With a population of almost 330,000, the Navajo nation is the second largest Native American community in America's largest reserve. Spread across Northeast Arizona, Southeastern Utah and the Southeast New Mexico, in a region measuring 71,000 m² (about the same size as the state of West Virginia) the members of this tribe live as a semi-autonomous community. The Navajo people have their own infrastructures to fall back on. They have established their own infrastructure throughout the country, with their own government, social services and political organisations. This also includes public transport. The Navajos are divided into 110 chapters, which are not so much tribes as village communities. These chapters are linked not just culturally but also by a traffic system.
The Navajo Transportation System is one means of connecting the community. The NTS, which has a total of 18 routes linking 41 chapters at designated stops, needs to be expanded in the future, as not all stops can be reached on foot by the members of all chapters. And transport services between the chapters are still far from adequate. However, this is not the only problem the Navajo Indians face, there are also concerns relating to the environment. For a nation rooted in nature who live their lives with respect for the environment and on the religious principle of living in harmony with nature, the operation of a bus service with conventional engines is unfortunately a necessary evil, one that cannot be avoided. Or maybe it can be, if you ask the right engineers.
In an attempt to improve the environmental compatibility of the Navajo's commuter traffic in New Mexico, EDAG engineers were recently asked if they might be able to develop a fully electric bus, as the previous hybrid solutions that had been tried had proved unsatisfactory. Since there is nothing EDAG likes more than a challenge - especially if it will benefit society - the company set about addressing the problem without further ado.
The developers first had to go back to the drawing board, as there is no all-electric drive system in existence for commercial vehicles at the moment. In order to be able to develop a functioning and reliable solution, a conventional bus was stripped down and analysed. The problem here was not simply a matter of selecting the correct power units - which need to be sufficiently powerful, of course - but also of charging the energy storage units, for which no standards or standardisation exist as yet. After numerous attempts, the team finally managed to convert a bus and come up with an all-electric version. The result is a vehicle the like of which has never been seen before, and which has revolutionised the public transport system in the most unlikely place in the world: not an urban metropolis, but a rugged region with a complex climate. On the other hand, the fact that this innovation is being tested in the forbidding Navajo territory of all places is a huge advantage: if the drive system works there, then it will probably also work in New York or Berlin.
EDAG is currently considering launching this development as a series, and presenting it to the major manufacturers of commercial vehicles - as an innovative solution for transporting people and protecting the environment. Whether this will lead to completely new commercial vehicles that will change the face of local public transport, or the idea of sustainability even be taken so far that, using EDAG's idea, existing vehicles will simply be converted, remains to be seen. No matter what kind of drive system the bus of the future might have: once again, EDAG has shown that technological development always occurs when benefit to society is the driving force. And that instead of always thinking in global terms when it comes to this kind of sustainable activity, it is sometimes possible to be inspired by such remote and isolated places.