Bus Industry News, Electric Buses

ARCC accelerates its next generation bus and coach plans

In just its seventh year as a company, technology and manufacturing brand ARCC is continuing to accelerate its future thinking when it comes to redesigning the way a zero-emissions bus should be built

In its young life to date, Aluminium Revolutionary Chassis Company (ARCC) hasn’t been a typical zero-emissions bus and coach manufacturer.

The ARCC staff was significantly involved in the design and deployment of the building of its first aluminium body on a Toro electric bus for Sydney Airport and additional units for Brisbane Airport in 2015. The learnings gathered from these projects were the genesis of the concepts that ARCC’s engineers and management team saw as an opportunity to revolutionise the future of Australian zero-emissions bus and coach manufacturing. 

“We decided to chase reducing kilograms rather than adding kilowatts, using the ethos of doing more with less,” ARCC founder and managing director Peter Murley told ABC.

“Our goal was to achieve at least a two-tonne reduction in the overall GVM of our bus, envisaging a disruptive technology that addressed and solved a number of challenges that the industry faces.

“We chased weight savings, manufacturing hours and local component solutions that would allow integration opportunities with existing industry members and service providers, with the goal being to redesign the way zero-emissions buses can be conceived, built and operated in Australia.”

Murley’s ARCC journey began when the company was founded in 2016. Seven years ago, he realised the growing tides of a zero-emissions bus transition and went on a fact-finding mission to the only nearby country that was already successfully implementing electric transport – China.

After visiting several electric chassis manufacturers there, one key fact hit home.

“The largest electric bus chassis manufacturer was great at building batteries, but not buses,” Murley says.

“We witnessed large deployments of zero-emissions buses with charging infrastructure to match, but the power to charge them was generally sourced from coal power stations, which in our view was basically just emissions shifting.” 

The manufacturer’s ideas for zero-emissions buses centred around developing an aluminium bolted solution for both the chassis and body, providing significant savings in terms of weight, manufacturing time and capital investment in a model that was also agnostic to the drive energy source. 

In conjunction with long term colleague, engineering manager David Evans, Murley set clear goals for what he wanted ARCC to become and the team he wanted to build to deliver the solution.

“What ARCC does is challenging and very few engineers have the experience or skill set to deliver on the unique concept we wanted to create,” Murley says.

“Hence David began building a team of engineers comprised of experienced personnel while also using associations with tertiary education institutions to develop an engineering intern program that has been very successful.”

The core engineering team is comprised of hydrogen specialist Chetan Koniki, mechanical engineer Mladen Vojvodic, aftersales support and homologation Kienan Bray and electrical engineer James Mitchell. It’s this mix of experience and youth that has created a ‘know-how to’ attitude that has enabled ARCC to achieve plenty in such a short time.

With a mission of leading the zero-emissions commercial vehicle manufacturing capability in Australia, ARCC’s approach is much larger than simply finding new ways to innovate electric and hydrogen bus designs.

The ethos of ‘doing more with less’ quickly became a key pillar of ARCC. The mantra of the business focuses very much on an alignment with the industry, regulation, custom and practice while addressing participants’ goals and aspirations around the transition to zero-emissions vehicles.

“Our experience has taught us that you must act in collation with a range of industries,” Murley says.

The bulk of ARCC’s technology, research and design has gone into developing this software that is agnostic to both hydrogen fuel-cell and battery electric buses – a novel concept in the Australian market. Murley says that from the roof down, both fuel-cell and electric ARCC models are the same, with the interchangeability of the ARCC design futureproofing the vehicles.

RELATED ARTICLE: ARCC become hydrogen heroes with latest milestone

“By providing this complete solution, we think our philosophy is unique when it comes to zero-emissions bus technology to help the industry transition to a competitive sector that is stable in the long term,” he says.

“Our goals are very much focused on the government’s route bus market, but our technology not only lends itself to buses. It can be deployed in other aligned industries, such as trucks, mining and agriculture, which we see as future opportunities.”

After COVID-19 disrupted ARCC’s momentum significantly, the manufacturer is starting to ramp up its production.

Yet challenges still sit in the way. A lack of settled policy on zero-emissions charging and refuelling infrastructure and how it is to be providedand maintained means ARCC is part of an industry that will continue to be behind global rates of transition.

“While we transition to a zero-emissions transport future, the industry is also grappling with closing down mainstream sources of energy in coal and gas-fired power stations,” Murley says.

“We’re conscious of the issue we’ll have if power generation falters in Australia – people may not understand how buses are part of a larger energy ecosystem that requires plenty of power.”

It’s this long-term thinking that has given ARCC a competitive advantage in the market. ARCC has aligned itself with investment company Macquarie Group and energy company Origin Energy. Murley says these partnerships provide expertise and experience that the industry can utilise to develop integrated turnkey solutions addressing energy and infrastructure challenges.

The company ethos has been founded on this humility, yet its design is anything but understated. Murley says ARCC’s concept is set to capitalise on several industry-specific trends by providing a lighter model that doesn’t negatively impact on passenger capacity while reducing the need to increase battery capacity.

“Research we’ve undertaken shows that most city buses travel less than 250km in a 16-hour shift, meaning there’s no requirement to fit the chassis with more batteries for surplus range,” he says.

“Longer range seems to be more desirable, but there are cost of life benefits associated with smaller battery packs, including faster charging capabilities.

“If you have the right infrastructure, it can be a next-generation solution to overcome overnight charging issues.” 

This forward-thinking approach is similarly applied to hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles. Although battery electric buses are more popular currently, Murley sees a future where the similarities between hydrogen and diesel makes it the preferred option for government route bus operators.

 ARCC is looking to the future for its development

Murley says the roll out of infrastructure to support a large scale deployment of hydrogen vehicles, be it commercial or passenger, is some way off. 

This increases the importance of the trials that ARCC is involved with in NSW and Victoria. Murley says the data from these projects will help establish metrics and benefits around operating hydrogen buses.

“We want to create a solution with the right infrastructure that makes zero-emissions transport as convenient as driving diesel vehicles,” Murley says.

Murley admits many of ARCC’s design benefits are not yet visible for its target audience. He’s playing the long game and waiting for the technology to develop in the infrastructure sector to match the benefits that ARCC’s modular and scalable electric and hydrogen bus chassis provide operators.

“Our mission is to lead the sector by adopting technological advancements for a wide-scale solution that decarbonises the transport sector with a focus on government route buses while also rethinking manufacturing practices,” Murley says.

“We see our design making travel for passengers clean and quiet and our design being highly configurable to suit different routes while reducing energy usage.”

This local manufacturing emphasis extends beyond software and technology designs. Murley employs seven engineers, with only two of them being above the age of 35. While getting zero-emissions designs right is critical, he recognises the need to invest in the next generation of experts.

“ARCC recognises that its people are unique and committed,” Murley says. “The current tight labour market means it’s essential that we put in place processes that ensure our workforce is well communicated to when it comes to company direction and priorities.

There are many lessons that Murley has learnt as ARCC has grown. In just its seventh year, ARCC has thrived without any government support or grants.

By ‘doing less with more’, Murley is confident ARCC’s clever approach will pay rich dividends for the Australian and global zero-emissions bus market.

“Our current and future focus is all on generational change, both in terms of employees and ideas,” Murley says.

“I’m confident we will continue building a solution that can be deployed in any situation that is needed both now and in the future.” 

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