Bus Industry News, Company News

BLK Auto showcases a bold move at HDrive test day

From Hong Kong to the Illawarra, HDrive’s double decker hydrogen bus arrived in late 2022 for a test drive on Australian shores.

When a bus is on an exclusive loan from Hong Kong and transported across the seas to Shellharbour for a one day showcase, you know a company is confident in both the vehicle and its new technology.

The HDrive FC120DD unveiling at Shellharbour Regional Airport in late 2022 was Australasia’s first chance to experience a hydrogen double decker city bus. HDrive general manager Ben Kiddle was the driving force behind the confident showcase, and it certainly was an impressive turnout with local parliamentary members turning out alongside VIPS, industry guests, media and operators.

HDrive is a zero emissions distributor in Australia specialising in hydrogen and battery electric vehicles. It was founded a few years ago by BLK Auto managing director Jason Pecotic to facilitate the production of hydrogen fuel cell coaches into the Australian market. HDrive has since been working hard in the background with a company called Wisdom Motors to co-design and build a vehicle profile of more than 20 new BEV (battery electric vehicle) and FCEV (fuel cell electric vehicle) passenger transport and commercial logistics options. When it came to the location for the test drive of the HDrive FC120DD, the Illawarra was an easy choice for Kiddle.

 “The Illawarra is my hometown, I grew up in a little town called Helensburgh up the road,” Kiddle says. “It’s our intention to potentially invest in the area for our manufacturing and vehicle deployment, so there’s lots of opportunity for employment here as well.

“We’ve also chosen the Illawarra for its challenging terrain, varied speed and weather conditions because we know the vehicles are up to the challenge. I’ve had the opportunity of running some of John King’s vehicles up and down the infamous Mount Ousley to gather data and ensure that we have enough torque, battery power and hydrogen so that our bus applications here can meet the tough requirements.”

Kiddle says HDrive has been chatting with local operators for the past year about its hydrogen products. He says bringing the vehicle onshore is proof that hydrogen technology in the transport industry is real.

The HDrive bus is the very first one from Hong Kong, with Kiddle hopeful of seeing many more in the near future.

“We’re grateful to have the opportunity to borrow this vehicle before it is returned to service in the new year,” Kiddle says. “Hong Kong has embraced BEV technology and is now seeing the benefits of hydrogen due to power grid shortages in a growing BEV market.”

Kiddle is no new comer to hydrogen technology, having moved to the UK more than 20 years ago to work on hydrogen and electric buses. This industry technology background has brought him all the way back to the Illawarra, where his plan is for his local community and the bus industry to reap the environmental rewards and benefits of this green power.

“To see these two buses here is a very proud moment for me,” Kiddle says. “This double decker bus has been brought to the Illawarra to demonstrate that hydrogen fuel technology is real.

“Hydrogen technology has been around for long enough now to show that it’s a viable technology to use in the commercial transport industry. We know what all the problems and challenges are and what we need to do to engineer these vehicles for our conditions.” 

 BLK Auto’s Jason Pecotic (left) drives the bus

THE DRIVE AND FACTS

With a refuel time of only five to 10 minutes, a huge 100-person capacity and a drive range of more than 400 kilometres, the big people mover that is the HDrive FC120DD double decker city bus certainly has a lot to offer operators.

At the showcase, I had the opportunity to drive the double decker on the runway at Shellharbour Regional Airport. It certainly was a first – putting a fully loaded double decker bus through its paces with all eyes watching, no other cars in sight and a runway that was free to have fun with.

My first impression was that it had a very comfortable and well thought out drivers’ area. Being a double decker, you would expect some flex or body noise, but there was no noise audible. The double decker handled sharp turns with ease.

The standard order time is nine months from purchase order, but Kiddle says HDrive can surprise customers with six month deliveries on some of its vehicle types. Spare parts are readily available from its main store, based in Yatala, Queensland, using leading brands such as CATL, ZF, Dana, Meritor, Knorr–Bremse, Wabco and Bosch. It’s great to see a spec sheet that is filled with names we all know.

HDrive will establish a service centre and office in Sydney early this year. It’ll also submit for the NSW Panel 4 supply for its 12.5m BEV and FCEV city buses.

Being a hydrogen bus, safety was one of the first factors that came to mind. As standard, HDrive has fitted multiple sensors and systems to monitor and cut off gas supply in the event of any leaks or fire. All hydrogen vehicles are also fitted with full fire suppression to ensure maximum occupant safety.

The infrastructure required to support the hydrogen buses will also see adjustments needed.

Operators can choose several options to support their vehicle choice depending on the size of their fleet and their region.

“Back to base operators will benefit greatly by investing in their own infrastructure to produce and store hydrogen on site,” Kiddle says. “Hydrogen can also be produced by an energy provider and brought to site by a tube trailer and swapped when required. If an operator is lucky enough, there may be a retail refueller close by their depot.”

New technologies will mean a new way of doing things for us all, both as operators and drivers. But when you come and experience a zero emissions vehicle, where what comes out from the vehicle is pure water, in combination with the lack of vehicle noise, it’s difficult not to be excited by where companies like HDrive will take us. It’s wonderful thinking about what these changes will do for our industry and the health of the planet.

Send this to a friend