Video review: Carbridge TORO eBus
In a rapidly changing world, all sectors of industry have become more aware of the impacts of how we operate and the lasting effects on the environment — enter the Carbridge TORO fully electric bus
The development and introduction of electric buses has the capacity to reduce the transportation industry’s environmental footprint and revolutionise the ‘green’ footprint of the vehicles we drive.
There have been few significant changes in bus development over the past 20 years. Yes, emissions have been reduced in diesel vehicles with the introduction of the Euro rating system.
The Euro 6 diesel engines have reduced emission levels but are significantly heavier and require more complex componentry to achieve these lower levels.
To reduce the emissions they produce, the negative side effects include difficult servicing for workshops, more complicated systems for the operator to navigate, and added expenses – operators are required to add AdBlue to all vehicles to get the correct emission levels.
I had the experience of test driving the Carbridge TORO and speaking with the company CEO Luke Todd.
Had I met Todd before the test drive I may have been cynical about his enthusiasm and claims, but I admit I was very impressed with the experience of the test drive. He is, understandably, very passionate about the company’s achievements.
"What Carbridge has done," he says, "is to completely re-invent the bus, a radical re-think of the bus manufacturing process which, not that many years ago was viewed as a futuristic product, has now arrived with this exciting technology.
"This is an industry-changing moment. The transportation industry needs to take note and embrace the technology and change the world for the better, because it is about ultimately establishing a more sustainable future.
"We have just been the first company to embrace the technology and succeed in producing a financially viable electric product."
The Carbridge TORO represents the future of bus transit.
"It is not just another bus, it is an entire bus market disruptor," Todd says. "We are the first to get an electric bus to market.
"There are other companies trying but no one to date has successfully delivered a quality product to the Australian market.
"To use a boxing analogy, this bus is currently the best pound-for-pound electric bus available worldwide.
There is no bus that runs further and is lighter with the level of technology we have achieved in this vehicle."
Todd says Carbridge is the first company with operational electric buses – others have had demos and trial vehicles, but Carbridge has successfully released a viable electric bus that is in daily operation.
"Other companies have tried over the past 20 years to achieve what Carbridge has accomplished in the last three years," Todd says.
The build process
Not all is actually new with the TORO. Carbridge has taken the BYD chassis that has been in operation for nine years around the world with over 10,000 units in service globally.
The company has then worked in partnership with BYD and aluminum body building specialist Gemilang to apply a lightweight aerospace-quality aluminum body, which has been in use for more than 10 years, onto an extremely strong electrical BYD power train.
The combination and development of these two products is a culmination of solutions that have been tried, tested, and perfected for almost a decade each. Carbridge combined the two to create the Toro.
I asked how the weight of the TORO compared to a similar diesel bus. It is heavier, but this has been significantly reduced compared to a standard build with a galvanised steel body.
This was achieved by working with a team of BYD and Gemilang engineers to minimise chassis weight while maintaining the integral strength of the chassis. The weight of the
TORO is significantly lighter than any other electric buses currently being produced.
"No electric bus runs further, or is lighter than, the TORO," Todd states.
"What we have been able to achieve is a vehicle that is much lighter than any other on the market, which is vital for an electric bus as the batteries required are very heavy."
Carbridge has spent a lot of time in the engineering process to ensure the lighter vehicle offsets the weight of the roof-mounted batteries, and that this weight is successfully dispersed.
On the test drive you wouldn’t have known there were heavy batteries on the roof. The distribution alleviated any top-heavy feeling when maneuvering corners and roundabouts; the stability was very surprising.
As for the configurations available: "We will market the low-floor city bus to come in one, two or three doors depending on customer requirements and bus usage needs," Todd says.
Carbridge’s current electric fleet is using a three-door configuration as it allows a fast turnaround and successful handling of a high volume of passengers at the busy Sydney Airport.
In comparing diesel to electric, the TORO is 80 per cent cheaper to run when it comes to fuel consumption. And, because the electric bus has had all of the components that run a diesel bus eliminated, maintenance costs are about 80 per cent less than a standard Euro 6 diesel vehicle.
"Because we have removed the heavy engine and all the operating parts that go with operating the engine, the maintenance has been significantly simplified," Todd says.
Maintenance involves a team of technicians undertaking diagnostic checks of the battery management system and standard vehicle safety checks – wheels, axles, tyres, etc. – the type of general preventative maintenance and safety required on all buses.
You don’t change oils, fluids or filters. All of that has gone.
"The marginally higher capital investment of the vehicle compared to the lower running costs will be recouped within a three-year period," Todd says.
