Hybrid buses ready for trials
Mon, Nov 16, 2009
The Straits Times

By Christopher Tan

JUST a week after a taxi operator rolled out Singapore's first hybrid taxis, two green buses are set to hit the roads here.

The buses, which run on a combination of diesel and battery power, are said to use up to 30 per cent less fuel than conventional ones.

As a result, their tailpipe emissions, which are harmful to the environment, will also be cut.

The buses, assembled in China, were the result of a joint venture led by ST Kinetics, a Singapore engineering company better known for its military vehicles.

ST Kinetics teamed up with two other companies to make the hybrid buses: Chinese bus-maker King Long, which supplied the chassis, and ALP Energy, which supplied the lithium battery management system.

The latter is owned by Singapore-born businessman Lim Loong Keng, who is now a Canadian.

ST Kinetics is currently in talks with two bus operators about running trials for the buses.

The Straits Times understands they are SMRT Corp and Brickston Transport, a company whose main business is ferrying factory workers.

Assembled in China, the hybrid buses are the result of a joint venture led by ST Kinetics, known for its military vehicles. It takes a bus company just three years to recoup the extra money spent on a green bus. ST Kinetics is in talks with two bus operators to start trials.

ST Kinetics hopes to convince the two firms of the buses' viability during the trial, and hopes they will order more such coaches in future.

Brickston's owner Colin Gan, 50, is already swayed by the prospect of lower running costs. "First and foremost, it can save fuel. And then it's also green.

"I've told them, if everything is set, I'm prepared to take 10 coaches."

An SMRT spokesman would say only that the firm was "studying the feasibility of adding eco-friendly alternatives, including hybrid buses, to our bus fleet".

ST Kinetics has dabbled in so-called "alternative energy" vehicles in the past. Since 1997, it has invested more than $80 million in start-ups dealing with such vehicles in the United States, China and South Korea.

Last year, it had a commercial breakthrough when it delivered a fleet of hybrid baggage tow trucks to Changi Airport. In electric mode, the trucks were found to be suitable for the enclosed, air-conditioned areas they often operate in.

The two hybrid buses will be the first diesel-electric vehicles to ply public roads here. The hybrid cars and taxis here are petrol-electric.

Besides their green credentials, the buses also comply with the latest government requirements for public buses - they provide wheelchair-accessibility, for example.

The one drawback of the buses: Cost.

At $500,000 apiece, they are between 25 per cent and 30 per cent more expensive than conventional buses.

Bus operators The Straits Times spoke to cited this as a potential hurdle to adopting the vehicles. The uncertainty of the new technology is another, they added.

However, ST Kinetics general manager Mah Chi Jui pointed out that the vehicles' lower fuel costs mean long-term savings for the operators.

A bus company would take just three years to recoup the extra money spent on a green bus, he said.

Meanwhile, Singapore's biggest bus company, SBS Transit, said it is also exploring the possibility of buying hybrid buses.

The company has some experience with green buses - SBS Transit already runs 12 compressed natural gas variants here.

In addition, its parent group, Comfort- DelGro Corp, owns London public bus operator Metroline, which is currently trying out five hybrid buses there.

A ComfortDelGro spokesman said the London trials have been successful.

Between them, SBS Transit and SMRT operate close to 4,000 buses. There are another 2,500 or so private buses with 35 seats or more. The vast majority run on diesel.


This article was first published in The Straits Times.


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