Canadian tandem to build double decker ZEV buses for North American market
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Oct 12, 2023
Josh Kozelj

Alexander Dennis, a subsidiary of NFI of Winnipeg, is partnering with Big Rig Manufacturing to make 50 electric double deckers a year at a Las Vegas plant

The UK’s largest bus manufacturer, Alexander Dennis, a subsidiary of Winnipeg-based NFI Group Inc., is jumpstarting production on a line of zero-emission double decker buses in North America as demand surges. Photo: Alexander Dennis

Alexander Dennis, a subsidiary of NFI of Winnipeg, is partnering with Big Rig Manufacturing to make 50 electric double deckers a year at a Las Vegas plant

The UK’s largest bus manufacturer, Alexander Dennis, a subsidiary of Winnipeg-based NFI Group Inc., is jumpstarting production on a line of zero-emission double decker buses in North America as demand surges.

Late last month, Alexander Dennis announced a partnership with Big Rig Manufacturing to produce 50 Enviro500EV CHARGE buses per year at a new plant in Las Vegas.

Big Rig Manufacturing is a subsidiary of Alberta-based Big Rig Collision Group.

The venture, which will start work next year, also includes plans to build 50 clean diesel double decker buses annually.

Extensive knowledge

Big Rig’s familiarity with collision repair and double decker buses played a key role in the partnership coming together, says Stephen Walsh, vice-president and general manager of Alexander Dennis’ North America operations, in an interview with Electric Autonomy Canada.

“They have extensive knowledge of our buses,” says Walsh, adding that Big Rig has previously worked on midlife rebuilds and collision repair for some of its consumers, including BC Transit and RTC Transit in Las Vegas.

“Big Rig is fully versed in the way our bus comes together, so they were a very natural choice,” he says.

The decision also falls into line with what Alexander Dennis has done in other places across the world. The company employs subcontractors in Hong Kong and New Zealand to develop double decker buses in those markets, Walsh says.

Walsh adds that the decision to build the buses in Las Vegas was to meet U.S. content assembly requirements outlined in the Buy America Act. He adds that there may be the possibility of securing a development investment grant from Nevada, but nothing is imminent.

A pause in production

In 2021, Alexander Dennis first announced the Enviro500EV CHARGE, a 45-foot electric vehicle that can seat over 130 people.

That same year, however bus manufacturing plants in Ontario and Indiana — established to fulfil an order for more than 250 double decker buses from Ontario transportation agency Metrolinx — were shut down. At the time, NFI announced manufacturing for North American double decker buses would shift to other existing facilities as part of a cost-reduction strategy.

Before the closure, Alexander Dennis built over 1,200 traditional gas and diesel double decker buses in Canada and the U.S. Once the pandemic hit, however, demand dropped.

“The original plant in Indiana was a bit of an anomaly for us,” Walsh says. “The Metrolinx volume generated that business, but going forward with lower volume, it made much more sense to find an assembly partner [like Big Rig].”

Post-pandemic boom

With the pandemic subsiding, however, interest in buses is rising again.

Walsh says public transit agencies in the U.S. and Canada are interested in both the ZEV and clean diesel double decker buses.

In particular, Walsh says that Alexander Dennis is in negotiations with transit agencies in B.C., California and the state of Washington to deploy the latest line of double deckers. He believes the style of buses is most effective for trips within a large urban area, moving people from the suburbs into downtown, say.

“A good example is the Tsawwassen ferry terminal,” Walsh says. “You catch the ferry, take the bus into the centre of Vancouver, and it drives on the highway.”

There has also been interest from private companies in the San Francisco area in the Enviro500EV, who would use the vehicle to shuttle employees to and from their workplace.

“They’re wholly focused on EV,” he says.

Down the road, Walsh wants to secure more orders for both double decker buses.

Many cities are writing five to 10-year goals to develop more forms of rapid transit, he says. He hopes their long-term order book for ZEV and diesel double-decker buses continues to grow as more communities draw up future transit plans.

“There’s continuous dialogue with our customers across the States and Canada.”

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