Electric buses built by Arrival, the UK-based manufacturer, will be tested on British roads for the first time later this year in a trial with the transport company First Group.
The tests will begin in the autumn of this year, starting with four of the first production vehicles produced at Arrival’s research and development facility in Banbury, Oxfordshire. Discussions are under way about further trials with other companies.
The trials are the latest step in the rapid expansion of Arrival, which has attracted investment worth hundreds of millions of pounds to build battery-powered vans and buses with zero exhaust emissions. The company, still yet to start full production, hopes that by 2024 it will make revenues of about $3.1bn (£2.2bn) from bus sales, along with about $10.9bn from vans.
Arrival is also looking at an undisclosed number of new sites for factories within the UK, a signal of its intent to ramp up output as it prepares a reverse listing on the Nasdaq stock exchange in New York at a valuation of $5.4bn (£3.9bn). The company’s main operations will remain in the UK.
Bus companies are hurrying to cut carbon emissions to meet clean air regulations in cities. First Group will not buy diesel buses after 2022, and it plans to eliminate exhaust emissions by 2035.
First Group is also running separate trials of electric buses made by the rival manufacturers BYD ADL, Optare and Yutong, as well as a trial of hydrogen fuel cell buses in Aberdeen, its home city.
Arrival hopes to roll out bus production quickly to target big cities around the world. It aims to produce 1,000 buses in 2022 and 11,000 in 2024. As well as a facility at Bicester, also in Oxfordshire, Arrival has started work on a factory in Rock Hill, South Carolina.
Arrival, which now employs more than 1,400 people, was founded in secret in 2014 by Denis Sverdlov, a Russian telecoms entrepreneur. The company is using “microfactory” facilities that break with the traditional logic of making cars on big production lines, instead using robots to assemble vehicles in “cells”.
Arrival’s first publicly announced product, an electric van for “last-mile” delivery in cities, will begin trials with United Parcel Service, a US courier, at the end of February. UPS last year ordered 10,000 vans in a deal worth €400m (£350m).
Avinash Rugoobur, Arrival’s president, said built-in tracking, information screens and internet connections could allow the buses to connect better with other modes of transport and provide better user experiences. The flat floor also makes accessibility easier.
“We’re really at the start of what’s possible just within the bus platform,” Rugoobur said. Buses in use today “definitely do the job, but similar to the van market we’re talking about technology that hasn’t moved to where the world is today.”
The electric buses will be priced much like diesel buses, although Arrival estimates that the total cost of ownership will be significantly less because of lower fuel and maintenance costs. It has not disclosed the buses’ range, but Rugoobur said they should be able to handle most urban routes.
Arrival buys its batteries from Korea’s LG Chem, but Rugoobur said the company would be glad to source batteries in the future from a UK-based factory, if one could be successfully launched.
The company is also working on driverless operations for controlled situations such as within company depots, although Rugoobur cautioned that driverless buses on roads were some way off.
“For driverless buses to be a reality you need true, fault-tolerant road-going autonomy,” he said. We’re not there.”