Start-up AEV developing battery-electric shuttle buses for China, India and US markets
3 January 2011
|Prototype of the AEV e-shuttle. Click to enlarge.|
Colorado-based American Electric Vehicles (AEV)—a company co-founded by Dr. Dan Rivers, who also co-founded Li-ion battery company Compact Power Inc. with LG Chem in 2000—is developing a 6.3m electric shuttle bus, with its primary markets intended to be China, India and the US.
The 18-passenger pilot eShuttle, which recently concluded efficiency testing in China, currently utilizes an 88.5 kWh lithium iron phosphate battery pack from its China-based partner NVT Battery and features a range of about 133 km (84 miles) without use of air conditioning and with a top speed of 80 km/h (50 mph) and consumption of 665 Wh/km.
|AEV eShuttle powertrain block diagram. Click to enlarge.|
AEV is now making the detailed specification for the production shuttles, the first of which is scheduled to roll off the line on 30 June. The current eShuttle utilizes a first-generation motor and second-generation motor controller designed by AEV; the company is planning to switch to a second-generation motor later this year as it moves closer to delivery of production prototypes to customers. AEV also intends to move to a larger battery pack in the future.
The pack, Rivers notes, can be fairly easily slid out from the bus, and AEV will likely offer such a pack swap configuration as an option.
In an interview with GCC, Rivers noted that he and his experienced team have migrated from one area of the electric vehicle to another, starting out in the drive area with controllers, drivetrain and chargers, moving to the battery, and now ending up with the whole vehicle.
We looked at all the opportunities, and which part of the market is ready for EVs today. We zeroed in on electric shuttles for the fleet market for two main reasons. First, predictable routes. Second, lots of driving, intensive use. Predictability and intensity.—Dan Rivers
In September 2010, AEV signed a manufacturing agreement with Bonluck Bus Manufacturing in China to assemble its vehicles for markets around the globe. In addition to manufacturing, the agreement also allows AEV to sell buses in China, India, and N. America.
Rivers said that the trends toward less expensive batteries and more expensive oil were combining to make an attractive value proposition. The startup looked to Hong Kong, China and India to see what those markets might need.
In India, we met with Delhi Metro Rail Corporation. They use small shuttles—a little smaller than 5.5m—to bring people into Delhi. On rail, the last mile transportation is to put people on shuttles and to move them around. A lot of these are professional people. The Government of India will do a matching grant with us on the shuttle.—Dan Rivers
Rivers said that AEV’s goal for 2011 is to produce 50 shuttles, which will initially be targeted for southern China for testing and demonstration driving. However, Rivers notes, although the US is currently a secondary market, “We really want to be in the US. We think there is a great opportunity in the US.”
Partners. AEV is partnering with a company in China on the charger, and works with NVT Battery on the Li-ion pack. The motor is being developed with a US design company, and being produced by US-based Orchid International. AEV worked with Parker Hannifin on the instrument panel, which integrated two CANbus systems (the electrical drive system and “everything that is bus”—i.e., door opener, etc.). AEV is upgrading to include 3G cellular network connectivity in China.
Bonluck, AEV’s manufacturing partner, is a medium-sized bus company for China, Rivers said.
We found this medium-size company to have good technology, good quality. They were producing for export only. They are used to doing business overseas, and they had some interesting concepts, such as making a lightweight bus.—Dan Rivers
AEV did work with LG Chem up to about 2008, Rivers said. However, he explained, LG has targeted the light electric vehicle and hybrid market, with its main production now being a cell that started its development with the Colorado team 10 years ago (and has now ended up in the Chevy Volt, among others).
Every cell is a compromise tailored for an application if you do it right. You want to make the pack as small as possible, but make it as powerful as possible. The [plug-in] hybrid pack design problem is about the hardest you can imagine—much more so than pure electric.—Dan Rivers
Outlook. AEV intends to produce about 300 buses in 2012, Rivers said. Chris Groesbeck, AEV Global Director of Business Development (who was also with Rivers during CPI’s Colorado phase) noted that with respect to the US, “Our intention is not to become a bus company, our intention is to work with existing players here and fit into existing business models.”
Right now, AEV is looking at private fleets, and sees numbers there that will make it an attractive business.
With respect to the China market, Groesbeck notes that although there is a lot of competition there, AEV can leverage its technology advantage and partner with the right people and companies to get a piece of that market.
It is true that there is a lot of activity in China, but sometimes the reality is less than the hype. There are some 600 electric buses actually in operation today there, while annual sales of buses in China is about 200 to 300 thousand units. We are not latecomers.—Dan Rivers
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