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Why the U.S. Should Envy China’s Electric Bus Fleet

I write about electric vehicles on a regular basis. I eat my own cooking too.

We have a Tesla Model X as our primary vehicle. But the fastest-growing segment of electric transportation isn’t cars.

It’s electric buses.

Since 2013, the e-bus market has grown at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of more than 100%. Compare that with “just” a 60% CAGR for electric cars.

But if you want a good chance at catching an e-bus, you’ll likely need to visit China.

Eating China’s E-Bus Dust

At the end of 2018, there were 425,000 e-buses in use around the world. And 421,000 of those were in China.

Compare that with the 300 e-buses in the U.S. or Europe’s 2,250.

By 2025, China’s e-bus fleet could hit more than 600,000. By then, the U.S. total might hit 5,000.

Not only is China an e-bus manufacturing powerhouse, but the country’s policy is vastly different from what we have here in the U.S.

China’s government dictated a national mandate to get the ball rolling. It then subsidized e-bus manufacturers.

The U.S. government isn’t doing any of that.

But U.S. policymakers, especially those interested in mitigating climate change, may want to pay attention. That’s because not only are e-buses carbon-free, but they save a lot of money over a bus’s life span.

Cleaner, More Efficient, Lower Cost of Ownership

It’s no secret that some of China’s cities are afflicted with terrible air pollution. (In some of the worst areas, many people don’t go outside without wearing masks.)

But all that’s changing, and rapidly so. Less pollution isn’t the only benefit China gets from switching to e-buses.

E-buses save a lot more fuel than regular EVs save. To explain, 1,000 e-buses displace about 500 barrels of diesel daily. But 1,000 EVs displace just 15 barrels of diesel daily.

The city of Shenzhen is China’s e-bus showplace. It has 16,359 of them, making its fleet 100% electric.

It’s the first city in the world to have an all-electric bus fleet. But why aren’t more countries following in its tire marks?

On the one hand, an e-bus can cost around $750,000. That’s considerably more expensive than the average diesel-powered bus cost of $435,000.

But on the other hand, operating costs are far lower for e-buses. Los Angeles County saves about $46,000 annually on maintenance of e-buses compared with their diesel-powered counterparts.

If municipalities considered the total cost of ownership, the decision would be easy. But city officials need to change their overall view of e-buses.

Diesel-powered buses don’t use electricity, generate it or store it. But e-buses use it, can generate it (when braking) and certainly can store it. Once urban planners understand the difference, they can plan for e-bus charging infrastructure and upgrades to the power grid to support it.

Philadelphia is in the midst of expanding its e-bus fleet. It now has 25 e-buses and claims it has the largest e-bus fleet on the East Coast.

New York City, currently with 10 e-buses, should take Philadelphia’s e-bus title away soon. It’s planning on adding 65 e-buses by the end of this year, with a goal of more than 500 in the next five years.

This is the kind of competition I’d like to see more of. And the best way to play the e-bus market is through a Chinese battery or e-bus manufacturer.

So keep an eye on the trade war headlines. We’ll be looking for an entry point into the Chinese market when this mess dies down.

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