Pollution and worsening air quality is a serious concern for our country's urban centres as the infrastructure grapples to come up to terms with the rate of industrialisation and increase in sales of vehicles. The effect of bans on certain categories of vehicles is debatable based on past records and is temporary too anyway. The need of the hour then is to find sustainable green solutions that make sense for the masses. Tata Motors has leapfrogged the competition in this area by unveiling its new hybrid, electric and hydrogen fuel cell bus.
Technology For Today
The company recently unveiled its new offerings for mobility solutions that are clean and can support the upcoming smart cities too. The highlight of the range was the Starbus Hybrid, a 12 metre bus that features a diesel series hybrid configuration. It is also the first locally-made hybrid bus in India. Tata Motors already has an order of 25 units for this bus from the MMRDA (Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority), the deliveries for which are about to commence from April 2017. This bus is priced at Rs 2.2 crore, which is significantly higher than similarly-powered and sized diesel competition. However, buyers of the Starbus Hybrid can claim a subsidy of up to Rs 61 lakh under the FAME [Faster Adoption and Manufacturing of (Hybrid) & Electric Vehicles in India] scheme by the Indian Government. This brings down the actual buying cost to about Rs 1.6 crore or lower, which is not far off the diesel-powered competition.
Benefits of using this hybrid bus include up to 40 % higher fuel-efficiency over similar diesel-powered buses and most critically lower carbon and other harmful emissions. The bus features a modern and spacious interior layout, which coupled with its silent operation should translate into a comfortable cabin for passengers. I also got a chance to drive the Starbus Hybrid around the company's test track at the plant and it did turn out to be an eye-opener. It was odd to be driving a 12 metre bus with almost no sound at the start as we were running on the power of lithium-ion battery alone and later too the diesel engine came alive without being loud. As we picked up speed, all I could hear was tyre roll and a gentle whistle from the motors. The bus itself was quite easy to drive as it features an automatic transmission and seat suspended on a pneumatic suspension. This translates into great comfort for the driver, which is good since that should always be the most comfortable seat in a bus in an interest of safety. The bus also features brake-energy regeneration to maximise efficiency and hence the moment one steps off the gas, there's a significant amount of deceleration, which feels like a gentle application of brakes.
Technology On The Horizon
The company also showcased other buses with electric and hydrogen fuel-cell based propulsion systems. While the market deployment of these buses isn't going to be immediate, Tata Motors is already ready with the technology. The electric buses can be ordered in 9 metre and 12 metre versions and offer a range of around 180 km on a full charge, making them ideal for urban applications.
The most technically advanced product in the showcase was the Starbus Fuel Cell bus, a zero-emission hydrogen-powered 12 metre bus for inter-city usage. Tata Motors has developed this bus in partnership with ISRO (Indian Space Research Organisation). The only by-products from the tailpipe of this bus are water and heat after hydrogen along with oxygen is combined to produce electricity to power the motor.
Although the bus is production-ready, it'll take some time before it sees road application since there's no infrastructure in the country to support hydrogen filling. Tata Motors is already working on some pilot projects, which can serve a testing purpose and can then be expanded further.
Other showcased products at the event included an 18 metre articulated bus, which can carry more people than a regular bus but turn in the same space required by a 12 metre bus. Such buses can come in handy in reducing congestion in cities and can be offered in air-conditioned and non air-conditioned versions too.
At the event, the company also showcased some last mile transport solutions, that'll make the larger hybrid and fuel-cell buses accessible to a larger number of people. These included the Super Ace EV, Magic IRIS EV and the Magic EV.
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Tata Motors has historically been at the top of its game in the CV sector and this time once again it has gone a step ahead of its domestic as well as international competitors. The company's approach towards the future of mobility is diverse, going by the bouquet of production-ready technologies they showcased. This is going to pay a crucial role in the future as it's a well-accepted fact that there's no one technology that'll drive future transportation needs. Instead, a combination of various technologies aimed at specific applications will come together to create sustainable mobility solutions. Tata Motors seems to have this requirement well-covered as it not only provides a range of propulsion systems but also has a focus on last-mile connectivity, highlighting the holistic approach being taken by the company.