Diesel still only commercial option, say First and Stagecoach

Euro6 diesel remains the only commercial way of delivering better air quality, according to the managing directors of First and Stagecoach’s bus divisions, although Optare insists that electric buses will be universal within 10 years.

Addressing a Chartered Institute of Transport & Logistics meeting in London in January, First Bus MD Giles Fearnley said the company will stick mainly with diesel technology for the time being, as much as politicians may want alternatives.

He says experience with electric operation in York, where it has 12 Optare Versas, has highlighted the huge cost of charging infrastructure — plus the potential for delays in connecting to the grid — as well as the fact that no battery can yet cope with a full day on the urban environment. ‘A lot of my time is bringing their aspirations down to reality.’

Fearnley reinforced the point when speaking at the UK Bus Summit in London on 6 February, a few hours after bus minister Nus Ghani announced the latest Ultra Low Emission Bus Scheme grants. ‘Outside of today’s announcement, alternative fuels are not a game changer for the rest of England,’ he argued, saying that Euro6 diesel is an excellent product.

‘We know that electric vehicle technology and hydrogen are still immature for bus. The vehicles fall short of what is required.’

Speaking at the same event, Mark Threapleton, Stagecoach’s UK Bus MD for England and Wales, argued that although a move to non-diesel vehicles is inevitable and has begun, widespread barriers remain to delay the adoption of electric buses.

They cost twice as much to buy as a diesel, although he accepts that they cost less to fuel and maintain. ‘Battery prices are falling, but it could be up to 10 years before the up front cost of an electric vehicle has parity with a diesel.’ He says that the rapid evolution of electric vehicles means there is a risk of early obsolescence, as the industry has already experienced with first generation hybrids.

Threapleton believes the biggest barrier to adoption remains the electrical supply infrastructure, with many local power networks lacking the capacity needed, and resolving that will neither be quick nor cheap.

Arguing the case for electrification, Optare commercial director Robert Drewery told summit delegates: ‘In the next decade, I think every new bus will be electric. I’m not sure that diesel will ever reach Euro7.’

He says that advances in battery technology over the past 10 years have tripled the range of Optare’s electric buses to 150miles on a single charge, and battery density is improving at a rate of 5 to 8% per year. ‘There will be a 30% increase in available energy in the next five to 10 years and it will be possible to get 200miles on a single charge.’