Electric bus production, future scenarios, aftersales organization and new products. In this interview Petros Spinaris answers the question of Sustainable Bus.
Spinaris has been appointed Deputy CEO of Solaris Bus & Coach at the beginning of May, after having joined the company in 2009. He is now responsible for Sales, Marketing and After Sales. He graduated from the University of Westminster in London where he obtained a Master degree in Logistics and Supply Chain Management.
How is the production of Solaris electric buses organized? Are they produced on a dedicated line? What is the volume of production of the plant today and what is the maximum volume?
«At present, our annual production capacity is over 1600 vehicles. Continuously, more and more of them are zero-emission electric buses, trolleybuses or hybrid buses. All our vehicles are manufactured on the same production line, with additional stations for electric buses. They are connected with such operations as, among others high-voltage and battery installations. Some of them are also vehicle start-up stations that require other devices and staff qualifications. However, we strive to manage our production in such a flexible way that, depending on orders from the market, we will be able to deliver buses with various types of drives in the best quality and on time».
In 2018 36% of buses sold by Solaris were alternatively driven buses. Based on the orders signed in the first months of the year, what is the forecast for 2019?
«This year, our sales plans are estimated at 1,600 vehicles (In 2018, Solaris delivered in total 1,226 buses and trolleybuses, ed. note), of which more than 40% will be low and zero-emission buses. This is of course a big challenge, but on the other hand we have to adapt to the expectations of our clients. The trend of buying electric vehicles will certainly continue to strengthen in Europe and we must be prepared for it. Our experience of more than 8 years in the production of electric buses, which today are present in 17 countries and have covered a total of over 14 million kilometers, is certainly priceless».
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Talking about products, Solaris recently launched the Urbino LE lite hybrid. Mild hybrids are gaining ground on different markets (Italy, for instance). Did you receive any order yet for this product?
«Indeed, in the autumn of 2018 we presented our premiere – the Solaris Urbino 12 LE lite hybrid. Currently, two vehicles of this type are undergoing the final stages of testing. By autumn this year, this model will be in our sales offer and from the beginning of 2020 we will be ready for its mass production. Depending on the demand for this type of hybrid system, we will be offering it on different markets».
A question on aftersales. E-mobility requires a strong focus on services. How is Solaris’ aftersales network organized? Which countries are you covering?
«During the more than 23 years of our company’s operations and presence in 32 countries, we have successfully developed our service structures, which are a key factor in success in this market. The customer preferences changing towards electromobility also entails changes in the aftersales area. That is why, several years ago, the employees of our Aftersales and Service departments have been qualified and authorized to service and repair electric vehicles. In addition, thanks to the technologies available today, more and more service activities can be performed remotely. Our Department of Research and Development has developed the eSConnect tool, which allows not only for the remote diagnosis of electric buses but also, on a continuously growing scale, for predictive maintenance which will help to avoid failures. This solution is constantly developing and gaining more and more functionalities. This is a relatively new solution, but customers decide to choose it more and more often because of the opportunities it offers».
Is Solaris still producing the Tramino range or, with the acquisition by CAF, you are focusing the activities on buses and trolleybuses?
«In connection with the acquisition of 100% shares in Solaris by the CAF Group, which is an expert in the production of rail vehicles, including trams, Solaris terminates its tram operations. We will finish the implementation of the tram contract in Leipzig and of course we will carry out our service obligations resulting from the supply of trams in the past. At present, however, we are 100% focused on creating the most modern buses and trolleybuses. The Bus of The Year title for the best electric bus in Europe obliges us to do so!»