Transitioning to battery-electric buses

Richard Simpson examines the approaches taken by two manufacturers in the transition to battery-electric powered buses

Bus maintenance and repair has traditionally been accomplished, with large operators training their own technicians from apprentice level upwards. But the introduction of novel technologies such as battery and fuel-cell power, along with the increasing sophistication of diesel vehicles, has meant that traditional ‘learning by watching’ methods may no longer cut it. Indeed, operators introducing novel driveline technology now find that their entire engineering workforces need retraining to cope with the challenges posed by the new vehicles.

Both the UK’s oldest bus manufacturer, Alexander Dennis, and one of the newest entrants to the British market, Yutong, are equipping their customers to cope with the challenges of today’s innovative vehicles.

Alexander Dennis offers ten IMI-accredited courses, with more in development. These cover traditional subjects including suspension, brakes, engines and exhaust aftertreatment, in addition to multiplex and CAN systems. In addition, there are specific courses for apprentices.

Laura Tofts, head of product information and training at Alexander Dennis, says: “The old divisions between auto-electricians and mechanics have disappeared. The first step in fault-finding and diagnosis now is to plug in the laptop and look for fault codes, and that applies pretty much across the vehicle, whether you are talking engines, brakes, electrics or anything else. Electrics and electronics are now integrated into every aspect of the vehicle. This had driven the incredible popularity of our basic electrical theory courses – the increasing complexity of today’s vehicles means that even experienced engineers are keen to get up to pace with it.”

Training is offered at all levels. Operators can send their apprentices on a full-week introductory course to the Alexander Dennis training facility in Farnborough; specific courses can be delivered either there or at the operator’s own workshops.

“We need a suitable vehicle in the workshop and a room with a screen to deliver onsite training. However, we feel that results are generally better when trainees can come to us,” says Tofts. “For example, we can put a fault on our own training-chassis, then arm the trainee with a multimeter and send him [or her] out to find it.

“On a more general level, we know trainees that come to us can give their full attention to the training: they won’t be interrupted or called away. We also make sure they are fed and refreshed…the discussions over lunch can form a valuable part of the training.”

Training can be delivered to up to eight technicians at a time by one of Alexander Dennis’ two trainers…demand is such that the company is considering recruiting more. Currently, the company has over 100 courses booked this year by 16 different customers.

Additional technical support to operators is provided by 50 mobile technicians in vans, and at the manufacturer’s AD24 workshops at Anston (Sheffield) and Harlow, Essex.

The introduction of zero-emissions buses into the Alexander Dennis offering, as revealed at last year’s Euro Bus Expo, poses a new challenge for the engineering departments of the company’s customers. “The obvious priority is safety when you are dealing with systems handling 600V currents,” Tofts says.

“There are IMI (Institute of the Motor Industry) courses in high-voltage awareness. From the manufacturer’s point of view, the most significant role for us is in supporting people to keep them safe. Even if they are not working on the HV side of the vehicle, they need to know what they can and cannot touch, and how systems can be safely down-powered and decommissioned.”


Head of Yutong’s UK operations at importer Pelican Bus and Coach, Ian Downie is already familiar with the challenges of training technicians on electric vehicles. He says: “We have 284 battery-electric buses registered on UK roads with 16 customers using them, and a further 120 vehicles to come by March next year.”

Training the technicians to support them is less of an issue that you’d think, he maintains. “A lot of the technology is standard,” he asserts. “There’s a mechanical ZF drive-axle and WABCO brakes. The Yutong layout is actually conventional, but where a diesel bus would have an engine and gearbox, it has an electric motor.

“When we do engineering familiarisation with the customer, the major initial focus is on identifying the high-voltage parts of the vehicle. The IMI Level 2 qualification covers preparing an electric vehicle for repair, and Level 3 actually repairing the vehicle.

“We offer specific training which can be done at our headquarters in Castleford or at the customer’s premises: we have a training manager and our own IMI-accredited dedicated training division: EV Automotive Training.” (See box, left.)

“There are standard safety processes that apply to all EVs, and some that are specific to our product, but we do find that customers’ technicians are blown away by how easy our vehicles are to work on compared with most diesel buses. Because the Yutong is built as an integral vehicle, easy access to key components is designed into the bus. In contrast, with a body-on-chassis diesel vehicle, you may have to spend hours removing seats, hatches and panels before you can start work on the job itself.

“It’s also intrinsically less complex and more pleasant to work on. There’s no exhaust, no AdBlue and SCR system, and the working temperature of the motor is just 60°C, so you don’t get the heat degradation around the engine bay, and vibration levels are much reduced also. That in turn means fewer electrical problems.

“The safety aspect in itself is quite simple. Orange wires mean high voltages (600V on the Yutong), so these must be isolated for at least 20 minutes before they are worked on. Yutong products only use DC charging, and that’s intrinsically safer than AC.

“There’s a lot of talk about battery fires and safety, but the batteries Yutong uses are lithium iron phosphate, and resistant to thermal runaway. Low-quality batteries can be a problem in some applications, but Yutong’s come from CATL, which has 41% of the world market and supplies product for every big manufacturer you can think of, from Apple to Tesla. So it’s important that we familiarise engineers with the vehicles, but that shouldn’t be scary.”

Downie maintains most trainees are keen to get to grips with the new technology. “Cities and operators want decarbonised bus fleets, and the technicians know that EV qualifications are the future career path. It’s a pleasant surprise for most of them that the vehicles are cleaner and easier to work on than their diesel counterparts.”


In April, after receiving IMI approval, Pelican launched an EV technician training academy, EV Automotive Training. Courses include EV training at IMI levels 1 (familiarisation) for both EV and hydrogen vehicles, combined levels 2&3 for light vehicles as well as heavy vehicles (its most popular course), and level 4. In addition, it also provides accreditation and reaccreditation for IRTE’s irtec inspection technician qualification for bus and coach and heavy vehicle. A unique strength is that the academy can use a large commercial EV for training, sourced from Pelican’s Yutong demonstration fleet, says training manager Dave Walker.

Related content