16 September 2019
To make it light and strong, HKPC’s e-bus uses T6-grade aluminum alloy for its body, only one tier shy of the T7 used in airplanes. Photo: HKPC
To make it light and strong, HKPC’s e-bus uses T6-grade aluminum alloy for its body, only one tier shy of the T7 used in airplanes. Photo: HKPC

Why Hong Kong has an edge in developing an e-bus

Many people may have been surprised by the recent launch of a locally designed e-bus.

Hong Kong has no carmakers, nor do we make batteries, a core component, for electric vehicles — so what is our edge?

The city has, in fact, a long history of research and design in electronic products and is actually quite good at that, said Dr. Lawrence Poon, principal consultant of the Hong Kong Productivity Council’s automotive and electronics division.

Making a good e-vehicle has a lot to with the electronic devices that together function like the brain of the vehicle.

The e-bus designed by the HKPC boasts several key features, including a light body, a range of 300-350 kilometers per charge and a remote diagnosis system.

“The hardware of the iPhone isn’t always the best, its screen for example, but it wins with the operating system,” Poon said. 

“The performance of an e-bus can vary a lot even if we use the same motor and battery.”

It’s the software controlling the battery and motor that determines how smart an e-bus is.

The smarter it is, the more efficiently it uses energy and the longer the mileage it can achieve between charges.

The core operating system of HKPC’s e-bus is composed of a battery management system, a motor control unit and a vehicle system controller that coordinates the two.

Hong Kong is known for its tough traffic conditions.

Roads often have a lot of turns and traffic lights, and slopes are common.

A bus, in particular, has to stop frequently along its route.

Energy losses get worse during the summer, when doors open at each stop and cool air leaks out.

(As much as one-third of the energy a bus consumes goes to power the air-conditioning system.)

To reduce its weight and save energy, HKPC’s e-bus uses T6-grade aluminum alloy for the body of the bus.

With a net body weight of 12.5 tonnes, the 12-meter single-decker is 10-13 percent lighter than comparable models in the market.

Most of Hong Kong’s traffic pollution comes from commercial vehicles like buses and trucks.

Given that emissions reduction has always been a target of the government, there is a strong incentive for local bus operators to switch to green vehicles over the long run.

A robust local demand for the e-bus is therefore likely.

But the market potential should be a lot bigger than that.

Being able to handle Hong Kong’s demanding driving conditions means HKPC’s e-bus stands a good chance of beating overseas rivals in foreign markets.

So why did HKPC focus on an e-bus and not an e-car?

First, not many companies make e-buses, but there is plenty of competition in the e-car universe.

“European bus makers have invested heavily in emissions-reduction technology for engines powered by diesel,” Poon said.

“It is against their interests to switch to a different technology.”

HKPC’s edge lies in designing commercial vehicles that normally put priority on energy efficiency, safety and performance.

However, for passenger cars, other factors like the look, comfort and driving experience are important, and that isn’t where HKPC’s core strengths lie.

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EJ Insight writer