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Quebec’s Letenda debuts zero-emission electric buses

Six years after creating their concept for a fully electric bus, two Quebec entrepreneurs have un...

IMAGE: Letenda Electrip

Letenda’s new electric city bus, Electrip. (Courtesy Letenda)

Six years after creating their concept for a fully electric bus, two Quebec entrepreneurs have unveiled Electrip, a 30-foot zero-emission vehicle ready for production.

The product of Longueuil-based Letenda Inc., the Electrip has a passenger area designed to accommodate up to 45 people, including 24 seated passengers and up to six wheelchair users, who will be able to enter at the front with other passengers.

It features a heated floor, and is designed to handle Canada’s sometimes challenging winter road conditions.

“The idea came up to build a bus that is specifically made for the electric powertrain,” co-founder Jonathan Beaulieu told SustainableBiz. The powertrain is the key component of the vehicle, generating and delivering power to the wheels and the road surface.

The project was funded in part through private investors as well as the Ministère de l’Économie et de l’Innovation du Québec, the Ministère de l’Énergie et de Resources naturelles du Québec and the National Research Council of Canada.

Among the private investors is the aluminum division of mining company Rio Tinto, headquartered in Montreal, which has invested $650,000 in the company. Aluminum is a key component in the Electrip, helping to keep the vehicle’s weight down to have a longer battery range.

The Electrip’s range has not yet been released.

Letenda was founded in 2016 by Nicholas Letendre, now president and CEO, and Beaulieu, who is the chief operating officer. The two formerly worked together at Bombardier’s aviation division, where they took the bus to work. The genesis of the company arose from those commutes.

Since then, the pair has grown the company to about 35 employees.

Electrip’s potential

The first Electrip prototype was constructed mainly of wood, aside from its powertrain. Beaulieu stated he and Letendre invited “all the transport authorities around Quebec” for a robust demonstration. The positive feedback and considerable developments in the intervening years have led to the Electrip of today.

Beaulieu calls the Electrip “the new generation of buses,” thanks to its modular configuration that will allow Letenda in the future to produce similar electric bus models at different lengths, depending on the requirements of its clients. In its announcement video, interiors were shown primarily accommodating shuttle bus or paratransit uses.

To make maximum use of the interior space and provide flexibility in configurations, designers moved the wheels closer to the front and back of the bus. This means they don’t take up space in the passenger area.

The current 30-foot design is smaller than the typical 40-foot bus seen in larger cities and is part of a “niche market,” according to Beaulieu. While he didn’t want to provide specifics, Beaulieu said the company isn’t just targeting municipal uses for the Electrip.

“It’s a perfect size for shuttle buses, corporate buses, airport shuttles and university shuttles. That’s the type of market we’re looking into,” Beaulieu said.

Initial plans are to market the bus with transportation authorities in Quebec and then expand across Canada.

One ongoing partnership is a pilot project announced in May 2020 with the transport authority of Saguenay, Que., about 200 km north of Quebec City.

“It’s a good collaboration because we want to get feedback on our operations, and you want to collaborate to improve the product with the Saguenay region,” Beaulieu said. “We will also evaluate the United States market in the near future.”

Letenda hopes to be producing 300 buses per year by 2025.

Current and future technology

In a recent release, the company notes the buses are also “designed to facilitate the integration of the latest intelligent and autonomous vehicle technologies.” That doesn’t mean these technologies would be built-in at the outset, but given Electrip’s configuration, they could be in the future.

“It’s not ready for commercialization right now, but it’s something that we keep an eye on, and we want to make sure that we could integrate it really quickly when it’s ready,” Beaulieu said.

Last October, it was announced Columbus, Ind.-based engine manufacturer Cummins would provide the Electrip’s battery. Each Electrip will have three battery packs that provide 222kWh capacity, compatible with DC fast and plug-in charging.

The powertrain control, drive motor, power electronics, charge control, and connectivity systems also come from Cummins.

Both companies hope to expand their partnership further as Letenda commercializes its bus across Canada and the U.S.

The bus itself will be manufactured in Quebec for planned commercialization in 2023, although a plant has yet to be chosen.

In Quebec, the road transportation sector accounts for nearly 35 per cent of its greenhouse gas emissions. One of the province’s 2030 green goals is for 55 per cent of its municipal transit buses to be electric.

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