You've probably see one of the Pittsburgh Port Authority's New Flyer electric busses quietly and efficiently running its route carrying passengers to their respective stops around our city.
We will welcome Jennifer McNeill, Vice President of the Public Sector at New Flyer, to detail the rise of electric busses in cities like Pittsburgh around the world.
New Flyer has more electric buses on the road in North America than any other manufacturer, and is the only manufacturer providing all three zero-emission bus propulsions (battery-electric, fuel cell-electric, and trolley-electric). The company employs 9,300 across 50 facilities in the United States and Canada.
Get a front-row seat to learn more about the technology driving these busses and the new business opportunities it presents.
Good afternoon, everyone. This is Audrey Russo, President and CEO of the Pittsburgh tech Council. And today, I am really excited that we are live from the east liberty, maintenance and operation center for the Port Authority. And you could hear that overhead voice that's giving some instructions, I'm gonna tell you we are in an electric bus. That is a new flyer electric laughs and we're going to talk in a minute, I'm going to bring her on Jennifer MacNeil. I'll formally introduce her in a moment. But before we get started, I just want to give some thanks to everyone, first of all Huntington bank, because you know, what we have Jonathan Kersting is with us. Each and every day is vice president of media and marketing. And you got to say, Jonathan, they really are helping us with anything that we do that is innovative, just in time, having fun, nose and mouth really, man, you can hear the background there. But thanks to the Huntington bank for always believing in us, and believing in our experiments that we work on each and every day to make sure that Southwestern Pennsylvania is amazing. We have muted your microphones, we've not muted mine, because you can hear in the background, that you're gonna hear some instructions periodically and a little bit of noise, but not much because we're in an electric bus. So it's pretty exciting. So we have a chat, then you can ask questions, john will keep his eye on that this is not an opportunity for you to sell your wares. This is an opportunity to just enjoy, listen to our guests talk about all the things that she's involved in. And we're just going to get started. So thank you, everyone, for being here. We're going to be talking about electric vehicles. And at the Council, we are extremely bullish on EBS for a few key reasons just to set the table. One, they are great for air quality. And many people know that Pittsburgh has struggled over the years in terms of issues around air quality, but we've really gotten better to a lot of a lot of good news in that arena. But we care about that. The other is the local, the use of local energy that's produced right here across our 13 county region. We have a lot and a lot of ways to help perpetuate electric vehicles and the technology they're in. And then they also require advanced materials and advanced technology. So any of you know Pittsburgh, you know that's sort of the heartbeat of what we do and who we are, and many are manufactured right here in Pennsylvania. So I'm in the bus. I'm in the new flyer electric vehicle. I'm recording my first on location session of business as usual. And if you can't tell, this is the port authorities garage in the East End, which is actually East Liberty, and I'm inside the port authorities new electric bus. So I am very, very stoked. So today, we're going to I'm going to introduce right now, Jennifer MacNeil. She's the Vice President for public sector at New flyer, which actually manufactured the vehicle that I am standing in right now I'm actually sitting so I'm not standing. But I am sitting in this vehicle and I love it here. I love being in this bus. And I am so excited to talk to Jennifer, first of all welcome, Jennifer, I know that you're you are calling in from Winnipeg, right? And our friends in Canada, we love the work that you're doing. And before we talk about the exciting work with the Port Authority, can we just take a minute to learn a little bit about you a lot about new flyer and sort of the legacy of new flyer with a long history and in a lot of groundbreaking innovation. So thank you, first of all for taking the time.
