Troy company rolls out bus that doubles fuel economy

By: Terry Oparka | Troy Times | Published September 12, 2011


Altair ProductDesign has unveiled a transit bus it says gets double the gas mileage — 6.9 mpg — of buses currently on the road.

The concept is powered by the Federal Transit Administration, Automation Alley, the Michigan Economic Development Corp. and hydraulic/hybrid technology.

Altair, a design and engineering company based in Troy, plans to market the bus commercially starting with the American Public Transportation Association Expo in New Orleans next month.

With a $5.1 million FTA grant, $500,000 from the MEDC and $100,000 from Automation Alley, a technology business accelerator, Altair aimed to power a commercially viable transit bus with top performance and lower operating costs than conventional and other hybrid buses.

Mike Heskitt, chief operating officer of Altair ProductDesign, explained that the company had developed technologies to save fuel economy, and decided to try applying those to the transit bus industry.

“This was an internal project that went so well that the FTA and Automation Alley wanted to see it in action,” Heskitt said.

The bus runs on a combination of diesel fuel and hydraulics.

Heskitt said the new technology harnesses and uses the hydraulic energy, or pressure, created when the bus stops. With the new technology, the pressure is used to get the bus moving again, ideal for the stop-and-go cycles of bus transportation.

The bus was tested at the Ford Motor Co. Michigan Proving Grounds in Romeo using the stop-and-go protocol required by the FTA for transit bus testing. Altair’s bus got 6.9 mpg, compared with 3.3 mpg for conventional diesel buses and 5.5 mpg for electric hybrids, according to company data.

Heskitt noted that unlike other hybrid bus technologies, Altair’s bus does not require any additional infrastructure investments by transit authorities, such as charging/filling stations, replacement batteries/tanks or specialized service equipment.

The 25,800-pound, 40-foot bus, which features 41 passenger seats and has a 12-year road life, is 15 percent lighter than electric hybrids and 10 percent lighter than conventional buses, which also boosts fuel economy, Heskitt said. The company estimates that the diesel/hydraulic bus will lower bus costs by $170,000 per bus.

“Goals were set when this program started to produce a transit bus that was more fuel efficient, more affordable and more cost effective to operate for city transit authorities, and this project has both met and exceeded those goals,” Ken Rogers, executive director of Automation Alley, said.

Heskitt added that local transit authorities, including the Suburban Mobility Authority for Regional Transportation and the Detroit Department of Transportation, support the project. A number of local companies also contributed manufacturing components and technology, including Parker Hannifin and Meritor for the powertrain, along with Alcoa Wheel Products, Tenneco, Cummins Bridgeway, Williams Controls and Sika Corp.

“We’re very proud of what they’ve done,” Michael Shore, director of corporate communications for the MEDC, said. “It was a very good investment in jobs in Michigan.”