Winnipeg-based New Flyer Industries could soon lead the way in the commercialization of electric-powered transit buses in North America.
On Friday, New Flyer demonstrated a prototype of an electric bus it could be marketing as early as next year. It was built in partnership with the provincial government, Manitoba Hydro and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries in Japan.
In a ceremony at the south grounds of the legislative building on Friday, Premier Greg Selinger called the zero-emissions bus the wave of the future. He and other dignitaries had ridden -- quietly -- to the news conference aboard the bus, which uses the same platform as New Flyer's Xcelsior model, a 12-metre unit the company describes as its most advanced platform.
"What we're really doing today is we're forging the future of public transportation right here in Manitoba," Selinger proclaimed.
New Flyer is the largest manufacturer of transit buses in North America, with a market share hovering between 35 and 41 per cent. It already produces several alternatives to diesel buses, including diesel-electric hybrids, as well as 'clean diesel' and compressed natural gas-powered engines. It has seen sales of its hybrids soar from nothing to 40 per cent of total output in a seven-year period.
"We feel that the battery electric bus will be a technology game-changer in our industry," said Chris Stoddart, a New Flyer vice-president.
Stoddart said the company will continue to test the prototype this year and hopes to begin marketing the bus as early as next year across the continent. He expects transit authorities, which have been watching the project with keen interest, to order one or two of the buses at first to evaluate them. But he's confident they'll be purchasing "significant quantities" within the next decade.
Mitsubishi has built electric buses in Japan but was looking for a North American partner. It came to do business in Winnipeg because of New Flyer's large presence in the North American market and the provincial government's "forward thinking" on green energy, said Takaya Watanabe, a Mitsubishi executive, who attended Friday's ceremony. Mitsubishi is supplying the lithium-ion rechargeable batteries that will power the buses.
Stoddart could not say whether the new electric buses will carry a substantially higher price tag than conventional diesel buses. But he said when operating savings are factored in, he expects going electric "will definitely make economic sense" for buyers throughout North America.
New Flyer has yet to sign a contract with Winnipeg Transit or any other North American transit authority for the new bus. Stoddart noted Manitoba's low hydro rates give Manitoba transit authorities an advantage in becoming early adopters of the new technology.
The $3-million cost of developing the prototype is being split equally between the province, Manitoba Hydro and Mitsubishi.
The Japanese company signed a memorandum of understanding on renewable energy development with Manitoba two years ago. The electric-bus project is the first major project undertaken as a result.
Red River College has collaborated on the electric-bus project through its Electric Vehicle Technology and Education Centre. It has had a role in assembling the special batteries, developing infrastructure to charge them and analyzing their performance.