL) intend to be fully electric in future.
STL and STM have committed to buying only electric buses as of 2023 and 2025, respectively.
New Flyer Canada, a subsidiary of NFI Group Inc., says it beat two competitors to win the contract for 40 zero-emission Xcelsior Charge transit buses from the transit agencies in Quebec’s two largest cities.
A notice to build the buses is expected after a nine-month review of a pilot bus slated to be given the green light Oct. 31.
The order for 30 buses from Montreal’s transit authority and 10 from Laval’s transit agency is supported by funding from the provincial and federal governments.
The Winnipeg-based company says these buses are already operating in Toronto, Vancouver and several large American cities.