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HDrive buses driving a greener future in Australia

It’s all systems go for zero-emissions bus and coach distributor HDrive. The Australian distributor of Wisdom models is finding there are many benefits to hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles on local roads.

In days gone by, hydrogen vehicles would be met with trepidation. Yet the sheer amount of tough testing that goes into hydrogen fuel cell buses and coaches means these models are now among the safest vehicles in the market. Throughout its journey, zero-emissions vehicle distributor HDrive puts its hydrogen fleet through arduous testing before it’s even allowed out of a factory.

As the exclusive distributor of Wisdom Motors’ range of zero-emissions vehicles in Australia, New Zealand and many other countries, HDrive is continuing its proven history of carbon neutral transport.

“In China there are nine different manufacturing areas that internally people rank, with number one being where the top tier vehicles are manufactured,” HDrive general manager Ben Kiddle told ABC. “Wisdom is situated in the top tiered development zones, meaning it gets the best engineers and an amazing factory that has massive land space.”

This area allows Wisdom to do something that many other manufacturers can’t. When new vehicles are made, they are taken out to a huge test track that also includes water and undulation strips to test each prototype vehicle to breaking point.

HDrive ensures its vehicles are designed specifically for Australia’s harsh and operationally demanding requirements to provide the best and most reliable products in the market.

The test vehicles are then made to travel for 10,000 kilometres around the track before being taken to the other two strips. The water test track ensures all electrical systems onboard a zero-emissions bus are properly sealed before they go to the undulation strip.

“I wouldn’t take a four-wheel drive over the undulation track with all of its bumps and jumps,” Kiddle says. “The prototype vehicles get punished before they can be sent to Australia as HDrive products.

“It’s the difference between our factory in China and others in the world.”

HDrive’s growing range of emerging models fill Kiddle with great confidence when they hit Australian shores.

HDrive first started in Australia when BLK Auto managing director Jason Pecotic deployed 10 hydrogen fuel-cell coaches into Western Australia’s Fortescue Mine sites. Pecotic has been focused on developing new energy vehicles for the Australian market ever since and now has a range of up to 23 hydrogen fuel-cell and battery electric commercial and passenger transport vehicles from HDrive.

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HDrive is a subsidiary business to Pecotic’s BLK Auto. The latter distributes Bonluck buses, unlike HDrive’s partnership with separate manufacturer Wisdom. The two companies may have different manufacturing backgrounds, but Kiddle says they have shared resources in Australia, including aftersales and parts deployment.

Shareholders of Wisdom include Ballard, who Kiddle says is the world’s largest and most well-known fuel cell provider, and Templewater. HDrive’s vehicles use a wide range of Ballard’s hydrogen fuel cells, including its latest FCmove platform that can sit on the roof of a bus or can be fitted as a packaged unit where a traditional bus would have its engine bay.

Entrepreneurial investment partner Templewater is also a shareholder of Wisdom, giving the brand a wealth of resources to draw upon with its range.

HDrive started working directly with Australian operators in October 2021 to understand exactly how vehicles are utilised within their operation. Its testing and consultation resulted in the concept of two different bus designs for the local market – a city bus that is only utilised in low speed route service and a second option for vehicles that operate at a higher speed and climb steep elevations.

Kiddle is in charge of the range testing on high speed demands up and down mountains to confirm that the latter of HDrive’s vehicles are ideal for local customers.

“I tested HDrive vehicles along Mount Ousley between Sydney and Wollongong on the most demanding hill in Australia,” Kiddle says. “It’s 14 and a half kilometres in length and up a 10 per cent grade, meaning it requires a huge amount of torque demand.

“Electric vehicles can struggle to have enough power to keep going after getting up this climb, but this is where HDrive’s hydrogen fuel-cell applications come to life as they can handle the high speed and grade.”

Kiddle says current diesel powered vehicles in operation need to be capable of route service from Monday to Friday. When there is also additional scheduled trackwork or charters, the vehicles then must be able to spring to life and operate longer services requiring higher speeds while taking on difficult terrain. HDrive has vehicles and solutions that cater to these varying requirements.

HDrive’s extreme Australian testing means Kiddle can put his hand on heart and say that HDrive’s bus range is fit for purpose in local conditions to meet the operator’s needs.

