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Volvo’s Prevost developing electric coaches in EV push

Canadian bus manufacturer Prevost plans to spend $84 million during the next several years to dev...

A snapshot of Prevost’s H3-45 buses, which could share a similar look to its electric coaches, was announced recently. (Courtesy, Prevost)

Canadian bus manufacturer Prevost plans to spend $84 million during the next several years to develop electric coaches and a conversion kit that will allow it to transform diesel-engine coaches into electric vehicles.

Emmanuelle Toussaint, vice president of public affairs at Prevost, told SustainableBiz that the first phase of the five-year project would focus on developing an electric coach that can offer services to commuters and employee shuttles.

“It’s really something that we started to see interest for. It was something that we had to do [as a company] to meet the emissions targets that we have,” she said, referencing a 40-per-cent reduction in emissions per vehicle-km target for Volvo’s bus fleet.

Toussaint said that each electric coach would sell for between $900,000 and $1 million when the electric coaches go on sale, which is expected as early as 2025.

Offering an expected range of 400 km per charge, the electric coaches will likely follow a similar design to the H3-45, one of Provost’s best-selling buses, which produces 435 HP and 1,700 ft.-lb of torque.

It’s unclear what specs will carry over to the electric coach, Toussaint said. It’s also unknown when the automaker will begin retrofit efforts on diesel-engine models.

Still, the electrification program will see Prevost develop and manufacture the buses in Saint-Claire, Que. — a move that could create more than 750 jobs in the region.

Opportunity for growth in North America

As the automaker looks to capitalize on growing interest from major companies, Prevost could deliver electric coaches to a coach-bus segment that desperately needs solutions.

Major companies like Google are beginning to look at options to offer free shuttle services for their employees to ease the transition. They’re also offering free e-scooters to help ease the transition.

Meanwhile, the tourism sector is still reeling after being hit hard due to Covid-19. In 2020, tourism gross domestic product (GDP) was down 47.9 per cent, according to StatsCan.

The motor-coach industry has reportedly experienced a nearly 100 per cent loss of revenue since March 2020. In December 2020, Jennifer Fox, vice-president of Motor Coach Canada, wrote a letter to Canada’s Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland calling for financial assistance in the motor coach industry.

“With ridership numbers at an all-time low, scheduled service operators have been operating at a loss since March 2020, and charter operators are virtually non-operational,” the letter reads … “The motor coach sector has experienced a loss of $542.52 million since March 2020… With no revenue for 2020 being generated and no travel and tour business on the horizon, our members simply cannot afford to keep their staff in place and cannot take on more debt.”

In the meantime, investments like this could fill a stopgap. Prevost could work with bus companies to modernize their fleets to reduce gas costs and emissions, especially in Quebec, where electrification has been a major focus, said Toussaint.

The Government of Quebec is helping with $22.6 million in funding — a $15.1 million loan from Investissement Québec and a subsidy from Quebec’s Ministry of Environment of $7.5 million — some of which could go toward future infrastructure upgrades at Prevost facilities, she added.

Celebrating 100 years in the coach market

With manufacturing facilities in Sainte-Claire, Que. and Plattsburgh, N.Y., the funding will help Prevost build on its objectives while also reaching commitments the provincial government has outlined in the Canadian province’s 2030 Plan for a Green Economy.

“We are thrilled to be able to count on the support of the Quebec government. The coach market is looking forward to contributing to the fight against climate change. Prevost is ready to participate and offer an electric powertrain alternative to contribute to this global transformation,” said François Tremblay, president of Prevost, in a statement.

“We are two years away from celebrating Prevost’s 100th anniversary, so what better way to celebrate than bringing sustainable innovations to the market,” Tremblay added.

Founded in 1927 by Eugène Prévost, a French-Canadian carpenter, Prevost built custom bus frames and chassis in Canada until it was sold in 1957 to Paul Normand.

Prévost was later sold to Volvo in 1995, and in 2004, Volvo became the sole owner, according to its website.

Today, it is one of North America’s largest producers of premium intercity touring coaches. It has become a world leader in the production of high-end motorhome and specialty conversion coaches.

It has 17 OEM-owned service locations and 60 mobile service vans strategically stationed throughout North America, creating the potential for major deals with businesses and governments in that market.

Volvo jumping into the EV bus sector

The Volvo Group is pushing to reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2040 and cut value chain net-zero emissions by 2050.

However, progress on reductions for emissions in its bus fleet has stalled. Between 2019 and 2021, the result of emission per vehicle-kilometre was seven per cent higher, according to Volvo’s website.

While the increase is due to more city buses sold than coach buses during that period, the driving pattern of city buses with stop-and-go results in higher emissions per vehicle-km than coaches.

To address the growing issues, the automaker has invested big in the electric coach sector to pursue its climate goal of late.

Nova Bus, a Canadian bus manufacturer and a subsidiary of Volvo Group, made waves last year with its splash into the U.S. to supply Milwaukee County with 15 long-range electric buses.

It came on the heels of closing a deal in February with the Chicago Transit Board for up to 600 clean-diesel buses, with at least 100 guaranteed.

Involved in the electric coach market since 2017, Prevost was one of the first to offer an electric fan drive system as part of their electrification plan.

Last year, the Volvo Group announced a $33 million expansion of its powertrain research and development site in Hagerstown, Md., to construct a new, state-of-the-art Vehicle Propulsion Lab (VPL).

The testing facility will allow Prevost to test its coach buses upon completion in 2025.

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