Portland Tests BYD K9 All-Electric Passenger Bus: Quick Ride

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If Warren Buffett needed to catch a ride across town, we suspect he might do it exactly the way that we did this past week: in an all-electric BYD bus.

Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway famously invested big in China’s BYD Motors in late 2008 -- likely spurred by the company’s innovative battery technology, bullish plans for electric vehicles, and ambitious timeline for expanding in China and overseas.

While we’re still waiting for BYD to break through with its cars (at last check, it's still looking to introduce several new models to the U.S. market by the end of next year), it is already here with all-electric buses -- and looking to sign some major contracts with municipalities.

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That’s in part why this K9 all-electric passenger bus is in Portland. The bus is a Chinese-built demonstration model, officially on loan from BYD, and is to be tested by Portland, Oregon’s metro-area transportation authority, TriMet.

Zero-tailpipe emissions, and now U.S.-built

For Portland, BYD’s claims for all-electric driving range and lower long-term operating costs -- and of course, the image of a zero-tailpipe-emissions vehicle that can seat dozens -- look pretty attractive.

And, with the Chinese company now set up for bus assembly in Lancaster, California, and fully federally compliant, always-green Portland might be the customer that they need.

We got to ride in this all-electric bus, and based on about 20 minutes in it, altogether, we can say that the future looks promising -- and sounds very quiet. Instead of the constant racket at the back of a diesel bus, it’s completely quiet when you’re at a standstill; acceleration brings only a quiet whine, and the A/C compressor and fan are the loudest components from the outside of the bus. You might be more likely to strike up a conversation with a seatmate, or not need to be bombarding your eardrums with music at such high levels.

And charging should come just once a day. Driving range, with no climate-control use, is 155 miles -- which BYD says is good for a full day of typical bus use -- and it’ll use just 1.92 kWh per mile.

For eight days in all this month (weekdays from June 23 through July 3), this bus will be placed into full-time duty, pitching in not on a normal route, but offering extra trips, free of charge, between scheduled service.

Tri-Met intends to ‘test-drive’ the bus in full duty, including plenty of stops and starts, passengers in and out, and climate-control use during a time when Portland is actually quite sunny and hot. The goal is to see if it can deliver full service for the whole day without a charge.

READ: Why Lithium-Ion Batteries Degrade With Repeated Charging

Batteries for a full day, fast-charges: 5 hours or less

Longer-term, Portland is considering options for upping its electric-bus fleet, and with that they’d like to install inductive charging in bus garages. While we’re not sure how long that might take, with high-voltage AC fast-charging (and the nice thing about fleet use is that you’d never need to worry about 120V or 240V), the 324-kilowatt-hour battery pack can be charged up in just two to four hours typically, after a day of use, or five hours from fully depleted to 100 percent.

BYD K9 All-Electric Bus, as tested in Portland OR

BYD K9 All-Electric Bus, as tested in Portland OR

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That battery pack is actually three separate 108-kWh packs, riding on the roof of the bus in a special enclosure. Each of those packs weigh a little more than a thousand pounds, so total battery weight is, at an estimate, around 3,200 pounds.

Inverters and controllers are placed at the back on a high ‘shelf' in what would normally be the engine compartment, while the A/C compressor is down below. So are two radiators, one against each side of the bus, that look like they could have been lifted out of a front-engine minicompact like a Mitsubishi Mirage. They’re for the battery’s liquid-cooling system, which pumps coolant up to the cells, cycling the fans on as needed.

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