The Group showcased its EcoLife electric bus at the Auto Expo 2018. Speaking to Manish Pant, Nishant Arya, Executive Director, JBM Group said that the vehicle is part of the conglomerate’s endeavour to become an end-to-end ecosystem provider in the electric mobility space.
A number of electric vehicles (EV)s were on display at the week-long Auto Expo 2018 held in Greater Noida in February. Other than passenger vehicles, leading domestic players in India’s automobiles segment also showcased their range of public transport solutions. Mahindra & Mahindra's e-Cosmo, Ashok Leyland’s Circuit, and Tata Motors' Starbus EV and Magic Iris received a lot of eyeballs at the country’s largest motor show.
For its part, the $1.35 billion automotive to education JBM Group also showcased its flagship Eco-Life electric bus.
The vehicle is a result of a JV between JBM and the Poland-headquartered Solaris Bus & Coach SA, Europe's largest electric bus manufacturer. Established in 2001, Solaris has manufactured 16,000 buses for 600 cities across 30 countries. With its buses plying in different geographies, the company has experience of working in different climate zones.
In fact, in September 2016, the Solaris Urbino was adjudged ‘Bus of the Year’ at the International Automobile Exhibition held in Hannover, Germany. As a sign of the changing times, it was the first time in history of the competition that the award went to a battery-driven vehicle.
With the regulatory landscape for automotive industry transforming globally, India too is incentivising the shift to electric mobility. In fact, the world’s sixth largest economy would like to see mostly electric vehicles plying on its roads by 2030.
Low maintenance product
An imported prototype of Eco-Life was first unveiled by JBM at the Auto Expo in 2016. “We have taken two years to develop this because we wanted the final product to be very thorough,” informed Nishant Arya, Executive Director, JBM Group, in an exclusive interaction with APF. “As the bus was already a preview product in the market, it’s not a body on chassis. There is no difference in the exterior appearance of our diesel, CNG or electric buses”, he added.
JBM is pitching the bus as a low maintenance product and has asked potential customers to go for installation of fast charging batteries. According to the company, the advantage with this technology is that the operator has to install a smaller sized battery in the bus, which helps to enhance the vehicle’s carrying capacity. Moreover, the bus is designed around specific requirements of each customer. “We study a customer’s roots and operating pattern,” emphasised Arya.
He admitted that since not many understand the electric mobility space at the moment in India, JBM is working very closely with its customers to position itself as an “end-to-end vehicle ecosystem provider”.
JBM currently has around 300 people in the R&D team at its electric mobility division. Personnel work in four main areas of vehicle, battery, charging and operating technology to define solutions. The bus has been tested over thousands of kilometres before being formally launched in the market. In the process, the company has also compiled a huge database on the vehicle’s performance across different regions of the country.
Customised to adapt to local conditions
The bus has been customised to make it adapt well to Indian conditions. Unlike similar buses operational in the West, it comes with a battery cooling system. The entry-exit points for passenger ingress and egress have been kept bigger as Indian passengers often enter or alight in an unstructured manner. A manual ramp is provided for the convenience of differently abled passengers. A 100 per cent low floor helps to accommodate not only more passengers during peak hours but also adds to comfort of women in saris. The bus has all-disc brakes to prevent them from overheating. It also comes equipped with a fire detection system.
Nishant said that it was important to make electric vehicles light weight as they utilise heavy batteries. It is for this reason that aluminium panels have been extensively used in Eco-Life. Furthermore, in order to reduce battery weight, the bus uses high-density lithium battery. An interesting aspect of the model is that the battery is installed on the roof, while elsewhere in the world it is either placed in the rear or below a similar vehicle. This has been done to avoid water clogging, which is a challenge is several Indian cities during the rainy season. The bus comes with pantograph charging and has a range of up to 200 kilometre a day.
JBM has been working closely with its customers to understand the challenges faced by them and provide solutions accordingly. Its maintenance team has been trained by Solaris. Besides, the Polish manufacturer has also deployed some of its best personnel here to address complications that emerge once Eco-Life joins the urban transport network.
JBM would also like to export the bus to markets in the Commonwealth and countries in the Asia-Pacific region. “We will also be exploring other markets with our partner,” informed Arya.
Lack of charging infrastructure an impediment?
But won’t the absence of charging infrastructure pose a hindrance? “In case of buses, the good part is that they operate in a controlled environment. Every city has multiple bus terminals for parking. You can have your charging stations there and they can be easily managed because the buses are parked inside a manned boundary,” averred Arya.
EV experts told APF that the issue related to an absence of adequate charging infrastructure is more likely to crop up in case of personal vehicles that operate in a distributed environment. Although there are some indications that the federal government is looking at making amendments to the Electricity Act 2003 to allow electric vehicle charging stations to sell power. Presently only distributors are allowed to do so.
Energy Efficiency Services Ltd (EESL), a joint venture between public sector enterprises and the Ministry of Power, has already completed the formalities for procurement of 10,000 electric vehicles from the country's largest automaker, Tata Motors. Earlier this year Saurabh Kumar, Managing Director, EESL had told our sister publication POWER TODAY, “Half a million cars are estimated to be used by the government. We would like to replace them in a phased manner. This will create an ecosystem that attracts global manufactures to set up facilities here, battery manufacturers and charging station establishments.” Initially, car batteries will be replenished at charging stations located inside government buildings.
In October last year when the government’s Department of Heavy Industry invited expression of interest (EoI) from cities with over one-million population and special category states for multi-modal transport, a requirement of 3,144 buses was received from 44 cities across 21 states.
Initially, JBM is keenly eyeing 11 cities that were eventually identified under the pilot or first phase of the Faster Adoption and Manufacturing of Hybrid and Electric vehicles in India (FAME India) programme. Cities include Ahmedabad, Bengaluru, Delhi, Jaipur, Mumbai, Lucknow, Hyderabad, Indore, Kolkata, Jammu and Guwahati. The government will be subsiding up to 60 per cent of the cost of electric buses purchased by cities.
Second phase of the programme will be launched after conclusion of the first phase on March 31, 2018. Under FAME II, emphasis will be on public transport.
“We are lucky as being in the area of public transport, we are impacting the masses and are a priority for the government. This segment is where solar energy was five years ago. But today with decline in prices of solar energy, the volume of projects has also grown substantially,” said Arya.
While inaugurating two electric vehicle charging stations in New Delhi recently at the federal government’s think tank NITI Aayog, Nitin Gadkari, Union Minister for Road Transport & Highways urged the country’s automakers to benefit from the federal government’s push to electric mobility by manufacturing quality and cost-effective vehicles.
Initially, JBM is keenly eyeing 11 cities that were eventually identified under the pilot or first phase of the Faster Adoption and Manufacturing of Hybrid and Electric vehicles in India (FAME India) programme.
Every city has multiple bus terminals for parking. You can have your charging stations there and they can be easily managed because the buses are parked inside a manned boundary.
- Nishant Arya, Executive Director, JBM Group