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Optare’s plea to back the green bus revolution

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A LEADING businessman has made a rallying cry for concerted action from the Government, councils and manufacturers to ensure more ‘green’ buses appear on Britain’s roads.

Enrico Vassallo, the Italian chief executive of bus maker Optare, said the industry and politicians needed to collaborate to reduce the manufacturing cost and make the green technology an attractive and competitive alternative to diesel.

Enrico Vassallo, chief executive of Optare.

Enrico Vassallo, chief executive of Optare.

“Electric buses represent less than one per cent of the total market,” he said. “The technology is still too expensive due to the fact that the volumes are low to absorb the high cost of investment.”

He added: “The game we all need to play as operators, manufacturers, local authorities and politicians is to invest in the business, try to give more stability and more vision to the business to keep it successful and competitive in terms of prices.”

The company, which is based in Sherburn-in-Elmet, North Yorkshire, makes diesel, electric and hybrid vehicles for companies including First Group, Stagecoach and Transport for London.

Mr Vassallo believes the next decade will be critical in determining how widely the technology is adopted across the UK.

He said: “From a purely operational point of view, what we are proving is that the cost of running electric buses is cheaper than running diesel over four or five years.

“The downside is the price you have to pay in the beginning is double the price of a diesel bus.

“It would be a breakthrough to keep the technology cheaper, viable and competitive.”

Another key factor is the maintenance cost of electric buses. “Electrical components are more reliable than the springs and bolts of the diesel one,” Mr Vassallo said.

“In terms of maintenance, electric is cheaper but the technology is more sophisticated.”

Optare recently delivered a £1.5m fleet of six electric buses to the Poppleton Bar park and ride site in York, operated by First Group. It is in the process of making a further six for another park and ride site in the city. It is also responsible for the vehicles’ maintenance.

Mr Vassallo said: “The contract represents for Optare a continuity of the strategy with the Government and local authorities to grow into the electric bus business.”

Paul Shone, engineering manager and contracts manager for First Group York, added: “Considering it’s very new technology it’s gone very well so far. There have been no major hiccups.”

Optare also has 38 buses to deliver to bus companies in Nottingham, Manchester and London in the next three or four months.”

The main difference between making diesel and electric buses, according to Mr Vassallo, is the power pack, which is slotted into the vehicle.

Mr Vassallo joined Optare in September 2013 at a time when the company was trying to reverse its fortunes.

The company is now owned by Ashok Leyland, part of the Hinduja Group, which is one the top five global bus manufacturers. Optare has its sights set on growing both nationally and internationally. It is already breaking into the Australian and South African markets and it also plans to expand into Europe.

One particular target market is double decker buses, which make up about 40 per cent of the market. It recently unveiled its first one – the Metrodecker designed for Transport for London.

Mr Vassallo said: “It will represent a key product in the turnaround of the company because we will be able to offer an entire product range.

“It will be a turnaround in terms of reliability and trust of the company because we will probably be the only business able to offer the entire range from diesel to full electrical.”