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VDI embraces electric excitement following Canberra tender win

When the winner for a major electric bus tender in Canberra was announced, it was a milestone moment for the history of the ACT government as well as VDI and Yutong buses in Australia

When the second largest electric bus tender in Australian history to date was put out to the market, it’s little wonder that VDI Australia leapt at the opportunity to compete.

As the exclusive Australian distributor for Yutong, one of the leading electric bus and coach manufacturers in the world, VDI has plenty of experience supplying large quantities of buses.

Backing its ability to deliver on the contract, the company put forward a strong enough pitch to win the business, marking a historic moment in VDI’s journey so far.

VDI Australia general manager Lou Riccardi won’t forget the moment he found out that VDI/ Yutong had won the historic tender.

“We had it confirmed over email that we had won the tender for the new electric bus order for Transport Canberra,” Riccardi told ABC. “We were all in the office when it came through and were so ecstatic that we had received the tender.”

The ACT tender was of a size rarely seen before in Australian electric bus history.

Trailing just behind this year’s Western Australia electric bus tender for 130 electric buses, this latest round of ACT government electric bus procurement called for 90 new zero-emissions buses for the Transport Canberra fleet.

Under the contract, the ACT government has committed to buying 90 Yutong E12 battery electric buses. The territory government is also in negotiations to order another four battery electric buses with Custom Denning.

When the new electric buses arrive on Canberra’s streets, they will take ACT’s zero-emissions bus fleet to 106. It’ll form a big step towards the territory’s aim of having a fully electric bus fleet by 2040.

The electric buses will join 12 Yutong E12 buses that have been running in the Canberra fleet since the start of this year as part of a five-year lease agreement between the ACT government, VDI and Zenobe. These vehicles have already travelled more than 100,000 kilometres.

“Before these first E12s came to Canberra, the ACT government ran a trial with the E12 over a 12-month period for their assessment,” Riccardi says.

The initial electric trial started in early 2022, at a time when the ACT government also leased 26 diesel buses from Scania and Bus Tech as well as the 12 Yutong E12s from VDI Australia.

This latest procurement order for 90 more E12s is a major leap of faith for a territory government looking to continue leading the way in Australia when it comes to electric buses.

Already it’s been a rapid journey for the ACT transport minister Chris Steel, who ABC spoke to in the wake of the bus contract announcement.

“We first mapped out our zero-emissions transition plan for Transport Canberra in 2020 and set out a pathway to reach zero-emissions across our bus fleet by 2040 or earlier,” Steel told ABC.

“We’d been trialling electric and hybrid buses before that to help inform our strategy development. Canberra is the fastest growing city in Australia and we need more buses to deliver this to its growing suburbs.”

The new deal involves VDI supplying the Yutong E12 buses in the three years leading up to 2026 as part of a steady delivery plan.

When they arrive, they’ll replace the ACT’s ageing diesel and compressed natural gas (CNG) buses and meet key sustainability goals. Additionally, VDI will provide technical training and ongoing support to Transport Canberra staff.

Steel says the recent Australian Institute report condemning the slow rollout of zero-emissions bus technology in Australia was on his mind as he led the territory’s progressive electric bus target.

“The ACT is a leader in zero-emissions transport with the largest fleet of electric bus delivered per capita in our nation,” he says.

“This will transition more than 20 per cent of our bus fleet to zero-emissions technology. It’s also been backed up by a significant investment we’ve made in the infrastructure required to charge the buses through EvoEnergy.”

VDI will also play a vital role in this infrastructure focus.

While the ACT government has worked with electricity company EvoEnergy to drag high voltage feeder cables to two depots in Woden and Tuggeranong to provide the capacity to charge up to 300 electric buses, VDI’s successful deal will also see it supply electric charging infrastructure.

Currently, Steel says that each existing Yutong E12 electric bus that arrived in Canberra earlier this year has on average travelled 300km per weekday for an average of 11 hours per day.

“We’re seeing really good operational performance from the buses and we’ve been able to replace existing diesel buses one for one,” Steel says.

“It goes to show the maturity in the bus technology over time. The technology has improved and electric buses are showing they’re very competitive on the road compared to diesel models.

“VDI was chosen through a competitive tender process because they provided value for money, a strong delivery schedule and the right specifications for Transport Canberra.

 

“We think we have a great outcome for this tender, but there’ll be further opportunities down the track for other suppliers as we continue transitioning.”

Steel expects these Yutong E12 buses to have an important impact on improving Canberran’s quality of life, with zero-emissions buses reducing noise and normal pollution significantly alongside their environmental benefits.

VDI Australia national manager of product, ZEB and new technologies, Luke Edwards says if the latest order of electric Yutong buses continue on the path the original E12s have laid, Canberra will be in for an exciting zero-emissions future.

“So far there have been no issues at all and they’ve performed faultlessly,” Edwards told ABC.

“We hope this tender win makes other regions take more notice and have more faith in our product.”

Ever since Riccardi received that exciting email, he’s been preparing for what lay ahead. Although it was a milestone moment for VDI Australia and the history of Yutong buses in Australia, he’s now got his eyes faced straight ahead for the crucial delivery phase that’s about to start.

Riccardi’s goal is to one day see a Canberra transport network fuelled by efficient Yutong electric buses on all services.

“Yutong has been building E12 electric buses since 1999, so having an integrated vehicle that ticks all boxes with years and years of research and design poured into it satisfies lots of requirements,” Riccardi says.

“It’s a big moment for us. We’ll be doing the end of line assembling for these vehicles here in Australia, creating new local jobs and giving Australian companies the opportunity to supply components moving forward.

“We’re very excited that we were selected but this is only the beginning for us. We anticipate many more wins for VDI and Yutong to come.” 

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