There is no denying that the excitement is growing, and the team is anticipating the roll-out of electric buses as a mainstream product into the market. Volvo’s BZL chassis has already gained a reputation overseas shortly after the official global launch and one of the next highly contested markets to see the latest technology is Singapore. The business strategy of Volvo Buses requires capable local partners to create buses that meet the local demands. Having worked in the background for over a year to develop a design based on Volvo’s BZL, SC Auto is the body partner that will manufacture the bus body ready to energise the island nation’s public transport.
Volvo’s approach is aligned with their now motto of “Partnership is the new Leadership” and this is reflected in the collaboration with SC Auto as the body build partner for the BZL electric bus. “We have, obviously, options when it comes to the appointment of a local partner. We look at quality, delivery time, capacity and level of features and technical know-how,” said Mr. Mats Nilsson, Director of Volvo Buses Asia Pacific Central Region. Sustainability is another pillar of the business and Volvo emphasises on this to be a part of a partners’ philosophy as well. SC Auto and Volvo have also been working together in the past in other markets than Singapore, such as Myanmar and Thailand. A further plus, in Nilsson’s view, is the fact that SC Auto holds the same core values as Volvo, namely safety, quality and environmental care. SC Auto puts safety high on their agenda from production to delivery, and service support. It is also their ambition to continuously improve their systems, processes and equipment to provide the best-in-class quality, light weight, long lasting bus bodies. SC Auto is truly global with production facilities and engineering expertise in the region and in Europe.
It is the alignment of the two organisations. Transparency and mutual trust are essential.
Gaining a local industrial footprint is the driving force to opt for a body assembly in the country. Delivery times, customized features, adaptation to the local demands, and the ability to manage supply chain and service response locally have suggested to local assembly being a good option.
Having delivered diesel single deck city buses to Singapore for public transport before, SC Auto has gained the experience and reputation for delivering vehicles that are built to last. In Singapore, buses are allowed to operate for 17 years and with permits applied even up to 20 years before being replaced. Singapore in its Green Plan 2030 has included a strong push to electrify the vehicle population, which would help the country achieve its vision of 100% cleaner energy vehicles by 2040. This would see all public bus transport to be electrified by 2040. To achieve this goal, all new city bus orders is likely to be for electrified vehicles. This, in Nilsson’s words, could be a marriage made in heaven as Volvo expertise is mated to local expertise to create lasting products.
With Singapore’s commitment to the new propulsion technology, overhauling of the infrastructure is well underway. Some 60,000 electric vehicle (EV) charging points at public carparks and private premises have been planned for across the country and the gradual switch from internal combustion engines to electrified vehicles has been kicked off and is well underway. “One of the aspects the government can really control are public city buses and the LTA is on top of this.” With close to 6,000 buses in the public transport system, this is no easy task. However, Nilsson said that his observation is that the government is typically involving a lot of stakeholders in order to get things right the first time around. With a clearly laid-out plan for the percentage of electric vehicles to be introduced into the total fleet, all participants in the transport system, including providers of electricity, could prepare accordingly and ramp up their output according to a well communicated and developed plan.
With the increase in demand for electricity derived from the shift towards electric vehicles, one may question the sustainability of the energy production. Currently, energy may not be produced as “green” as possible as in the future. However, Nilsson pointed out that it would not be possible to change the entire system at once. “What we have now are cleaner vehicles. In the next step, we can look at finding better solutions for the energy production in a well-to-wheel assessment.”
Speaking about SC Auto’ ambitions in the area of electric buses was Rachel Lee, Managing Director of SC Auto Industries. Like elsewhere, the Singaporean bus market has been highly affected by the pandemic. SC Auto has used the time wisely to focus on research and development required to be able to manufacture bus bodies based on the Volvo electric chassis. “With almost 30 years of experience in this industry, we are confident that we can deliver a top-notch product. What we must acknowledge is that coaches and city buses are different in their requirements. Thus, we have developed a brand-new concept for the Volvo BZL chassis, which took us about 12 months.”
“What we really like about working with Volvo is that they have a strong emphasis on safety, something that is also close to our heart,” she added. Prior to commencement of the construction of this new body and bus, the entire SC Auto team visited Volvo in Sweden to learn all there is about the safety, build and construction of the Volvo BZL chassis. Quality and performance are what SC Auto prides itself of and the passion for safety is a common denominator and thus, Lee feels that the two companies are perfectly aligned for this partnership to deliver a state of art product in Singapore and beyond.
SC Auto, together with the Volvo team, has developed a new bus design from scratch with 3-D modelling of the structure, conceptualising, engineering calculations and testing. Again, the standout safety features found in the Volvo BZL were highlighted by Lee. With high tech production facilities and tools like 3-D laser cutting, automatic wire harness manufacturing and automatic final quality testing, SC Auto is well-equipped to produce this new vehicle type and in fact has dedicated one production line to the building of bus bodies on the Volvo BZL. Additionally, SC Auto has in-house capabilities for Fibre-reinforced plastic moulding, which means that the company is highly independent and self-sufficient and does not rely on imports of moulded parts from third parties.
All of our staff have been properly trained by Volvo before we started working on it
To build the body for an electric bus chassis, a completely new technology, there have been challenges along the way. “Naturally, we would have to adapt to this new technology and design the bus body build,” Lee said. In addition, the local requirement for a third door has been somewhat unique in the construction of this vehicle. In view of the rising labour costs, from an aftersales service viewpoint, SC Auto is also trying to incorporate a design that allows for easy replacement of components in the field. According to Lee, this is something unique and this approach should make it easy for the customer to keep the vehicles in top working condition.
Echoing Volvo’s motto, the partnership of Volvo and SC Auto is built up with the tagline “Stronger Together” and this is what we are seeing here. Two strong brands collaborating.
SC Auto has a rich heritage but will not rest on its achievements. The company has forged ahead with continual innovation. SC Auto’s passion has secured the brand a leading position for itself in the bus design and manufacturing industry.
The portfolio includes designing, manufacturing and selling high quality buses – built to deliver the highest standards of excellence by paying attention to the smallest detail to enhance safety, reliability, durability and comfort. SC Auto takes joy and pride in launching Singapore’s first indigenously built range of bus bodies and buses – Volvo BZL -SC Neustar City a ground-breaking innovation, designed for Singapore and beyond.
A trend SC Auto has identified post-pandemic is a shift of operators to move towards premium products. Again, Lee highlighted that Volvo is the right partner to satisfy this demand from the global market. “Our bodies are also premium and this formula of ours is likely to be a success in the current market condition.” With tourism showing an upward trend, bus services are set to be in higher demand. SC Auto believes that this could potentially drive-up demand to pre-covid levels. As a spin-off from the pandemic, SC Auto has seen more customers asking for air purifiers and ozone filters to be added to the buses as well as protection of the bus captains through the installation of screens.
Both, Lee and Nilsson agreed that there are still a lot of opportunities to collaborate. For instance, some markets favour double-deck buses while added safety features can still be created to further enhance the safety of passengers and drivers. With the current speed of developments, new charging solutions and battery technology will dictate the configuration of the new generation of buses. “We are confident that the challenges can be confronted and overcome with the help of local, capable partners, as SC Auto has demonstrated with the Volvo BZL.” Mats Concluded.
Thanks to Asian Buses for the collaboration in developing this article.