In the course of the mobility revolution, the bus/touring coach industry is going through a transformation with so many different technical facets like never before. How does Daimler Buses deal with this?
“The focus is on providing an absolute benefit to customers”
Daimler Buses is making intensive advancements in the technical development of buses and touring coaches. We spoke with Head of Development Dr Martin Teigeler about where this journey is heading.
With the Mercedes-Benz eCitaro, we are providing bus operators with an innovative vehicle they can use to successfully drive the transition from diesel to electric buses in the city bus sector. Already at the vehicle's premiere in 2018, we announced that the eCitaro would continuously benefit from rapid developments in battery technology, and we are continuously working on this aspect. The eCitaro has been using third-generation NMC3 batteries since the end of 2022.
“The increased range with NMC3 batteries has been a pleasant surprise for customers.”
What are the characteristics of this new generation of batteries?
NMC3 batteries are also made up of tried-and-tested lithium-ion batteries. They feature cells with a new, high-energy NMC cathode, and instead of the prismatic battery cells previously in use, this generation uses highly compact cylindrical cells. This combination of improved cell chemistry and an optimised battery package dramatically increases capacity, significantly boosting the range of the eCitaro. Initial feedback confirms that customers are pleasantly surprised by the increased range of NMC3 batteries.
What kind of range are we talking about here and does this mean we no longer have to have discussions about the range of regular service buses?
In the eCitaro solo bus, we can guarantee a reliable range of 280 kilometres, and about 220 kilometres in the eCitaro G articulated bus, over the entire service life of the battery. Under favourable conditions, the range is even well over 300 kilometres, which means that the eCitaro covers the majority of the requirements in regular services provided by city buses. Using a fuel cell as a range extender, which will be available for the eCitaro this year, the solo bus will then reach a range of around 400 kilometres. This means that city buses with diesel engines can finally be replaced seamlessly.
The development of a third battery generation, the use of fuel cells, the combination of battery and hydrogen as complementary energy sources, all give the impression that the development has gathered pace.
All these things are true. We are currently experiencing an enormously rapid technical development in the entire commercial vehicle sector and, as a result, rapidly changing markets. This presents public transport companies with new challenges on an ongoing basis, and, as a manufacturer, Daimler Buses is of course facing these new challenges as well. The development of electric bus batteries, for example, shows how short the periods of time during which significant progress is being made are in this context and new developments are immediately used in marketable vehicles.
How does this rapid technological change affect your work as head of development?
We have completely restructured our organisation in order to be able to react to changes more quickly. Our aim is to always be ahead of the wave and thus decisively shape and drive forward developments – as Daimler has done and continues to do since the invention of the motorcar, truck and bus. The reorganisation is not an end in itself just to develop technology for the sake of technology. Yes, of course, it’s all about innovation. But innovations are always earmarked and needs-based. The focus is always on the absolute benefit for the customer. Progress made in the bus development is intended to help coach operators make their daily operations simpler and more economical, efficient and climate-friendly. This is the goal of progress and currently applies in particular to the electric bus.
To what extent does this apply to the electric bus in particular?
Switching from a diesel to an electric bus is much more than just switching from one drive technology to another. Electromobility means getting into a completely new system, a new business model. It is not enough here just to look at the vehicle, we need to look at the entire electromobility system. The eCitaro is at the heart of it all, of course, but it has much more to offer.
“Electromobility means getting into a completely new system, a new business model.”
Can you elaborate on this?
We focus on individual customers and their specific needs. These are questions about how to plan optimal route patterns, how to organise the power supply and what the best charging cycles would look like for individual operation or how to optimally design the depot for operating processes. Charging management in particular, which ensures that every electric bus goes en route at the right time and at the lowest possible cost, is important. Daimler Buses has the know-how to provide bus companies with the best possible solutions for operating their electric buses. The reorganisation of the development department is geared towards developing answers to the question of what the individual bus customer of the future needs at an early stage.
Keyword “best possible solution” - what is the situation in the intercity bus and touring coach segment? Where is the development heading?
Daimler Buses has a clear goal: from the end of this decade, we want to offer fully electric touring coaches made by Mercedes-Benz and Setra brands. This is ambitious, as the requirements for a battery-powered vehicle in terms of touring coaches are in some cases contradictory. On the one hand, we need a long range in long-haul transport and flexibility in charging, but at the same time we also need a high load capacity and a large space requirement for passengers and luggage. In the case of electrically powered touring coaches, too, we are tackling the issue in a practice-oriented manner and with an eye on the optimum benefit for the customer and driving it forward quickly.
“If electric touring coaches are to prevail in practice, they must achieve what diesel-powered vehicles can do.”
Where are we at in this context?
Daimler Buses has teamed up with renowned research institutes and researchers at the Electrified Coach project – ELCH for short. If electric touring coaches are to prevail in practice, they must achieve what diesel-powered vehicles can do. An important aspect of a touring coach is therefore its range, as well as the preservation of passenger capacity and the luggage load capacity. The vehicles' installation space must therefore correspond as closely as possible to that of today’s diesel-powered touring coaches.
Does the development of an electric touring coach mean that Daimler Buses is also relying on battery-powered electric drives in the touring coach segment?
Not exclusively. Here too, technological development is marching on at a rapid pace and the overarching technical as well as economic conditions can change quickly. We see hydrogen in the form of a fuel cell drive as a sensible alternative to battery electric drive – especially on longer routes. For that reason, Daimler Truck is pursuing a two-pronged strategy. We also benefit from developments in the truck sector achieved at Daimler Truck. It is one of the many fields in which synergies between truck and bus/touring coach developments arise within the Group. The latter also applies to the further developments in terms of Euro VII, which we are of course also making advancements in.