Absolutely. So first of all, thank you, Audrey for having me on your show today. I'm so jealous. I'd like to be there in the bus with you rather than here at home. But, but nonetheless, I think we'll have a great half hour together. So as as a as you introduce me kindly. I'm Jennifer Thiele. I am the Vice President of Sales and Marketing for new flyers public sector business. And a new flyer is a transit bus manufacturer that has been in business for more than 90 years. So we were actually established in 1930. And if you look at new flyers history, we actually have this history of innovation where it's punctuated by a lot of firsts. And so today, you know, almost half the transit buses in the US and Canada are either manufactured by new flyer or supported by new flyer we actually had a series of acquisitions where we bought other vehicles many bachelors in the space. So we do think that we are a leader not just in in manufacturing, but also in innovation. And, and we have a really robust support team. And we are so proud of our relationship with cities like Pittsburgh, it's a long term relationship. Every transit bus, including the one that you're sitting on, is kept in service for somewhere between 12 and 20 years, depending on the transit agency. So you know, with that type of really long relationship, we get to innovate with our customers. And we get to see that progression over time. So you know, some of the first that we are really proud of our first Zero Mission bus was actually an electric trolley that was introduced to Toronto in 1968. So we've been working on zero emission vehicles for quite some time. But we also were the first trend transmission manufacturer to manufacturer low floor buses, like the one you're on, and the first to introduce diesel electric hybrid buses. And that was all before 1998, if you can imagine. So more recently, we've focused all of our innovations around technology that makes for more livable cities. So things like zero emission, propulsion, automated driving technologies, connected vehicles. So basically using technology to improve the quality of life in urban areas. We really strongly believe in public transit, we think it's the spinal cord of cities. And it's a real key factor in in the real mobilization and economic recovery across North America in the next, you know, 12 to 24 months, we think. So over the last decade, some of the key things that that we introduced, we actually piloted our hydrogen fuel cell bus in the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. And we are now on our second generation fuel cell bus. We introduced our first battery electric bus in 2012. And we're actually now on our third generation battery electric bus. We opened a vehicle Innovation Center and Anniston, Alabama to help educate our customers and industry participants on a new technology so that we could all find solutions together. And we also recently in 2019, introduced an infrastructure solutions team. So with every one of those electric buses, comes a charger and, and we'd like to get involved and help our customers with figuring out the right charging solutions for their vehicles. So it's been a really exciting decade. And even the last, I would say, 12 months, we've done five or six different product launches, including our automated vehicle. But it's a real exciting time in transit during COVID COVID. Nothing. So our vehicle Innovation Center was an in person experience up until COVID. And our amazing marketing team pivoted to create a digital experience. And our next product launch is actually tomorrow. For an electric motor coach, yeah, on our virtual platform.
Wow. So let's just, you know, sort of reel it back for a second, we didn't talk about, you know, what about your background? What's your background? Like? How did you get into all this? Well,
um, I am actually a mechanical engineer by trade. But my engineering experience was primarily in aerospace. So much like Pittsburgh, when a pink is actually a bit of a technology town. And I worked in an aerospace company for about 17 years before joining new flyer in 2012. So started out as an engineer and went over to the dark side of sales and marketing, I do have a business degree as well. And I found that I actually kind of love taking technology and translating it into kind of practical solutions.
So much fun. So you're having a lot of fun. I am Yeah, absolutely. Definitely are I can tell. So, you know, you talked a little bit about alternative fuel sources and you know, new fliers, pushing autonomy. Let's talk about autonomy a little bit. What's the strategy in the AV space? And how is and how is that manifesting itself? And how are you supporting customers there?
