Fisher Coachworks Raises Cash for Lightweight Hybrid Buses

It’s not just cars that are getting a cleantech makeover in Michigan; buses are getting a shot at cleaning up, too. Troy, Mich.-based Fisher Coachworks has raised $3.2 million for its new lightweight plug-in hybrid buses, according to a regulatory filing found by peHub.

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Hybrid buses are becoming a common sight in bus fleets around the world, but Fisher is developing a bus using lightweight stainless steel that it says is half the weight and gets at least twice the fuel efficiency of current hybrid models. The investors in the company were not disclosed, and the regulatory filing says the cash is part of a larger round of funding, expected to pull in a total of $4.25 million for Fisher.

That cash could come in handy, as the company is planning to invest $7 million to set up a factory in Livonia, Mich., to produce the new buses, creating 539 new jobs.

The heart of the new bus design is Nitronic stainless steel from West Chester, Ohio-based AK Steel. Fisher said the steel is high-strength and corrosion-resistant; the company uses it for all of the major body components of the bus, as well as the suspension, fasteners and others.

The lightweight bus was developed over the last seven years by Autokinetics of Rochester Hills, Mich., with $2.5 million in funding from the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Fisher licensed the design from Autokinetics for use in transit and delivery vehicles, and is working with Autokinetics, Oak Ridge and others on the bus.

Last September, Fisher said its first bus model, the GTB-40 — a 40-foot serial drive hybrid — passed an engineering milestone, successfully completing DOE load test requirements. The bus was filled with a simulated 30,000-pound live load, the equivalent of 200 passengers, which Fisher said was two-and-a-half times the expected maximum load for the bus.

More tests are on the way for braking, suspension durability, bumper protection, passenger safety, and overall maintainability at the Bus Research and Testing Center near Altoona, Penn., but Fisher said it expects to ramp-up its assembly operations this year.

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