HDrive’s passenger transport range currently sits at nine vehicles, with plans for further Australian expansion on the near horizon for the growing zero-emissions brand.

The distributor’s hydrogen products start with its FC75 hydrogen minibus. The seven metre smaller option includes a flip-out wheelchair ramp and is Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) compliant to allow easy access for customers.

Kiddle says the FC75 is HDrive’s flexible option – it can be used as a 13-seat vehicle or it can be extended to eight metres long and hold 22 seats. With a top speed of 80 kilometres per hour and a range of 300 kilometres, Kiddle says the FC75 is the ideal zero-emissions replacement for the current minibus range.

“It’s comfortable and easy to drive,” Kiddle says. “With an ageing population the FC75 becomes so valuable as it can have hundreds of wheelchairs piled onto it to take everyone to bingo night.

“It’s perfect for on-demand services, pubs, clubs and private school charter runs. It is refuelled in around two minutes and it’s a good entry to the zero-emissions market for those who don’t want to commit to a larger model.”

The minibus is available in both electric and hydrogen fuel-cell options. The hydrogen minibus features tanks in the rear of the vehicle, taking the length to eight metres with the battery electric version starting at seven metres with a charge time of around one hour.

Next in HDrive’s fleet is its FC120 12.5 metre low floor city bus. The EV120 is the electric version, while the FC120 is a hydrogen low-floor option, with both coming in a 45-seat configuration.  

Kiddle is excited to formally launch the FC120 low-floor model in Australia – he believes the price point will pleasantly surprise many potential customers wanting to buy a zero-emissions bus.

“The FC120 low-floor model is currently priced at around $800,000,” Kiddle says. “Previously the price in the market for this kind of hydrogen bus sat at around $1.2 million, so for people to see that the price has reduced a fair way should encourage them to make the leap to hydrogen buses.”

The FC model is HDrive’s premier hydrogen model and isn’t limited to just the FC120 – the FC120C is a similar 12.5 metre option that’s ideal for coach, school bus or mine transfer applications. Alongside the FC120C variant is the FC120DD 12.5 metre double decker which is known as the Hong Kong Hydrogen Double Decker.

Kiddle says the FC120DD has since been affectionately known in Wollongong as the Hong Gong Shuttle after it was transported to New South Wales’s Shellharbour Regional Airport last year from Hong Kong to be shown to the local industry.

The double-decker bus was loaned from Hong Kong transport operators to HDrive last year for one month, with the distributor pouncing on the opportunity to show the novel model to operators and government officials in Illawarra, New South Wales.

The idea behind the trial day was to give the local industry a hands-on taste of how hydrogen fuel-cell buses work and showcase the quality that HDrive can offer Australian operators. HDrive wanted to show the industry that hydrogen technology is real and is ready to be deployed in Australia. 

“It was a thrill getting the double-decker FC120DD bus launched in NSW last year,” Kiddle says. “It was originally built to be trialled in Hong Kong to replace electric vehicles that had trouble being integrated into larger fleets due to a supply issue when it came to local grid power opportunities.

“The vehicle was a marketing campaign and went through stringent safety tests to prove Hong Kong was ready for hydrogen fuel-cell buses. We were lucky to have it in Australia for a month before it went back to Hong Kong at the end of last year.”


When it was brought to NSW, Kiddle and other government officials, key operators and stakeholders got to drive the double-decker on the runway at Shellharbour Regional Airport. Kiddle says they all gave the vehicle the thumbs-up.

“It drove beautifully and had no body roll in it,” Kiddle says. “If the New South Wales government talks about putting in a dedicated bus route between the proposed new Sydney airport and the current one then this bus is perfect for that application.

“It requires no charging infrastructure, just a tube trailer to fill it up. I fuelled it myself in Wollongong – I just ordered gas cylinders, connected the gas hose and away it went.”

The next year is all about growth for the newly formed distributor in both the truck and bus sectors. When it comes to the former, HDrive is already taking strides after signing a five-year supply deal with Pure Hydrogen and Wisdom for up to 12,000 trucks over five years. Now, alongside BLK Auto, the procurement of hydrogen buses remains critical in Australia.

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