Taking the global pulse on soot-free bus progress with industry partners

Fleets Zero-emission vehicles
Clean air
Emissions control

In September 2017, manufacturers BYD, Cummins, Scania, and Volvo joined the Global Industry Partnership on Soot-Free Clean Bus Fleets and pledged to make soot-free technologies available to 20 cities worldwide. Partners agree to supply soot-free buses to bus operators and transit authorities in target cities in order to address climate change and toxic air pollution. Soot-free buses are equipped with advanced emissions control technologies that are certified to meet Euro VI or EPA 2010 emission standards, as well as hybrid buses, and fully electric buses.

More than three years into the partnership, what progress have these cities made in building soot-free bus fleets?

Let’s start by noting that the global bus market has changed dramatically since September 2017. Euro VI-equivalent heavy-duty emission standards entered into force in China and India. Vietnam and Colombia announced schedules to advance fuel quality and emission standards. And in cities and countries worldwide, laws and regulations promoting electromobility have been adopted to address the climate crisis, with zero-emission buses a key component in most of them. The effects have been noticeable: Global Industry Partners are selling soot-free products in 14 cities on six continents (blue and green dots on the map).

world map, cities

This map confirms that the partnership is advancing towards the global goal of 20 cities hosting soot-free technologies; manufacturers deserve credit for the progress to date. At the regional level, the map shows that Latin American countries are benefitting from having a wide range of manufacturers willing to bring soot-free products. On the other hand, Africa seems underserved, with 4 of the 8 cities not covered (brown dots). The challenge in Africa continues to be the uncertain supply of ultra-low sulfur diesel and slow progress in transitioning vehicle emission standards to Euro VI. In the African countries where we did find soot-free products, CNG was the preferred technology. In Turkey, the partners were not offering soot-free products although the country has been at Euro VI standards since 2015.

The most remarkable change is happening on the zero-emission bus front. Chinese OEMs are quick to react to calls for electric buses and are eager to explore new opportunities. Global industry partner BYD, and other bus manufacturers including Yutong, Foton and Zhongtong–which also belong to a sister-industry partnership in Latin America for e-buses called the Zero Emission Bus Rapid-deployment Accelerator (ZEBRA)–are running pilots, winning tenders and delivering large numbers of buses to major cities in Latin America and beyond. As a result, Latin America has the largest e-bus fleets outside China, with more than 1500 Chinese-built electric buses operating as of March 2021.

Faced with competition from the up-and-coming Chinese, the old guard manufacturers of internal combustion engine buses and trucks – Cummins, Scania and Volvo among them – are each responding in their own ways. Scania pledges to cut CO2 emissions from its own operations by 50% by 2025 and reduce emissions from its products by 20% during the same period. Volvo’s target is to become a net-zero emissions company by 2050. Achieving these goals will require both companies increasingly to shift production to hybrid and zero-emission vehicles in all markets. Cummins, an independent engine and powertrain supplier, provides electric powertrain systems to electric bus maker Gillig. Daimler, which is not a CCAC Soot Free industry partner, set a more modest goal of selling only carbon-neutral (tank-to-wheel) new trucks and buses in Europe, Japan and NAFTA by 2039.

The work is not complete but positive signs are evident. Good news came out of Western Africa in early 2020, when members of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) announced a harmonized effort to import and produce 50 ppm sulfur gasoline and diesel in 2021 and 2025. 50 ppm sulfur diesel isn’t the right fuel to enable soot-free vehicle deployments, but this level of commitment and progress in some of the world’s least regulated fuel markets is extremely encouraging. Meanwhile, in Latin America, Euro VI-equivalent and electric bus tenders are being required in many of the latest tenders in Santiago and Bogota.

On the other hand, in the past year Brazil and Mexico rolled back their scheduled Euro VI-equivalent emission standards–bad news for the environment and consumers. In spite of this setback, electric solutions are increasingly being pursued to bypass fuel quality and emission standard deadlocks. This way, buses will eliminate tailpipe emissions of air pollutants and greenhouse gases altogether. Jakarta has been doing exactly this – leapfrogging from highly polluting Euro II to electric buses to modernize its BRT system, the largest in the world.

As the world slowly recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic and the economic recession, millions of residents in urban areas of the developing world will once again rely on public transit for affordable transportation. The challenge is to bring soot-free and zero emission buses to these cities that need them.

This blog was supported by the Climate and Clean Air Coalition.