In the Electric Midst

In a win for Australian manufacturing and a potential game-changer for commercial road transport, Sydney-based ARCC is building bus chassis featuring zero emission Dana electric drive components with locally produced bolt-together aluminium chassis members.

In the steady march towards what seems certain to eventually become an all-electric future in the public transport realm, Aluminium Revolutionary Chassis Company (ARCC) has chosen internationally acclaimed automotive component manufacturer Dana to supply electric driveline components for its revolutionary bus chassis.

ARCC is owned by Peter Murley who for the past 20 years has been involved in all aspects of the bus industry both in Australia and overseas.

He spent a decade growing the Australian subsidiary of the Gemilang Group of Companies, which is currently the largest body builder of electric buses in Australia. In 2019, Peter realised the importance of localisation and sought to move bus assembly back to Australia.

He subsequently purchased back all shares to become wholly Australian owned. Gemilang Australia is Ballarat-based and operates with offices in Glendenning NSW and Keysborough VIC.

Peter has been pivotal to the growth of Gemilang’s aluminium buses in the Australian and New Zealand markets.

Beginning with the manufacture of two buses for the Australian market in 2010, the company has grown considerably to the point where over 80 buses were produced for the local market in 2018.

Realising that the move to zero emission public transport was coming in 2015, he built Australia’s first BYD electric bus and is currently the largest body builder of electric buses in Australia.

It was Peter’s quest for continuous development and improvement of bus bodies, along with a passion to maximise the potential of Australian manufacturing, that ignited the spark for ARCC, which was founded in 2015.

He wanted to prove that a light weight, aluminium chassis could be a durable alternative to welded steel chassis.

Peter subsequently recruited Sarah Forbes as Executive Manager to oversee all aspects of strategic planning, general operations and financial management.

Sarah began her working life as a commercial litigator in Perth, but after meeting Peter was soon convinced that the bus industry is far more exciting than any court room.

“When I initially spoke with Peter, he relayed his vision of wanting to electrify public transport using world-leading electric driveline components and a bolted modular aluminium chassis, something I’d never heard about before,” Sarah says.

“I thought it sounded like a great idea, so I quit my job and came aboard with ARCC and haven’t looked back.”

Sarah says it was around this time that Australian car manufacturing was on the way out and she found it fascinating that ARCC had come up with the bolt-together chassis concept which didn’t rely on the expertise of welders in the manufacturing process.

“I found it really interesting that they were doing something different and taking a punt as, at that stage, there wasn’t a great deal of interest in electrification, but it seems to be paying off now, which is great,” she says.

In terms of uptake of the company’s buses, Sarah says the New South Wales government is committed to decarbonising its bus fleet with Minister Constance announcing in October 2019 that NSW would seek to transition the entire NSW fleet of 8,000 contract buses to fully electric buses.

“Without reliance on a local manufacturer, I don’t think this would be possible in the Australian bus industry because volumes are so small in comparison with Europe and the USA,” she says.

Without certainty of volumes, global manufacturers, according to Sarah, were not necessarily incentivised to adapt their zero-emission technology to the righthand drive and 2.5m wide configuration required by Australian legislation in such a small market.

The European and US width limit for buses is 2.55m which equates to an additional 50mm overall width compared to the Australian limit.

“We’ve designed a product that is 2.5m wide and made for Australian conditions with the electrical capacity to power the heating and cooling requirements demanded by the Australian climate, which creates a big draw on the batteries,” Sarah says.

There are two electrification methods readily available, she notes. These are rechargeable battery electric and hydrogen fuel cell electric and ARCC is developing both systems.

“We’ve developed the battery electric version side by side with a hydrogen fuel cell electric chassis that are due for completion Q3 2021. We’ve designed the chassis so that everything – including the Dana electric drive components – is essentially the same on both versions. There is a space behind the Rear axle, allocated to batteries for either the full battery electric model or the Hydrogen fuel cell model, the chemistry of the batter packs vary between the two models,” explains Sarah.

The rest of the Batteries for the all battery bus are located on the roof along with the air conditioner unit.

ARCC’s fuel cell buses have the hydrogen storage tanks, the fuel cell, cooling system and air conditioning located in the roof space which means any leakage will vent to the atmosphere rather than potentially permeating the bus interior.

This is in contrast to some overseas models which have the fuel cell situated beneath the floor or in the body cavity.

“When we first started out, we were looking at using a larger Ballard fuel cell which was an 85kW unit but we’ve since switched to the new 70kW unit which is more modular and compact — supplied by Ballard,” Sarah says. “Technology is quickly changing and we’ve seen a similar progression with the batteries. As technology improves they are becoming smaller and lighter also.”

Speaking about the decision to use Dana electric drive components, Sarah says ARCC was drawn to the manufacturer because the Dana Spicer axles were an ideal fit with what the company was trying to achieve — durable, light weight and from a reputable global company.

“The overall goal was to achieve a tare weight of under 10 tonnes by using the bolted aluminium chassis and 16-tonne rated Dana drive axle with rear-mounted Dana TM4 electric motor. This compares with a standard diesel-powered steel chassis bus that tares between 11 and 12 tonnes,” Sarah says.

“Dana is a reputable company with a long-standing history of producing high quality driveline products, and the company has also been instrumental in developing the electric drive components that ideally suit the applications we are developing. In Australia buses have a lifespan ranging from 18 to 25 years so our goal is to ensure every component used is backed by a reputable company that will be around to support the vehicles over this lengthy lifespan. With Dana, we are confident that this requirement will be met.”

As the electrification of all types of vehicles continues apace, ARCC is playing its part as a valued Australian manufacturer, producing innovative light tare aluminium bus chassis, powered by Dana electric drive motors and axles, that could well shape the future of public transport in this country.

It remains to be seen what effect these developments will have on commercial vehicles in the road transport industry.

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