For anyone familiar with GM products of the past, the name Fisher Body Company and the Body by Fisher trademark should sound familiar.  The company, founded over 100 years ago, made bodies exclusively for GM for decades before becoming fully integrated into GM.  Over the years, GM let the trademark and usage of the Fisher name lapse allowing an entirely new company to emerge using a similar name.  The new company, Fisher Coachworks, is a start up that has concentrated their efforts on ultra lightweight, hybrid commercial vehicles.  Fisher Coachworks' co-founder and CEO is Gregory Fisher, a grandson of one of the original 7 founders of Fisher Body.

With the background out of the way, the companies hybrid bus offering, scheduled for release next year, presents many breakthroughs in design and engineering that Fisher believes will push them to the front of the market.

The plug-in hybrid transit bus called the GTB-40 Mass Transit Bus features breakthroughs in both efficiency and lightweight design.  This 40 foot bus weighs in at a fraction of the competitor's buses.  As Fisher states, "The single most important factor for improving the overall efficiency of a hybrid transit bus is weight reduction.  Starting with clean sheet of paper, the new Fisher Bus has achieved a 50% reduction in Curb Weight over competitive 40' bus designs."

How can you reduce weight by 50% over competing buses?  The key to the GTB-40 is the use of an incredibly strong and lightweight stainless steel alloy called Nitronic 30TM Stainless Steel from AK Steel Company.  The monocoque alloy design is both stronger and lighter than traditional metals.  The engineering of the body and chassis are done in a manner that makes virtually every panel of the bus an integral part of the structure.  Door panels, windows, wheelhouses and roof and floor panels are integral to the structural integrity and rigidness of the design.

The buses low curb weight also allows the engineers to design in other weight reducing items such as smaller wheels and tires, smaller brakes and lightweight suspension components.  As Fisher said, "This "compounding effect" of lower component weight has a cumulative effect of the vehicle's overall performance and results in the dramatic weight reductions delivered with this unique design."

On the hybrid side, the bus features what Fisher calls a battery dominant serial hybrid propulsion system.  The bus is plugged in to charge the batteries during down time and utilizes an onboard genset powered by a downsized diesel engine and regenerative braking to charge to batteries during usage.

Additionally, the GTB-40 features a four wheel independent suspension which eliminates the need for a live rear axle and eliminates the interior robbing space that a rear axle claims.

All of the innovations of the GTB-40 has helped Fisher gain recognition in the form of funding from the federal government.  The federal government awarded the Mass Transit Authority in Flint, Michigan $2.2 million which they will use to purchase 2 GTB-40 plug in hybrid buses.  The buses will see use in Flint in 2010.  Funding for prototype models was provided primarily by the DOE.

Fisher expects that the market will demand at least 5,000 hybrid buses per year starting next year.  By offering a PHEV Bus which is capable of cutting fuel consumption by more than 50% over diesel powered buses, the company feels that the market for hybrid buses will continually expand.

The company is currently seeking a larger facility in southeast Michigan to begin large scale production of the GTB-40 slated for sale next year.

Source:  Fisher CoachWorks