Ian Wright was a co-founder of Tesla, but he soon left to start his own company, partly because he felt that large commercial vehicles represented a better target for electrification than passenger cars (read more about Wright’s electrifying adventures in the April 2014 issue of Charged, and in the book Tesla Motors).
Since then, Wrightspeed’s turbine-based powertrain has powered delivery trucks for FedEx and garbage trucks for the city of Santa Rosa, California.
Now the company has announced a $30-million deal with NZ Bus, a New Zealand transit operator with a fleet of over 1,000 buses. This is Wrightspeed’s first venture into the public transit market, and its first major international sale. It also appears to be the first pilot of plug-in buses in New Zealand.
Wrightspeed will be providing its Route 500 powertrains to NZ Bus, and plans to set up a New Zealand facility to install them. The first application will be to retrofit some trolleybuses, which are currently powered from overhead wires.
Wrightspeed’s Route 500 powertrain features two electric motors and the company’s 80 kW, fuel-agnostic Fulcrum Turbine Generator, which charges a 40 kWh onboard battery pack. The buses can be charged at 19 kW, using a standard J1772 charging plug – a strong selling point versus all-electric buses, which require larger battery packs and/or expensive charging stations capable of much higher charging levels. The company’s patented Geared Traction Drive, which digitally drives each wheel of the vehicle, can handle grades of up to 40%.
“Wrightspeed’s powertrains outperformed the competition on nearly every metric and will provide us with the fuel source flexibility and economically compelling technology to future-proof our transit assets,” said Zane Fulljames, CEO of NZ Bus. “The technology enables us to reimagine our trolley buses, rather than decommissioning them.”
New Zealand seems like a perfect fit for electrified buses – fossil fuel prices are among the highest in the world, and nearly 75 percent of the country’s electricity comes from renewable sources. “There’s support at the government level, at the company level, and a lot of support from the public as well,” Ian Wright told Charged. “They have hilly cities where you need performance from the powertrain, and it’s a good place to do business, so I think everyone’s happy.”