After talking with BYD at Solar Power International last month, BYD invited CleanTechnica over for an inside look at the latest and greatest creations from BYD at their Lancaster, California, electric bus factory. Zach covered the launch of the facility back in May of 2013 on our sister site EV Obsession and we were eager to take a look inside to see first-hand what they’ve been working on.
So, what are they doing in Lancaster?
As the first Chinese auto manufacturing plant in the US, the opening of the BYD bus and coach factory (as it’s officially known) was a big win for Southern California, bringing 300 new jobs — which are split between their US headquarters in Los Angeles and their Lancaster electric bus factory. On top of that, BYD has an aggressive plan that it built with the City of Lancaster to bring even more jobs… and electric vehicles to the States with the total BYD staff expected to be over 625 by 2018. This bodes well for the area (yay, cleantech jobs!) and for the electrification of US transportation. It’s evident that BYD has a great partnership with the City of Lancaster, whom they worked with closely to develop not only the plan to stand up the factory but on a full growth plan spanning 5 years of substantial growth. There was also quite a bit of support from former Governor Arnold Swarzenegger and current Governor Jerry Brown to court BYD and woo them into coming to California.
Lancaster is just 75 miles northeast of Los Angeles, which puts its factory in close proximity to the Los Angeles Metropolitan area while leaving enough distance to stay out of the expensive real estate that is much of the greater Los Angeles Area. They are also very centrally located in a key state that’s driving aggressive anti-climate change policy, which I’m certain is no accident.
A bit about BYDs buses
We have covered many of the new contracts and innovations related to BYD’s buses on CleanTechnica, but what sets them apart? One thing is their insane range – their stated range is 150 miles per charge but a recent 24-hour stress test in the Antelope Valley proved that they are capable of cranking out 240–270 miles per charge (386–434 kms). As if that weren’t impressive enough, they then charged the buses back up (they can fully charge the bus in as fast as 1 hour!) and ran them again until they were empty over and over for a full 24 hours for a total of 746 miles.
If those impressive stats aren’t enough, BYD’s electric buses are also capable of on-route charging. This means that they can charge at bus stops or at a bus depot while the driver takes their mandated break, etc, with a goal of being able to run continuously. This has already been approved in forward-thinking Washington as part of a recently announced contract. While BYD has determined that 100 kW wireless charging seems to be the sweet spot in balancing high speed and minimal wear on the battery, they have proven 200 kW speeds at a 12″ air gap while working with wireless charging technology companies like Momentum Dynamics to continue to drive improvements in their implementation of wireless inductive charging.
With wireless charging, a big concern is efficiency, as power is lost just transferring the power to the vehicle — BYD shared that the efficiency is in the high 90s, which sounds like a good start. If I were looking for a set of electric buses with wireless charging, I would want a more specific number, as the wireless charging efficiency has a direct impact on the cost to charge these high-usage vehicles as all power lost just pushing the power to the bus is non-value add overhead (tl;dr — higher efficiency = lower cost to run the buses).
BYD goes all-in when it comes to its buses. The company seems to have thought through every detail and optimized every part of the equation. This is evident when popping the (rear) hood. Standing front and center are the charge controller and charger… which are both onboard. They are flanked by two inverters to either side which are key to what BYD is doing with the hardware back there: Building the charging infrastructure and inverters into each bus means buyers don’t have to pay for expensive (upwards of $250,000 each) stationary chargers and infrastructure on top of the buses. All of the high-tech charging equipment is always on board, which allows the stationary electrical vehicle service equipment (EVSE) that is also included in the purchase of each bus is merely a straight pass-through of AC power from the grid (AC) to the bus. This is a massive advantage, as it allows buyers to install many more of the inexpensive EVSEs than needed to offer more flexibility for their fleet.
