If you still think range anxiety is an insurmountable obstacle for electric vehicles, listen to this: a 40-foot-long electric Proterra electric bus recently drove 1,101.2 miles on a single charge, setting a new world record in the process.
To achieve that feat, Proterra used a completely stock Catalyst E2 Max bus, which boasts a 660-kilowatt-hour battery pack. The bus was driven (without any passengers on board) around the Navistar Proving Grounds in New Carlisle, Indiana. Proterra noted that the previous record of 1,013.76 miles was set by an electric car that weighed about 46 times less than its bus.
Long-distance tests like this are an annual tradition for Proterra, a California-based company that counts BMW and Al Gore among its investors. Last year, one of the company’s buses drove 603 miles on a single charge with a 440-kWh battery pack, and in 2015, another bus achieved 258 miles with 257 kWh of battery capacity. Proterra considers these tests important because, it turns out, car buyers aren’t the only ones who feel range anxiety.
“Range anxiety exists, even in public transit,” Matt Horton, Proterra’s chief commercial officer, said. It’s one of the main concerns transit agencies have about electric buses, along with reliability and cost, he said. Driving your bus over 1,000 miles on a charge is a good way to alleviate that anxiety.
Granted, driving a bus unloaded on a test track and driving one full of passengers on city streets are two very different things. Horton said a Catalyst E2 Max like the one used in the record run will average around 350 miles of range in real-world use. Proterra estimates that most buses average around 130 miles of driving per day, making that range more than adequate, according to the company. Buses also operate on predictable routes and return to the same garages at the end of the day, so placing charging stations is less complicated than it is for electric cars.
With a range record in the books, Horton said the company will now focus on other areas like cost. While the average cost of Proterra electric buses has dropped from over $1 million to around $700,000, Horton said they are still a bit more expensive than conventional diesel buses. As with manufacturers of electric cars, Proterra will try to emphasize the low maintenance cost of its buses, while also trying to bring purchase prices down further.
Another issue is reliability. Transit agencies keep buses much longer than the average person hangs onto their car, Horton noted, and buses cover more mileage each year than the average passenger car. Some of Proterra’s buses have now been on the road for seven years, and the company is working to use data gathered from those vehicles to prove their reliability. But when it comes to range, the company is feeling pretty confident right now, Horton said.
“I think at this point, there’s probably not more to prove.”