Sure. So, electrification has actually opened up other innovations. And so if you can imagine, automated vehicles require a lot of different control systems that are basically all connected electric systems. And so in January this year, we launched our Excelsior, AV which is North America's first fully automated, level four heavy duty transit bus and level four basically means it is fully automated but there is a safety attendant onboard. It's not completely unknown. Man, if you will, but our intent there. At the end of the day, you know, exploring automated driving technologies is really about improving safety. So with a combination of technologies, like our auto drive system, which includes LIDAR, radar, and cameras, and then there's an auto drive by wire, which kind of controls the steering, braking throttle, you can actually add to the capabilities of a human right, you know, if you can see with LIDAR, radar and camera 360 degrees around the bus, you're actually adding to the ability to assess the situation and, and respond to your surroundings. So that's kind of our ultimate goal there. The problem is that today, regulations and standards don't exist for fully automated vehicles on public streets. And so well, everybody wants to talk about the technology, the hard stuff, like figuring out the regulations, testing standards, nobody wants to do that until they can see the technology. So our strategy was to develop a prototype vehicle, which we have running around a closed campus in Maryland. And we have also partnered up with a transit agency in Connecticut called transit, to do a closed course demonstration, or not closed course, but a controlled course demonstration. So that we can, you know, incentivize and excite people to start actually answering the hard questions as well. In the meantime, though, many of the features like parking and docking assist, or blind spot warnings or collision, you know, pedestrian detection, collision avoidance, those things can be deployed. And so, you know, while we may not be deploying fully automated vehicles for a while, the technologies can be sort of pared back and and deployed in a more commercial setting that way. So that's kind of our our strategy with Excelsior Av.
Yeah, I mean, essentially, it's classic iterative design, right? So you're just constantly make getting feedback from the customers and figuring out ways that you can deploy things, which is really cool. So it's good for you and your sales role, because you get to talk to the customers all the time. And the transportation strategy. So where, where can you talk about where these vehicles are made? And where is r&d conducted? Sure.
So we actually have three different manufacturing facilities in in North America, three different manufacturing lines. There's one in Anniston, Alabama, one in St. Cloud, Minnesota, and then we have a split line that is partially manufactured here in Winnipeg, Canada, and finished in Crookston, Minnesota, and our Canadian customers and a few of our American customers go through that line. But the other two are fully built sort of from, you know, Ross steel to rolling out the door in the United States. And so the most all of our vehicles are actually equipped to manufacture zero emission buses, we actually think that, although it's a relatively small proportion of our deliveries today, it's going to double every year for the next few years. And so we wanted to make sure that we made that investment during COVID. We invested in all the tooling and equipment, and 150,000 hours of training for our employees to get everybody ready to go for zero emission vehicles. And so, the most recent deliveries that we expect, for Pittsburgh, actually to be delivered later this year, will be manufactured in Anniston, Alabama, the vehicles that you are on right now. I believe we're finished in in Crookston, Minnesota.
You know, I'd like to at some point, we'd love to hear about a way to get even tighter connected into Pittsburgh, and the r&d is being done where everywhere,
everywhere, everywhere, I mean, we we have engineers in all of our facilities, and the beauty of, of this of zoom is that the collaboration has become kind of that much easier. But one of the interesting things that that we have found over the last couple of years, we have acquired a number of different bus manufacturers. So new flyer is just one brand owned by our parent. And if I grew motorcoach industries is another and that's mostly for commuter coaches and kind of over the road coaches. And then Aleksander dennis is a UK based bus and coach manufacturer that is also part of the group. And we have a cutaway vehicle manufacturer in Indiana called arbok specialty vehicles. And so all of the engineers from all of those teams are now part of our shared Technology Council. And so in addition to the engineers that we have in Canada, in Minnesota, and in Alabama, we are now also sharing technologies with all of the global brands. And you'll actually see that our box most recent vehicle that we launched a couple of months ago, has pretty much the same technology as the vehicle you're on right now. So we're kind of sharing resources and leveraging technology. One minute, I
think I'm gonna ask Jonathan, if there's a question, but or your safety and the safety
So, Pittsburgh is a community with strong DNA in the electric vehicle supply chain, particularly as it relates to advanced materials? As I mentioned earlier, can you talk about how you source new suppliers, and the role in open innovation plays in your company overall?
salutely. And so, we agreed Pittsburgh is a strong participant in our supply chain. And so the vehicle you're on is actually equipped with Siemens advanced electric drive components that are manufactured in New Kensington. So
that's great one.
