Lots of cities all over the world are investing in electric city buses because it makes a hell of a lot of sense. A city bus is an ideal application for an EV, since city buses tend to have fixed routes, they travel at low speeds and often in traffic, they could really benefit their urban surroundings by being quieter, they sit around when not in service (perfect time for charging), and more. It’s perfect. So it’s hardly surprising that Hong Kong is looking to add electric buses to its fleets. What’s a bit more unusual is that Hong Kong is not just buying some off-the-shelf EV bus, the city is building its own, and, even more excitingly, the bus look pretty bonkers. Like, confusingly bonkers. Sort of like a cross between a dragon and a porta-potty, or a rainforest and a file cabinet, or maybe a cybernetic turtle? I’m really not sure, but I’m delighted Hong Kong is going to let that freak flag fly.
(image: HK.ON.CC/Ruichang Motors)
One article, when machine-translated into English, states that people are saying the bus looks like “a king with legs” or “top ten big king with legs.” What does this mean? Isn’t a king with legs just a, you know, king? I tried looking up any Chinese idioms that might reference or explain this better, but so far haven’t found any.
Let’s just take a look at this thing, though, because it is pretty incredible. Based on the doors and some other details, it seems to be based on an Isuzu ELF chassis, but most of that body seems unique to these Hong Kong buses. These are technically known as “Jinlutong minibus” and is manufactured by Hong Kong-based automobile manufacturer Ruichang. The bodywork is pretty conventional from the roof area down, and is the color of a band-aid or a discarded prosthetic leg, but it’s the roof treatment that has most people baffled.
It’s green and feels almost organic, like a bunch of huge palm fronds were stacked atop a bus to inspire the design, or perhaps a large salad was decanted onto a shoebox.
There are black stripe-like panels all over the roof area as well which could be solar panels, though it’s not clear. I’d suspect they are, based on how little actual integration they have into the design. A pantograph – one of those folding arm assemblies used for overhead-wire trolleycars – seems to be folded up on there as well, possibly to provide a means of charging, perhaps even while en route? Range, according to this story, can vary between about 40 miles and 120 miles, I supposed based on many, many factors, likely including variable battery sizes.
(image: HK.ON.CC/Ruichang Motors)
The lower part of the bus also has some odd molded designs, with what looks sort of like insect antennae in the front and something that reminds me of old West saloon doors in the rear. Is that a cargo hold? Motor/battery access?
It’s very strange, which I’m all for – all cities should have their own peculiar and idiosyncratic bus designs, if you ask me, and this strange-hatted EV bus seems to be filling that role very well. I can’t imagine the unusual roof has a specific aerodynamic function, as the likely speeds for the bus are too low to make that a significant factor.
The overall electric bus program has about $10 million allocated to it so far, with six bus manufacturers approved so far. Each of these particular buses is likely to cost between $230,000 and $300,000 or so, which seems like a deal for an electric bus with what looks like a magic beanstalk strapped to its roof.