Magic bus brings plenty of joy

‘YOU drive, and tell me what you think,’ Frank said.

So I slid behind the wheel, turned the ignition key, a ‘ready’ light came up on the dash and I snicked the ‘gear lever’ forward, and off we went.

We glided to 70km/h in next to no time because this vehicle had tremendous instant torque — and it was so quiet we could carry on talking as if we were in a room.

What made this drive so different was the complete lack of mechanical sound, the smooth ride and the effortless gait of the 15-seater.

I was at the wheel of a Joylong, the first all-electric minibus in Australia, a thoroughly tested vehicle that has just won ADR (Australian Design Rules) accreditation.

Joylong Automobile (officially Jiangsu Joylong Automobile Co Ltd), is a Chinese automobile and bus manufacturer based in Shanghai.

It was established in 2007, with sales mainly in Asian, African, Middle Eastern and South American countries.

We zoomed up a particularly long, winding and steep hill with no loss of pace, made a U-turn at the top and came down again, the vehicle hugging the road and taking the bends without any discomfort – or need of brakes.

It’s powered by a big 74kWh underfloor battery and a 60kW water-cooled electric motor, the combined mass of which lowers the centre of gravity to glue the handsome 6m long vehicle to the road.

Perth-based Global Automotive, run by former rally star and motor industry identity Frank Johnson, is the sole distributor for Australia and New Zealand.

The Chinese-built Joylong looks quite a lot like a Toyota product, not surprising since the company, which operates from a ultra-modern plant of nearly 100,000sqm in Yangzhou with a lot of  technical input, design and quality control by Toyota experts.

The bus can be had with fewer seats, liberating space for wheelchairs, a feature that makes it particularly attractive to aged or special needs facilities.

It’s also well suited to resorts and businesses that need staff or customer transport.

Price depends on how the seating and or wheelchair space is configured, but hovers around the $85K mark. 

That gear lever, by the way, doesn’t really change cogs since there’s no gearbox. It’s simply a matter of choosing between forward or reverse – and yes, of course it has a reversing camera.

Nor is there an engine or differential, so the electric bus has virtually zero service costs.

And had I used the brakes on that long downhill, it would have helped recharge the batteries.

“Apart from checking the brakes a couple of times a year and replacing tyres, there’s no maintenance,” Johnson said. 

“No petrol or oil costs — you just plug it into any AC/DC outlet to charge the battery. There’s also an onboard management and feedback computer system clearly shows the state of the charge.”

Charge time depends of course on what you plug it into — a couple of hours with a fast charger or overnight with  standard powerpoint.

And it has a range of 270-300km.

The plush seats are all fitted with seatbelts, visibility is exceptional and there’s separate airconditioning for folk in the back seats.

Joylong’s state-of-the-art automated production plant uses robots to assemble the buses, which are fully immersed in anti-corrosion coating and finished in top quality German Henkel paint,’ Johnson said.

He’d been negotiating with the company for the past six years and spent the last 12 months putting the vehicles through a punitive test regime in Australia.

“They exceed ISO9000 quality standards, come with a 10-year warranty anti-corrosion warranty and they’re just brilliant.”

What did I think of it?

Well, it was different from the cars, SUVs and utes I drive day-to-day, but the experience was enjoyable.

I was impressed with the smooth, instant torque, the light steering, comfort and comprehensive instrumentation of the Joylong, most of the latter available on a central touchscreen.

And then, of course, there’s the silence. No diesel clatter, no rev ranges, no changing of gears. Bliss.

Here was a bus that didn’t wake the neighbourhood, or even a sleeping cat.

The mini-bus rides on double wishbone front suspension with a ‘variable rate spring’ setup at the back, and shiny alloy wheels.
The brakes are disc at the front and drums down the back.

There’s also rear parking sensors and six-speaker audio with USB input.

A digital speedometer would have been nice, since the city and national speed limits come up pretty quickly, but there’s an analog one to remind you that electric power has a lot more muscle than pistons.

And the name: Joylong. 

Guess it will bring a lot of joy to the driver and owner, and last a long time.

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