Yeah, yeah. But in general, in addition to sharing engineering, we also share our global supply chain team, across the different brands and vehicles. And so we look for suppliers, we are always evaluating new technologies and suppliers against our Technology Roadmap. We look not only for innovation, but we also look for suppliers that understand and can accommodate the rigorous demands of transit operation. You know, not every vehicle out there lasts for 12 to 20 years. And so you need you needed a supplier that can understand that and, and provides, you know, really reliable technology that works because those buses need to make roll out every single day.
Right, totally. So Jonathan, are there any questions you want to grab? Because I think Cameo appearance from Katherine killman. And yes,
let's make sure we get these questions in before Katherine arrives. And Jennifer, welcome to the show. This is such an awesome conversation. Let's talk about batteries here. So Sam Brower wants to know, are these buses using lithium ion? lithium iron phosphate batteries? And how long did the packs last and service? And what percentage of the buses costs are in the batteries? Oh, gosh, okay. It's all good, don't worry.
They are using lithium ion NMC, batteries. They are manufactured by exalt energy in Michigan. So these are actually us domestic supplied batteries. There are quite a lot of them, I think there's 466 kilowatt hours on the bus that you are on. And that is a heck of a lot of batteries. Right. And, and they are approximately, you know, I would say they probably are about a third of the cost of the vehicle like it is it's it's expensive. And right now, you know, battery technology is improving all the time, energy density is improving. But today, you know, battery, the battery technology that we have makes those vehicles capable of about, I would say about 90% of transit routes before recharging, but there still are transit routes that are sort of longer than than the batteries capability. And it always, of course, depends on the climate that you're in. Because, honestly, the heating and air conditioning draw more from the battery than the drive motor.
Wow. Are there any other questions out there? Jonathan?
Yeah, here's another really good one. So given your company's long term relationships with customers, how do you work with public sector organizations to make these long term investments in the face of volatile public funding, slow moving regulators and even changes in political administrations?
that is what I said we got a good audience. Man, that guy's
well, so the one thing about public transit vehicles is that they have a very long sales cycle. So the point at which an agency decides that they wish to purchase to the point of delivery can be it can be as fast as nine months, but it can be as long as three years. And so we actually keep pretty good tabs on all the vehicles that are on the road today. When they come eligible for replacement, we actually monitor all of the public funding as well as the different priorities of the current administration. And, you know, although I'm in sales and marketing, I am a huge data nerd. So we do a lot of predicting of Kind of what we think the landscape will look like, just in terms of our five year forward look on on the market. And then we just try to make good decisions that with the Technology Roadmap and just keep keep advancing it forward and building on the lessons learned that in the past, and and just keep pushing it forward. So we make it work.
Let's see. Does anyone see if Katherine's out there? Can you see if she's not out there? Okay. She's not out there yet. So we know that Toronto is building one of the world's largest Evie fleets through its mass transit. Is that trolley still running?
I do not believe the 1968 version of the trolley is still running. No.
So that, you know, this bodes? Well for communities with harsher weather. I want people to understand that. Can you talk about what other cities are doing that are leading the way? And even ones that have the kind of weather that that you folks have that we have, you know, the northern eastern part of the Americas?
Yeah, absolutely. So first of all, I guess I'll describe a little bit about where our very first deployments were given that we're Canadian. We're kind of used to rough weather. Our fuel cell electric buses, debuted at the Vancouver Olympics. And we're operated in Whistler BC, so up in the mountains there. And our battery electric journey began in 2012, with the deployment of a test fleet here in Winnipeg. So, you know, we actually started out in some of the roughest weather out there. But most agencies across North America are, are looking at their zero emission journey. And we actually think that, you know, it's not a matter of if public transit will go zero emission, it's more a matter of when it makes a lot of sense. And so most agencies have started with small test fleets to make sure that they understand both the technology of the vehicle, and even more importantly, their charging strategy and infrastructure requirements. So, you know, we've deployed approximately 750, zero emission buses to 40 cities, if you do the math, on average, the number of buses per city is actually pretty, pretty low, because people are figuring out what their roadmap looks like and how they will do sort of deployment at scale on the zero emission vehicles. So most, most cities, many large ones like Toronto, Seattle, New York, Los Angeles, Vancouver, they've all made these commitments to only buy zero emission vehicles, after certain dates in time to meet their city's climate change objectives.
