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MAN hands over first electric bus to Golden Arrow; local assembly to start in 2024

The MAN Lion's Explorer E

MAN Truck & Bus South Africa (MAN SA) MS Jan Aichinger 

29th September 2023

By: Irma Venter

Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor

     

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MAN Truck & Bus has provided Cape Town’s Golden Arrow Bus Services (GABS) with its first Lion’s Explorer E electric bus.

The bus now enters a test period until September next year to evaluate its day-to-day performance.

The Explorer E was specifically developed for the African market, following a request by GABS 18 months ago for a MAN electric bus that would suit the South African environment.

The German truck and bus maker obliged, delivering the Explorer E with two days to spare on the promised due date.

GABS has spent about R3-billion over 24 years with MAN on the acquisition of roughly 1 000 new buses, says GABS CEO Francois Meyer.

GABS is also testing three electric buses from a well-known Chinese manufacturer.

The current goal is to acquire more than 60 electric buses a year, says Meyer.

He says issues of global warming, as well as the steep rise in fuel prices since the start of the Russia–Ukraine conflict both served to convince GABS to go electric.

“Around 31% of our total costs relate to fuel.”

GABS company engineer Gideon Neethling says it is possible “to do the math on electric vehicles forever, but that you at some point simply need to jump in and deploy the vehicles”.

GABS has already tested its existing electric buses over a two-year period, logging more than 100 000 km.

“There is not a route that the buses can’t complete or hill they can’t climb,” says Meyer.

GABS charge their electric buses off-peak – at night – while the company is also busy deploying renewable energy charging solutions, as well as looking at the possibility of wheeling electricity from green sources.

Wheeling is the delivery of energy from a generator to an end-user located in another area using the existing distribution system.

The 66-seater Explorer E carries one more passenger than an equivalent diesel-powered Lion’s Explorer.

The Explorer E’s range is 300 km to 350 km, with a battery life up to 14 years, with 70% efficiency remaining at this point.

Meyer says a typical GABS bus travels 200 km a day, after which it remains stationary for five hours.

“For us this is a commercial decision,” says Meyer.

He believes GABS will more than break even over the lifetime of the bus, plus “we’ll go green”.

Operationally speaking GABS saves 70% to go electric, but the higher upfront cost of the electric unit compared with a diesel bus will eat into this number, explains Meyer.

Made in South Africa
Newly appointed MAN Truck & Bus South Africa (MAN SA) boss Jan Aichinger is not a stranger to the local market.

He spent a number of years working here for another German bus and truck maker, and is familiar with South African operating conditions.

Aichinger describes bus transport as “the ideal use case” to introduce electric mobility in South Africa.

While the first Explorer E boasts a locally made body, its chassis was fully imported.

Aichinger hopes to change this, and to assemble electric buses in South Africa in the same way the company produces fossil fuel busses.

A second Explorer E is currently being assembled abroad, with testing to follow in Türkiye.

Parallel to this, MAN SA will ready its dealers, service staff and plant personnel on what it takes to build and look after an electric bus.

Production of the Explorer E will then start as chassis-in-a-box in Poland in May next year.

This will be sent to South Africa for assembly around July – the locally made bus body is joined with the put-together chassis – following which the first locally assembled unit will be ready for customers in November next year.

As the battery system is the really expensive part of the Explorer E, Aichinger says it is inevitable that local content on the Explorer E will be lower than what is currently the case on a diesel bus.

The Explorer E is powered by four modularized lithium-ion batteries of 80 kWh each.

MAN SA has an assembly plant in Durban, and a bus body plant in Gauteng.

Local assembly will save MAN SA 20% in import duties.

Aichinger says he does not yet want to discuss the price tag on the Explorer E, as the field tests may deliver the need for modifications, which could potentially alter the price.

He says MAN SA has received interest from several other operators in South Africa in the Explorer E.

 

Edited by Creamer Media Reporter

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