The Montreal-area start-up has unveiled the first model in a line of planned 100 per cent zero-emission transit buses, designed from scratch for better user experience and adapted for winter conditions
A new ultralight, zero-emission, all-electric bus is slated to come to market after Quebec-based Letenda Inc. announced their flagship vehicle, Electrip.
Founded in 2016 by Nicolas Letendre, the company is headquartered in Montreal’s South Shore. Since their establishment the group has been focused on a single mission: to build an aluminum-bodied city bus from the ground up with electric propulsion and capabilities to meet the demands of Canadian winters.
Letenda’s early research indicated a gap in the industry: there is an appetite for zero-emission bus transportation in Canada, but few purpose-built, winter-weathering options to choose from.
“We noticed that a lot of the electric buses on the market are more like a retrofit version of a diesel bus,” explains Letenda’s founder Nicolas Letendre in an interview with Electric Autonomy Canada. “So they don’t change [design] through this. The buses don’t improve.”
While retrofitting a diesel engine to electric is a viable solution for some fleets to meet their zero-emission targets, Letendre’s vision was not only to meet the requirement for zero-emission, but to actually improve the user experience of the bus for drivers and passengers.
Letendre knew he wanted to target energy efficiency, ease of maintenance, accessibility to parts, passenger accessibility and improvements on the driver field of view with Electrip. Doing so required total rethink of how a bus could and should look as well as the way in which the physical building of the vehicle could happen.
“Since electric motors are very compact, we are able to change the geometry of the vehicle to be adapted to the customer needs,” says Letendre. “I focused in on three key values: innovation, sustainability and collaboration.”
Completely engineered in Quebec, Electrip is a boxy, open-concept design and can reach a full charge with a 150 kW DC charger in two hours. The company says the bus will have a minimum 250-kilometre range.
The Electrip accommodates up to 45 people, including 24 seated people and up to six wheelchairs. It is designed to act as a transit bus or a corporate shuttle, including for airports, hospitals and universities.
What sets Electrip apart is that the structure is mainly made of aluminum — a clear nod to its founder’s past in the aeronautics industry. Letendre says that the aluminum body allows Electrip to be 20 per cent lighter than competitors in its class and it is easy to manufacture, which significantly reduces labour costs.
The other key difference is Electrip’s cold weather features, which also serves to give the battery more longevity.
“For electric buses, you need to be energy efficient and to be cautious on the way you build your bus,” says Letendre. “From the beginning, we designed a bus which is perfectly insulated, but also adding efficient heat sources, like for example, the radiant heat flooring and heated windshield surfaces.”
As an example, Letendre pointed to a key design flaw of traditional transit buses that Letenda easily fixed: defogging the windshield by directly heating the windshield rather than using hot air.
“If you blow warm air, when the doors open, you lose all that air — all that energy. So, you need to spend more money and use more energy to keep doing same thing,” says Letendre.
With these types adjustments identified and the design of Electrip now finalized, Letenda wants to begin production in Quebec by 2023, with the plan to build up capacity to produce 300 buses per year by 2025.
The journey to build Electrip
Letendre first had his idea for Letenda while working as an engineer at Bombardier Aerospace in 2013. He always had a passion for the transportation industry, he says, and a dream to one day start his own company.
After quitting his job in early 2017, Letendre started focusing full-time on designing his idea of what an electric bus should be and looking for collaborators to provide the resources and help to develop the concept of a zero-emission vehicle.
“We started with the electric, nine-metre bus because, strategically it’s a growing market that is not well addressed by the major bus manufacturers in North America,” Letendre explains.
At first, it was a challenge to find funding sources. But the company got lucky during the early stages of research and development when it was able to secure a vital partnership with mining giant Rio Tinto. The mining company was able to supply Letenda with industry contacts and aluminum from its refinery and smelters in the Saguenay–Lac-Saint-Jean region of Quebec.
“Rio Tinto is proud to have supported Letenda from the very beginning in the development of a new generation of zero-emission aluminum city buses that will help reduce the environmental footprint of public transit in Quebec,” says Sébastien Ross, executive director of Atlantic operations for Rio Tinto Aluminium in a press statement.
After that several other Quebec-based partners came on board, including Constructions Proco, Simplex Tool Rental, Promotion Saguenay, La Société de la Vallée de L’aluminium, Développement économique Longueuil, ACET Banque Nationale, and Hydro-Québec.
Another key relationship was struck last fall, when Cummins signed on to provide Letenda with its electrified powertrain, which includes powertrain controls, 222 kWh battery packs, a propulsion motor, power electronics, charging controls and connectivity systems.
“Having Cummins as a key partner was very good for us in terms of the customer-aspect [because] they are a known company that already has a very good maintenance and aftermarket network in North America,” says Letendre.
Letenda, in addition, was able to secure funding support from private investors, the National Research Council of Canada, and $1 million from the Ministry of Economy and Innovation of Quebec.
Letenda had just completed the design for the first prototype of Electrip when the pandemic hit.
Working remotely and dealing with supply chain issues was a challenge, says Letendre, but two years later, the team has doubled in size and employees are starting to make their way back to the Longueuil offices.
Looking to the future, the company is clear about wanting to enter into larger-scale sales and production phases in Quebec, but says it is “still working” on the details for when orders can begin and on the pricing of Electrip.
“Our vision is to one day be a global player in the passenger transportation industry. So we are starting in Canada and in the U.S. We want to take that market and then we’ll evaluate other possibilities for other markets in Europe and elsewhere,” says Letendre.