So there's a question Jonathan, from our old friend, Greg Bay, byfleet.
Oh, come in right there. Good to see Greg on the calling. What's new, what percentage
down from Greg and then Catherine's on?
Absolutely. So what percentage of the fleet is fuel cell?
It's it's quite small. I don't think it even reaches 1%. But if you look at if you look at the forecast, let's just say, right now, what we see in our five year view is that around 40% of the vehicles to be purchased in the next five years are zero emission. And of that 40%, about 10% of those are fuel. So that kind of gives you a bit of a
gauge. That's great. So Jonathan, you said Catherine is here. Catherine, we have the CEO of the Port Authority. And it's all right here. Hi, there. Good afternoon. Good morning. Which one is it? It's good afternoon. It's Yeah, it's afternoon and I'm very one the disco bus, Audrey. I know. I love it. And I've you know, I've given everyone the day off. I told them all to go home. Great. You know,
they haven't called me so they must be
taking your advice. Exactly. So Katherine, you know, we, you know, I know you're excited about not only our push towards electrification, you want that and your initial work in Pittsburgh and what are the benefits and we've got Jennifer McNeil on here, we're just having a ton of fun.
Good, all the women talking electric buses. So I just want to point out that's a little unusual, but
I love it. I
love it. So, um, so as you know, folks who have been here forever, I know that his Burg has a legacy air quality issue. folks who are newer to the area might not know that. So when we're talking about cleaner buses, it's not just like saving the planet long term. It's an actual concrete impact in our neighborhoods, right? Um, so clearly a clean electric bus is, you know, in diesel is still better than a lot of other things. It could be infinitely cleaner. Getting rid of this reliance on fossil fuels, of course. So, you know, there was what was this malware attack on a pipeline system yesterday,
if we were, you know, doing spot bys on fuel that potentially could have a disruption to service. I mean, there's all sorts of things which are sort of crazy about that going to electric is a definitely much more sustainable. It gives us the ability to invest in not just electric buses, but also non revenue vehicles, can we be you help out with this transition to trucks, so on and so forth? So there's a lot of really cool stuff that goes on with that. I would say also, if you are on that electric bus laundry, which you are, what do you hear?
I hear a lot of constructions, and I don't care much. Oh,
right. Right, right. So the buses are very, very quiet. So when you think about the noise that you're used to, and it really urban environment, there's also a huge component of us
noise improvement, because we're not adding to this overall grumble. In fact, I remember when the electric vehicles came out, you know, 15 years ago for fleet cars, folks in the like the Lighthouse for the Blind, etc, saying, make sure there's something on the car. So we hear that quiet, they're super, super quiet. So we have two vehicles now, I think, six on order. And as we're pulling together our strategic plan, we're including the transition to a completely clean fleet. One of our big pushes in the future,
how many buses,
so we have 720 vehicles, right, and so six down 714 to go, and that serves our status quo right now. So any future expansion, we'll be looking at electric buses, so we replaced the 12th of our fleet every year about 60 buses. So as we move into the future, it'll be 60 buses every year 60 buses every year, have to retrofit the garages. So we have more charging infrastructure. You've seen that at East Liberty? Also, you know, it doesn't have an internal combustion engine, it has a motor, and how do we treat that differently? You know, what are all the little things he still has? He still has brakes, so has wheels, so has a drive train? Right, right, like so they're slightly different. But there's still a lot of similarities. When we build a fifth garage in the future, it'll be designed to go electric from junk. We will not retrofit vehicles, going through 60 vehicles a year. I mean, it's 12 years, but it's still it's, yeah, why would you do that. And I had a previous agency, we moved to compressed natural gas, we also didn't retrofit we just started buying every year. And that's a really great way to move forward into a clean technology future. So we are, you know, we're excited. And you can see the blue buses in East liberty, which is our most heavily traveled area. So it's, it gives us a really good test case of stopping the bus really frequency really frequently. And what does a noise look like? And Jennifer may have touched on this. We have so many hills in Pittsburgh, that our engine spec actually required. Yeah. So our engine spec says you have to go up to 16% grade. And I don't know that many other places that do that. So this is you know, if the bus can run in Pittsburgh, it can run anywhere.
