Winnipeg-based New Flyer Industries wants potential buyers to know its fleet of zero-emission buses (ZEBs) are the most dependable in the world, and a not-so-secret weapon—Winnipeg winters—plays a key role. Winters in Manitoba’s capital can be downright cold, and they can also be snowy, windy and even humid. Temperatures can fluctuate by over 20 degrees Celsius in a matter of hours. But conditions like these create the perfect recipe for real-world winter road tests.
“We always want to deal with extremes,” said Thomas Small, director of new product development at New Flyer Industries. “These factors play into how our buses are affected in terms of durability and reliability.”
Small’s division has allocated a considerable amount of time and resources on zero-emission technology, and it’s paying off. The technology has seen major innovations and sparked big sales growth for the 87-year-old company over the last few years. Deliveries of these buses reached the highest levels in the company’s history in 2016, with a total of 213 shipped—an increase of 48 per cent compared to 2015. ZEBs now represent 8.3 per cent of New Flyer’s total heavy-duty transit bus production. “There are cities driving toward zero-emission technology and placing percentages of these fleets in transit,” said Small. “So we’re seeing a market increase.”
With its many benefits, including zero tailpipe emissions, reduced noise inside and outside the bus, and low operation and maintenance costs, North American jurisdictions have expressed a growing interest in New Flyer’s all-electric propulsion system.
Thomas Small, director of new product development at New Flyer Industries, inside the company's workshop.
The company’s three-year partnership with Winnipeg Transit means up to four of New Flyer’s Xcelsior battery-electric transit buses operate daily along a 40-kilometre, two-hour route. Buses also stop at a high-powered charging station at Winnipeg’s Richardson International Airport. According to Winnipeg Transit, the route’s length, speeds and loads are similar to central business district routes in Canada and the U.S.
“Winnipeg Transit’s role in this is to operate the vehicle, charge it and maintain the regular bus stuff,” said Small. “We have regular conference calls discussing vehicle issues, their systems, how they’re operating and the other plans we’re working on for evaluating the next generation of systems and products.”
Testing the buses on local routes during the demonstration phase for three consecutive winters means one key question has been answered: “They’re reliable, and that’s key for us,” Small said. “If we can say that in a Winnipeg cold-weather environment, it really adds to that. If they work in Winnipeg, they’ll work in many of the other cold cities.”