PILEA - a good investment of the Industrial Development Agency

Especially for our English-speaking friends, we recommend an article by Agnieszka Kubasik below

Observing the dynamic increase in sales of PILEA buses, produced by ARP E-Vehicles, it can be expected that they will soon appear in many Polish cities. I asked the President of the Management Board, Piotr Śladowski, about the development plans for the coming years.

In September 2020, the Industrial Development Agency purchased RAFAKO EBUS from RAFAKO SA, which in 2019 presented the first prototype of an 8.6 m electric bus. After the transaction, ARP E-Vehicles sp. z o.o., as a new company, took over qualified employees and control of the project, then moved on to getting the vehicle ready for production and bringing the vehicle to market. This is how the first PILEA was created, developed by Polish engineers from the very beginning as an electric car, powered by battery packs placed low under the floor.

Currently, ARP E-Vehicles is executing contracts from many tenders won and soon PILEA electric buses will appear in Myszków, Malczyce and Sieradz, as well as in Zielona Góra, Świnoujście and Mrągowo. They are produced in a modern hall, leased from EKO Instal in the Bydgoszcz Industrial and Technological Park, to which the company moved in February 2023. The building with a total area of ​​15,000 sq. m. m2 is equipped with submersible heat pumps, photovoltaic panels and wind turbines, which perfectly fits into the CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) of the company that produces zero-emission vehicles. 


130 buses a year

— The electric PILEA has been well received on the market, as evidenced by the winning tenders. Two years ago we sold the first bus, last year five, and this year we already have orders for 20 vehicles. In the coming years, we want to reach the sales level of over 130 vehicles per year. 

When I joined the company, we also quickly decided to complete the PILEA 10 m model, which can carry up to 85 people, identically to the larger and heavier 12-meter buses of our competitors, which is a huge advantage of our 10-metre bus. Then we started working on our own PILEA 12 m vehicle, much lighter and consuming less energy than other buses of this type on the market.


Surprisingly dynamic growth

In 2021, the company employed several people and revenues amounted to PLN 2 million , in the following year the number of employees increased to 36 people, and sales increased to PLN 8 million . In 2023, ARP E-Vehicles already employs 100 people and expects revenues of up to PLN 50 million . Intrigued by such a rapid development of the company and the growing popularity of its product, I invited Piotr Śladowski, who has been working in the company for over two years and has been the president of the board since July 2022, to talk to me. I was curious why the Industrial Development Agency decided to invest in a Polish electric bus.  

Rafako's idea was interesting due to its innovativeness , and because the electric vehicle industry is developing dynamically, ARP SA decided to support it with capital and implement it into production - President Śladowski began to tell. — This coincided with the introduction of EU standards imposing on European countries the need for zero-emission public transport at the level of 10% this year, and 30% by 2028. There are thousands of vehicles in Poland, so the demand is huge. In 2020, few people produced electric buses and, apart from Solaris, few players could boast of it. Autosan was at the prototype stage at the time, and MAN had only recently entered the market extensively, so we didn't have much competition. It was the perfect time to launch a new product. 

PILEA 8.6 m it is light, maneuverable and has a range of up to 340 km. The skeletal structure is made of stainless steel, and the sheathing is made of aluminum and polyester laminates, thanks to which the curb weight of the vehicle is 10.5 tons. The batteries, weighing from 450 to 500 kg each, are placed in the floor and significantly lower the center of gravity, which is important when cornering. The bus is adapted to transport people in wheelchairs and can accommodate up to 65 passengers in the city version, while as a school bus, it is equipped with more seats with seat belts and can take 36 students on board. The electric motor is developed in PMSM (synchronous with permanent magnets) technology, and the recuperation system recovers energy during braking. Thanks to this, the bus is economical in operation and uses up to 30-40% less energy. An interesting fact is that the battery can be charged not only using a professional 200 Amps charger within 1.5 hours, but also using a built-in small on-board charger, after connecting to a three-phase connection, e.g. in a detached house. This solution is more time-consuming (10 hours), but it can be a lifesaver in an emergency.