Yeah, we didn't talk about that. Jennifer, we didn't talk about sort of, you know, the geography or in the terrain?
Yeah, absolutely. So, you know, just, I mean, I'm gonna geek out here just a little bit for you. But in general, you know, electric motors have more torque than than combustion engines. And, and the vehicle that you are on right now is equipped with a high grade Penn motor of which some of the components are built in Pennsylvania.
So, Jennifer, we're coming to the end of our show. We've had a treat, what are we miss? I know, there are a bunch of questions out there. Jonathan, do we have a minute to ask Jennifer? Another question?
Let's do it, man. Let's do it. Let's go to Dirk Kalki, because these things just really piled in here. So China is is big in EDI manufacturing. Are they your largest competitor? What is their market share in North America? And will Biden's intend to buy American bode well for you? Oh,
that's a good question.
Another multi pronged question we love Yeah.
Can you answer some of that?
I can, actually. So the the Buy America provisions apply today for electric vehicles that are purchased using federal funds. And so all of our vehicles, whether they are electric or conventional, comply with the 70% by America. And so, as a result, you know, the Chinese manufacturers are not necessarily our biggest competitors, because they would be you know, held to those same standards as well. When we look at the current administration's priorities for by America and by American which, oddly are different things. You know, at this moment in time, all of our vehicles meet the requirements or exceed them, so we're not really only Really fussed about the changes. I think what what will be really important for us is working with the different committees to talk about how to do the calculations and how to get the entire supply chain in line. The last service transportation bill just had some technicalities and logistics that we're going to make it hard to, hard to administratively manage as opposed to meet so the intent of it is fine. I think we just need to kind of sort out the details of how
well listen, we are thrilled. We're thrilled to have had you on the show. Jennifer, it's been just a delight, love hearing about your background love hearing about new flyer, I love sitting in this bus. I want to give a huge shout out to the Port Authority in their team here. The drivers, the maintenance team, the tech folks, they are incredible. They just really are an incredible bunch. They're warm, they're friendly, they work crazy hours, they have been part of COVID in a way that many of us have no clue in terms of how they've managed their day to day like their day to day lives. And still providing services. Even when buses were down to only 15% ridership and keeping it clean. doing all the work is just incredible. So Jennifer, we want to see you in Pittsburgh. We want to see you here on the ground. And I want to thank Catherine Cal Catherine Kalman she's off. She probably just had other work to do but for joining us today, this has been such a treat. She's waving and can't thank them for being incredible partners and for the future. This is the future it matters to all of us. So thank you. Who do we have tomorrow?
Tomorrow we have the Michael Keaton back venture of nexi
very, very exciting. So Greg ripple stopping by Craig rippled stopping by to talk about
maybe a company that's another Canadian company. And will I be doing it from the Port Authority is the question I think might be offered now. I know this person needs to get back on the street. I think. So. Katherine, thank you so much, Jennifer. You've been awesome. I cannot thank you enough. Really appreciate it. We will stay connected to you.
Thank you so much for having me and I look forward to the day when I can come visit.
Good stuff. Stay safe everyone. See you guys. File
Transcribed by https://otter.ai