AATA OKs Hybrid Bus Battery Refreshers

Refresher battery kits for up to 20 buses at a total cost of $675,000 have been approved by the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority. The action came at the board’s June 20, 2013 meeting. The board had discussed the item at a previous meeting, on April 18, 2013.

At the April 18 meeting, the board lamented the fact that no U.S. company, and more specifically no Michigan company, had bid on the AATA’s request for proposals to replace the battery kits for its hybrid electric buses. But board sentiment was that a larger purchasing consortium for such kits might eventually be achieved through the newly-created southeast Michigan regional transit authority (RTA) – which includes the transit agencies in Washtenaw, Wayne, Macomb and Oakland counties. And that larger consortium might make it worth the while of a Michigan company that’s part of the state’s nascent battery industry to invest in the capability to produce bus battery kits.

The board delayed voting on the item in April due to the non-U.S. source – because board members wanted to be certain that federal funds could be used. The only bid had been from W.W. Williams of Dearborn, Mich., which distributes a product sold by Allison Transmission. The kits are fully assembled in Japan by Panasonic, but are programmed by Allison for use in the energy storage system used in AATA buses. So Allison was pursuing a Buy America waiver from the FTA – as its existing waiver had expired.

The AATA also inquired directly with the FTA. From the AATA staff memo on the results of that inquiry:

AATA requested clarification from the FTA on April 16, 2013 and received approval on June 4, 2013 from the FTA to purchase the battery refresh kits using grant funds. Approval from FTA came as a result of a determination that while the energy storage system (ESS) is a component of the Allison propulsion system, it is comprised of many subcomponents e.g., battery sub packs, relays, fuses, pre-charge resistors, etc. In the FTA’s opinion, components (ESS) of the propulsion system must be manufactured in the United States without regard to the origin of its subcomponents. In the FTA’s determination subcomponents may be of domestic or foreign origin. The purchase of the battery refresh kit is not a purchase of the entire ESS component, but a purchase of a subcomponent that does not require a waiver to be eligible for purchase using grant funds.

In the fleet of 80 AATA buses, 52 use hybrid battery technology.

This brief was filed from the downtown location of the Ann Arbor District Library at 343 S. Fifth Ave., where the AATA board holds its meetings. A more detailed report will follow: [link]