One innovation that really leverages those onboard inverters and, in my opinion, takes BYD’s buses to the next level in a completely new way is a breakthrough project they’re working on with a few federal agencies here in the US to use their buses as a HUGE, distributed grid-scale battery (GSB). Imagine a fleet of 20 or 40 electric buses that are just running their normal routes (with 500 kWh worth of batteries in each) and a hurricane hits, taking out power to the city. City officials can then take their normal city bus fleet, school bus fleet, and local long-distance buses (because they’re all BYD electric buses, right?) and, using the aforementioned onboard inverters, plug them directly into the city’s AC power grid at a predetermined location (hence the advance federal emergency response planning requirement) and restore power to select portions of the city grid for emergency response activities, running off of the juice stored in the buses. This has the potential to not only marry emergency preparedness and city transit, but really takes emergency preparedness to the next level.
Another great feature that showcases the flexibility of electric drive buses, BYD is able to throttle govern their transit buses for safety. Some gasmobiles are regulated with a governer that ensures the driver doesn’t exceed a speed limit set by the company, agency, or area. That makes sense… so why does BYD throttle govern their buses?
It starts with instant torque in a bus with HUGE motors designed to carry a full load of 60 adults. Let’s remove 59 of those adults and “accidentally” pound the throttle to the floor. Did you feel those front wheels lift off the ground a bit? Yeah, I didn’t either, but you probably did see that single passenger get thrown from his seat to the back of the bus as you peeled rubber away from that stop sign (in a bus!). You get the point. Their buses are insanely powerful, and to ensure that their buses are safe at any speed with any load, they are throttle governed. Phew, that was a mouthful.
So how do you build an electric bus?
As with most transit bus builds, BYD’s buses are custom jobs from the ground up. There are a few base models, then options upon options to choose from, such as passenger capacity, range, colors, integrated fire suppression, paint jobs, etc. We were able to see quite a few of the variants BYD offers as we walked around the factory.
To allow for all of the customization possibilities, BYD buses start by welding up a naked steel frame to which aluminum sides are attached through a proprietary process, then framed up with fiberglass panels and windows. The bus is wired up and fitted with interior panels and insulation to keep out the road noise. BYD shared that it’s much easier to wire up an electric bus because they don’t have to deal with converting gas power to electricity via an alternator — they just wire everything up.
After the buses are wired up, they move on to the paint booth where they can get decked out with whatever designs the customer spec’d out. We saw a lot of white buses on the assembly line and a few LA metro buses that had more exciting color patterns running around the factory as well.
At this point, the buses look ready to go but are missing the drive mechanics and batteries. The buses are lined up in an assembly line format and these components are added. Batteries used to take up more room in the interior of the buses but recent improvements in battery storage density have allowed BYD to get rid of one of the large battery cabinets, providing more room for passengers and less overall weight. What’s neat here is that the exterior of their buses look almost identical to ‘normal’ city buses. There’s no extra hump or raised floor or much of anything that would give away to passengers that they’re on a cutting edge electric bus generating no emissions…which is exactly the point! These buses look like and run like normal buses…minus all the diesel exhaust, high fuel costs, high maintenance costs and frequent breakdowns.
After the buses are fully assembled, they are run through BYD’s test line where their charging system is tested, then they go for a spin on the in-house dynamometer and are tested for leaks and sound mechanics. From there, they are ready to hit the road.
It’s obvious from seeing the factory that BYD has put in a ton of effort to perfect their buses and to bring their buses to North America. Where are they going? They have quite a few things going on that I can’t share, so I’ll just leave a few last comments here for you to ponder from what they have already announced:
- BYD has previously announced that it is building electric trucks in China and wants to bring them to America.
- BYD has announced an aggressive growth strategy for it Lancaster factory over the next 3 years.
- BYD’s North American President Stella Li has shared that, as battery prices come down, BYD will be ready to move into the consumer car market in America.
Here are a few more pics from the tour:
I’ll leave you with a video from my LEAF of a “musical road” we drove over in the bus. I went back after leaving the factory to film this because I thought it was so neat… and extra fun in my quiet EV 🙂
All images credit: Kyle Field | CleanTechnica