"Considering the long life of our buses, this statistic makes an electric bus purchase a very attractive one.
"The TORO is far less expensive than other electric buses that have been proposed but never come to affordable fruition in recent years."
When asking what he thinks the market will be for the TORO, Todd says: "The market is for mass consumption and it’s suitable for
all major cities.
"Currently there has been significant interest from government bodies and many operators.
"Carbridge is very excited."
When queried, Todd is unsure why large diesel bus companies have opted to not yet develop – or release to market – this technology, but believes it is due to the requirement of a ‘total rethink’ of their business models and the transportation industry as it traditionally has operated.
Large maintenance facilities and the spare parts industry, as it currently operates, would have to adapt.
The dramatic changes this technology could bring within the industry scares a lot of people.
Todd likens it to the changes that occurred within the camera industry when digital technology was first embraced and the negative impact it made to large well-known camera brands that made their profits from film sales rather than the camera product itself.
"We potentially are doing to the bus industry what digital cameras did to the camera industry," he says.
The Carbridge TORO can achieve an amazing 32-hour drive time in normal route conditions from a three-hour charge with a 600km capacity on straight highway driving. With figures like that, it shows the TORO could be successfully used for much more than just city routes.
During the test drive, the vehicle is surprisingly recharging while in operation. It uses the same system that formula one cars use – as you accelerate, the regeneration system is removing from the batteries and, as you decelerate, you put power back into the vehicle.
Essentially, by stopping and starting on a drive, you are both constantly taking power from, and putting it back into, the system.
At present, the buses used at Sydney Airport are charged about every three days.
They are run down to approximately 25 per cent capacity and then recharged.
The entire engine and all heavy componentry that you would see in a standard diesel vehicle has been replaced with two small high-tech in-hub motor systems that are fully enclosed inside the rear wheels.
The motor systems require very little maintenance and are proprietary technology for Carbridge.
"Essentially we have taken all the heavy and excess components away to create a lightweight, powerful vehicle," Todd says.
"We have removed virtually all of the moving parts to achieve what a diesel bus is trying to achieve: lower emissions"
The electric bus has more power than a standard diesel engine, though the bus I drove has been speed regulated for route conditions. Unregulated, I am told, it has significantly more power available if used for different driving configurations.
The first thing I noticed on the test drive was the touchiness of the braking system. I did comment that it was so good that it would take a bit of getting used to, but I wasn’t aware that I needed to use it differently.
Todd explained the different way the braking system is used by drivers, and the impact it has on the smoothness of the drive.
Having never driven an electric bus before, I guess there are always new things to learn!
Todd tells me Carbridge has a training program for drivers to learn how to successfully operate the braking system. You use the accelerator to brake, easing on and off the accelerator to slow down.
The system gives a much smoother drive for passengers.
You don’t lift your foot on and off the pedal, just ease and apply your foot on the pedal as required. I had the opportunity a few days later to experience the smooth drive on the TORO from a passenger’s perspective.
Another distinct advantage of the electric buses is the lack of vehicle noise produced. This becomes a huge benefit in busy city areas where there is a lot of noise.
These vehicles make no sound on the outside whatsoever, which contributes to "improved harmony in cities", Todd says.
An unexpected issue of the complete quietness of the vehicle for Carbridge is the new noise-dampening technologies required to overcome even the smallest noise: a squeak in a seat, movement noise in a seat mounting, and noise entering the vehicle over wheel arches.
To ensure a positive passenger experience, the company had to remove every audible sound that would normally be muffled by a standard diesel vehicle.
Passengers benefit from the quiet vehicle and smoother ride due to lack of hard braking required, and, as the TORO is a zero tailpipe emission vehicle, they also don’t experience the fumes associated with standard diesel vehicles.
Driving and learning about the Carbridge TORO was a different experience to what I expected. Most products or goods that have a defined ‘green tag’ usually come with the automatic skepticism as to what are we giving up or missing out on to achieve these environmental advances.
The TORO was a surprise to drive – it had unexpectedly great stability, an extreme quietness of operation that was a pleasure to drive in, and the vehicle’s power and acceleration was way more than I ever anticipated. I was also impressed by the power off the mark.
Currently, Carbridge is engineering and testing the development of an electric coach, school bus and a mini-bus due to be released to the market in 2018. This promises further advances to come in an exciting new market with the added benefits and changes that will be experienced by operators, passengers and the environment alike.
I could find no negatives throughout the driving experience and look forward to how this ground-breaking technology can change the future of the transport industry.
"This is a legacy moment for the bus industry. It is not a case of who will adapt to this new technology within the mainstream industry, it is a matter of when," Todd says.