New Chinese-built Ensign Enterprise

New Chinese-built Ensign Enterprise

Bus operator and dealer Ensign Bus is now UK importer for manufacturer BCI – an Australian based company which also manufactures in China. The first BCI buses to enter the UK via Ensign were unveiled at Ensign’s facility in Essex last month.  

Ensign has revealed its BCI-built high-capacity double-decks along with plans for further hybrid innovations. Francis Rooney reports.

The Ensign Enterprise, a high capacity 12.5m-long double-deck bus, is powered by Euro 6 Cummins engines, and is fully PSVAR- and ULEZ-compliant. The buses have capacity for 98 passengers with seatbelts throughout.  

The collaboration between Ensign and BCI has involved the technical teams of both companies, with the vehicles built entirely to Ensign’s specifications by BCI. Modifications made to the original BCI vehicle included a complete redesign of the front profile, and the inclusion of a curved staircase as opposed to a straight one. “We had them built for what we need,” says Ensign’s Peter Newman, “though BCI are very accommodating, if you want changes and if it’s possible, they’ll do it.”

BCI is an Australian-owned enterprise, and BCI Hong Kong is the part of the company working out of China where the new Ensign-imported buses will be built. BCI was founded by Ron Nazzari in 1991 as a small family-run business in Perth, where the head office is still based. For the first decade of its existence it mainly operated in Australia, with a stint building in Malaysia. 

In 2004 the first Chinese factory was set up and BCI has been building there ever since. In 2011, a new factory was purpose-built in Xiamen, boasting a 100,000 sq m site with a 35,000 sq m factory where the buses for Ensign will be built.

BCI has an extensive product range, including coaches, double-deck and single-deck buses that are used on routes around Australia and more recently in New Zealand. 

“This is not a Chinese bus, it’s an Australian bus or a UK bus or a New Zealand bus, just manufactured in China,” stresses Mark Nazzari, son of BCI founder Ron Nazzari.

Meanwhile Vantage Power, a business partner of Ensign has developed a retrofit hybrid system and demonstrated this alongside the BCI launch. 

The B320 Hybrid Retrofit is based on a series hybrid architecture and comes with a Cummins Euro 5 engine, which allows an engine-off mode in which the bus can run for 4km on electric power, according to Vantage. 

At the outset it will be made available for the Volvo B7TL, and soon be adapted to the B9TL and later ADL’s E400. Post-installation, Vantage aims to lease battery packs to operators for a monthly fee with a warranty, to address any concerns about confidence in battery life for hybrid systems. 

“The system is fully modular, and the different parts are fully removable to allow quick and flexible maintenance of the system,” says Vantage’s Alexander Schey. “The whole system is designed to be as ‘plug and play’ as possible.”

 A full remote diagnostic system will be installed in each bus allowing for geo-fencing and remote telemetry.

Initially founded in 2011 by current chief executive Alexander Schey and chief technical officer Toby Schulz, Vantage started out working on electric racing cars and with the help of a partnership with Ensign Bus, has moved into working on hybrid systems for diesel buses. Ensign, BCI and Vantage have begun discussions about bringing a hybrid version of the new Ensign Enterprise bus to the UK in the future.

By the end of the year Ensign also hopes to bring 10.8m double-deck buses to the UK from BCI; and although Ensign will offer some of these buses through its dealership operation, it says it does not have plans to put a huge amount onto the market.

Peter Newman also ruled out bringing any BCI-built coaches into the country, stating that the market was already overcrowded.