Courtesy Altair

A Michigan-based engineering firm plans to unveil a new kind of hybrid bus that's both greener and cheaper

Many urban transit systems have been moving to green vehicle technology in recent years. New York, for example, began converting its buses to clean diesel and compressed natural gas back in 2000, and now operates almost 1,200 hybrid electrics, the largest such fleet in the world, according to the Metropolitan Transit Authority.

Yet the transition to low-emission fleets has been hampered by reports of technical problems on hybrid electric buses as well as high price points. Indeed, at a time when local and regional governments are struggling to contain costs, the hybrid premium poses a real challenge for transit officials.

Altair Product Design, a Troy, Michigan-based engineering firm, is aiming to fill the breach with a new type of light-weight hybrid city bus powered mainly by hydraulic pumps. The 26-year-old company, which has designed a broad range of vehicles for the Big Three and many international bus manufacturers, has developed a modified diesel engine that runs a hydraulic motor linked to the wheel shaft. The pumps can capture and reuse about 70 percent of the energy used for breaking.

The technology is widely used in off-road industrial vehicles, says Altair chief operating officer Mike Heskitt. “These things have been around for years.”

Having produced and tested prototypes using federal and state funding, Altair claims its hydraulic hybrids boast gas mileage of about 6.9 miles per gallons, compared to 3.3 mpg for a standard diesel bus. The company will unveil the bus at the American Public Transportation Association’s bus procurement workshop/conference next month in New Orleans.

Altair intends to build the buses from scratch instead of designing them for other manufacturers; a full production facility is at least two years away.

Heskitt says Altair aims to sell its vehicles for $410,000, which is about a third cheaper than current hybrid electrics. But the big savings, he adds, will come with lifetime operating outlays. According to company estimates, its hydraulic buses will cost about $720,000 to maintain over their lifetimes, while hybrid electrics, clean diesel, and compressed natural gas buses tend to be in the $900,000 range. The firm has not yet lined up any transit agency customers.

With about 5,000 city buses purchased each year in the U.S., Heskitt reckons that Altair can carve out a niche with bus-based transit agencies looking for a lower cost way to reduce emissions. “We expect this is going to change the game,” he says.  

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. a photo of a full parking lot with a double rainbow over it
    Transportation

    Parking Reform Will Save the City

    Cities that require builders to provide off-street parking trigger more traffic, sprawl, and housing unaffordability. But we can break the vicious cycle.   

  2. A photo of President Donald Trump boarding Air Force One
    Equity

    Housing Organizations Slam White House Report on Homelessness

    As Trump targets California’s homeless crisis, a report from his Council of Economic Advisors lays out a policing-heavy blueprint for fixing the issue.

  3. a map comparing the sizes of several cities
    Maps

    The Commuting Principle That Shaped Urban History

    From ancient Rome to modern Atlanta, the shape of cities has been defined by the technologies that allow commuters to get to work in about 30 minutes.

  4. a photo of a man at a bus stop in Miami
    Transportation

    Very Bad Bus Signs and How to Make Them Better

    Clear wayfinding displays can help bus riders feel more confident, and give a whole city’s public transportation system an air of greater authority.

  5. Life

    Mapping the Changing Colors of Fall Across the U.S.

    Much of the country won’t see those vibrant oranges and reds until mid-October, which leaves plenty of time for leaf peepers to plan their autumn road trips.

×