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New Flyer president talks electric buses, transportation revolution in the coming decade


ST. CLOUD — New Flyer of America’s new president, Chris Stoddart, believes we are in the midst of a “transportation revolution.”

Electric, zero-emission buses now account for 5 percent to 10 percent of the transit bus manufacturer’s production. Stoddart thinks that proportion will grow to more than 80 percent in the next decade.

“It’s a dream opportunity to be able to be on the forefront in this next decade of transportation,” Stoddart said. “It’s a pretty exciting time. I’m really anxious to see where we’ll be in the next 10 years.”

New Flyer started developing its electric bus line in 2011 and its first zero-emission bus went into service in 2014. The company’s St. Cloud plant started making electric buses in the last quarter of 2018, including an order for four buses destined for Metro Transit in the Twin Cities.

Stoddart took over as president Jan. 1, but has been with the company since 2007, formerly serving as senior vice president for engineering and customer service. Prior to New Flyer, Stoddart worked for National Steel Car in the freight rail industry and spent nine years at General Motors.

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“I’m coming up on 30 years of being a transportation guy,” Stoddart said. “I love transportation, I love the industry, I love the challenge of making sure that we’re doing the right thing.”

New Flyer of America, the transit bus division of NFI Group Inc., employs more than 800 people at its St. Cloud headquarters and has three additional manufacturing facilities in Crookston; Winnipeg, Manitoba; and Anniston, Alabama.

Why the demand for zero-emission electric buses? Some customers want cleaner transportation. And some city and state governments are mandating them.

“It comes from both thoughts,” Stoddart said. “There’s definitely a heavy amount coming from the government side of things, but generally we have a lot customers who are interested in moving the technology further.”

New Flyer has completed orders for hundreds of buses bound for New York City or Los Angeles, but the company doesn’t hesitate to fulfill one- or two-vehicle orders for smaller metros looking to see if an electric bus is right for them.

Range was an issue with early electric buses, but Stoddart says New Flyer’s models can run a full day on 90-95 percent of bus routes in North America.

Heating and cooling an electric bus will take a toll on its range, but the company’s electric buses could get as little 160 miles on a charge and up to 230 miles.

For longer or busier routes, New Flyer offers an on-route charger that drops down on copper charging bars on the top of an electric bus. If a bus can stop for roughly six minutes every hour to top off its charge, Stoddart said it could have infinite range.

So what’s on the horizon for the next decade?

“I have a hard time believing that on a transit bus that you would ever replace the driver,” Stoddart said. “At the very least I would think you need to have a vehicle attendant.”

“We’re still 15 or more years away from seeing it in high volume,” Stoddart said. But within the next few years, we will likely start to see more demonstrations of autonomous vehicles and the possibilities they will bring.

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