Jay Leno’s Garage: Electric Bus Conversions On The Cheap

4 years ago by Jay Cole 6


A recent web-episode of Jay Leno’s Garage, featured a fairly innovative green idea.  Purchase older buses at their useful end of life, gut their power-trains and give them new life as all-electric transportation vehicles.

Denim Shirts Are Always Required In Jay's Garage

Denim Shirts Are Always Required In Jay’s Garage

Macy Neshati, Vice President of Complete Coach Works, takes us through the process in a fairly interesting video diary of a 1996 New Flyer bus that his company bought, tore down and recycled into an emission free vehicle.

While the new electric motor only has about 170 hp, one of the benefits of electric drive is in lb-ft of torque, and this bus is no exception with over 1,200 lbs of it.

Current range of this particular bus on the show (which was the company’s first attempt at an inexpensive conversion) is 90 miles, but Complete Coach Works figures 120 miles is more the norm on the ones that are actually put into service.

According to Mr. Neshati, 80% of city buses have transit loops smaller than 100 miles, so the re-engineering of old buses to electricity makes sense.  Complete Coach Works says these new buses also require much less maintenance than their gas counterparts.

Jay Checks Out The 1,200lb-ft Motor And Some Of The Buses Lithium-Ion Battery Packs

Jay Checks Out The 1,200lb-ft Motor And Some Of The Buses Lithium-Ion Battery Packs

How much energy does it take to drive 90-120 miles in this road whale?  Twelve joined packs combine for 213 kWh of juice.  The bus recharges at 480V/100A, and takes approximately 4 hours to charge.

The approximate cost of a completely refurbished, electric bus is about $500,000, roughly a quarter of what a comparable new electric bus would cost.  The company expects customers can expect at least 12 years of renewed service from their conversions.

More photos at Jay Leno’s Garage

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6 responses to "Jay Leno’s Garage: Electric Bus Conversions On The Cheap"

  1. Anthony says:

    New benchmark for Jay’s Volt – 23,000 miles and “16-18 gallons of gas”. So that’s between 1275-1435 MPG. Makes my 377 look pretty meager!

    Lots of cool technical details on the bus in the video – LiFePO4 batteries, dual wound motor (delta-wye) that has two modes depending on speed, 5-6% regen, the 480V/100A charger looks like a ChaDeMo charger (don’t know how they pulled that off), etc.

  2. David Murray says:

    This is really very cool. I’ve converted a regular gas car to electric before. If I had the money, I’d start up a company doing this for industrial and fleet vehicles. Those are really the best choices right now because they usually have a predefined route and thus the battery can be sized perfectly to match. School buses, mail trucks, tractors, shuttle buses, delivery vehicles, and many other such vehicles are perfectly suited to electric conversion. And the best part is, from a sales perspective, is you can walk into a place that buys these types of vehicles and lay out the costs for them to see. For a fleet manager it really is a no-brainer when you can say “you’ll save X amount of money on fuel and maintenance in Y number of years.”

  3. Bill Howland says:

    One little detail., they are recharging the batteries quite quickly… I’d imagine there is a fair amount of heat involved. So they didn’t mention it but I bet they have a 480 volt 3 phase feed, 100 amp fusing, so assumedly that would be 480 volts 3 phase at 80 amps for 266 KWH into the batteries resulting in 213 kwh useable capacity over 4 hours.

  4. Max says:

    500k$ for an old bus? No feasible business case.
    They need to decrease capacity of batteries -> decrease cost of the bus and use ultra-fast charging instead 100-300 kWt.

  5. vdiv says:

    I found it hilarious that Jay Leno drove a bus full of unsuspecting strangers around LA. A man of many talents! Soon to be a full motion action adventure sequel:

    “Speed 3: Electric Torque” 🙂

  6. Mark H says:

    Give me a hundred (Magic Bus)
    I won’t take under (Magic Bus)
    Goes like thunder (Magic Bus)