13 Dec 2023
The beginning of October 2023 saw MAN deliver the first fully electric complete bus for the African market. The Lion’s Explorer E was adapted to suit local requirements and built on site.
In South Africa, if you want to travel to work, you usually take the bus. That’s why commuter buses are the biggest market segment there, rather than city buses as in Europe. Recently, people living around Cape Town have been able to enjoy zero-emission travel from home to work and back again: the beginning of October 2023 saw MAN deliver its first fully electric complete bus for the African market.
The Lion’s Explorer E vehicle is based on the new Lion’s Chassis E, set to enter production from 2024. “We’re on the road from Low Emission to No Emission,” said Alexander Vlaskamp, CEO of MAN Truck & Bus. “To achieve this, we’re relying fully on electric vehicles in the European city bus segment with the Lion’s City E – and we’re doing the same around the world with the Lion’s Chassis E. Our responsibility towards sustainable mobility doesn’t stop at the borders of Europe.” Body manufacturers from all over the world will find the Lion’s Chassis E to be the ideal basis for their fully electric models, enabling them to offer emission-free buses worldwide.
For the South African market, MAN’s engineering team in South Africa has made a few modifications to the Lion’s Chassis E. “Some of the roads here are just sand tracks, and after heavy rain there can be huge puddles,” explained Jan Aichinger, Managing Director of MAN Truck & Bus South Africa. “That’s why the buses must be capable on all terrains and must never ground out on the rough roads.” The Lion’s Explorer E is designed as a high-floor vehicle with steps for access. This makes the eBus rather tall, which is why the four 80 kWh battery packs are located beneath the floor between the axles and not on the roof as they are in Europe. This keeps the centre of gravity low.
Alongside the alterations to the chassis, MAN has also taken care of the entire body design of the eBus, for which the bus plant in Olifantsfontein was responsible. Here too there was a feature specific to the country: because commuter buses are expected to cover up to 100 kilometres on their routes, every passenger must have a seat. To achieve this, the eBus uses a compact 3+2 seat layout which provides space for 66 passengers at a length of twelve metres. “That was a challenging project and our highly motivated engineering team successfully managed it in a very short time. We had just 18 months for the alterations to the chassis and body,” said Aichinger. “What’s more, despite all the changes, we managed to do it without needing any new homologation of the drivetrain since we were able to use the existing homologation in South Africa too.”
Electric buses from other manufacturers are already in use in South Africa. “However, what makes the MAN Lion’s Explorer E unique is the fact that it was developed specially for use here,” stressed Barbaros Oktay, Head of Bus at MAN Truck & Bus. The new model was also entirely built in South Africa. “That meant that we could guarantee that the eBus would perfectly meet the needs of local public transport companies and yet simultaneously integrate into existing processes as well as possible,” said Oktay. “If this is a success, electromobility in South Africa will really gather speed – we’re convinced of that.”
The first step is now complete: together with Oktay and Aichinger, Vlaskamp personally handed over the vehicle to Golden Arrow Bus Services (GABS), making GABS the first eBus customer for MAN outside Europe. Since then, the Lion’s Explorer E has been travelling around Cape Town in field trials under real-world conditions. “There have been no noteworthy issues so far – just one pleasant surprise: the Lion’s Explorer E uses less energy than we had expected,” reported Aichinger.
The special use profile of these commuter buses means that charging the batteries is no problem: they are generally not used between the morning and evening commutes, so they can be charged without difficulty in this window – ideally using solar power. GABS has therefore installed photovoltaic modules on its workshops and parking areas. However, even if operators have to buy electricity from the public network, eBuses still pay off despite the lack of support from the South African state. “Diesel is significantly more expensive than electricity here,” explained Aichinger. “That means that the switch to eBuses will pay off within ten years.”
With a market share of around 40 percent, MAN Truck & Bus is the market leader in the bus sector in South Africa. The aim is to achieve this position for electric vehicles too. “We’re doing all we can to ensure that the new eBus is as well-received in South Africa as our Lion’s City E is in Europe, with more than 1,000 units produced already,” said Oktay. The Lion’s Chassis E is also of interest to other countries in Africa. So, there is no reason why there shouldn’t be plenty of electric Lions roaming the continent soon.
Text: Christian Buck