A new factory is planned

We also have plans to further expand production capacity to 1,000 buses per year and we are already thinking about an additional factory financed from EU funds, which is to be built by mid-2026. We would like to produce a whole range of products there, i.e. both electric and hydrogen buses, as well as a hybrid version, i.e. a combination of electric and hydrogen drive, depending on the demand. We are creating an appropriate platform for this purpose and we will present the PILEA H2 bus this fall. We are also working on the PILEA 2.0 project, i.e. a third generation electric bus, which we want to introduce into production in 2025. 

Such extensive plans require an appropriate staff of people with qualifications in the field of automation, mechatronics and electronics. According to President Śladowski, employees can acquire such competences at the ARP E-Vehicles plant in Bydgoszcz.  


The gigantic potential of Polish engineers

— We manage to attract very good specialists, even leaders in their fields, coming from liquidated MAN or Volvo plants, and even partly from Solaris. We are a Polish alternative to large corporations, which unfortunately move some of their factories from Poland, e.g. to Turkey, because labor is much cheaper there. Thanks to this, we develop the engineering potential, which is gigantic in our country. When preparing for European zero-emissions in the perspective of 2030, we need new staff for industry 4.0. At ARP E-Vehicles, mechanics and electricians can acquire unique skills while developing together with the company and I think that this is the most encouraging thing to work for us.In addition to a pretty good salary and typical benefits, it is the training and the opportunity to participate in changes that attract employees to us, who in 10 years will train more staff. We also establish cooperation with the Bydgoszcz, Poznań, Gdańsk, Warsaw and Łódź Universities of Technology in order to jointly adjust the program of studies and internships for students. 

The production of a bus at ARP E-Vehicles takes about 4 months. The entire cycle, from the moment of winning the tender to the moment the vehicle arrives at the customer, lasts from 9 to 12 months, depending on the specification, which may include various elements of equipment, such as seats with seat belts or a specific system for ticketing or information passenger. The basic version costs about PLN 2.2 million, and the more advanced version even PLN 2.6 million. 

— Components for our buses come in 60% from Poland, also from Great Britain, European Union countries, Canada and the United States.Poland is the largest producer of buses in Europe, as is the case with batteries, and the second in the world after China. Therefore, it is a strategic industry for our country. In order to meet the 30% of zero-emission vehicles required by EU regulations, we need to achieve production capacities of several thousand cars, and it must be remembered that Poland supplies buses mainly to Western European markets, where the demand is also gigantic. By the end of 2026, we should produce 1.35 thousand. zero-emission vehicles, and another 3 thousand. in next years. Development is therefore very much needed, especially based on Polish components and Polish engineers. ARP E-Vehicles counts on co-financing from the National Fund for Environmental Protection and Water Management in this respect, because the European Union has allocated as much as PLN 4.9 billion for the development of electromobility in Poland under the e 1.1.1 project. Some of these funds will be used for passenger car projects, but we hope that there will also be funds for zero-emission buses, as a large part of transport in Poland is based on collective public transport. 


Price competition - is it fair?

ARP E-Vehicles largely bases its development plans on participation in tenders, both in Polish and European cities. A big threat, however, is the growing popularity of Chinese solutions that flood the markets, competing primarily on price. 

“Chinese vehicles will always be cheaper than European ones because Chinese companies are not subject to our environmental regulations, do not have to rely on green energy and do not comply with safety regulations. By producing in Poland, we have no chance to compete with the price, because we pay for the welfare of employees and cover all the costs of the benefits of the European Union, which we have earned for so many years after World War II. There is no pension system in China, and working conditions leave much to be desired, because it happens that an employee in a Chinese factory wears a paper cap instead of a hard helmet. If European companies were not burdened with the costs of quality management systems, environmental protection and the development of green energy, we would have a product at a similar price. 


European funds for European projects

I would like to encourage everyone to use EU funds for the reconstruction of the European economy after the pandemic and the effects of the war in Ukraine, to be used for innovative European products, also in Poland. So that the money for the purchase of zero-emission vehicles does not go to Chinese manufacturers. I believe that our European patriotism requires the protection of technical thought in terms of global competition, and the money that comes from European taxpayers and is distributed by European institutions should be used to rebuild the European economy. Therefore, I invite Polish local governments to use Polish buses on a mass scale, not only from our company. In this way, they will also take care of Polish jobs, Polish engineers and the development of Polish technologies.

Interviewed and edited by Agnieszka Kubasik

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