F-1’s Williams Makes Progress With Hybrid London Bus, CEO Says

Williams Grand Prix Holdings Plc, Formula One’s only publicly listed team, expects to start street testing of a hybrid London double-decker bus this year as it seeks a revenue boost from technological expertise, chief executive officer Alex Burns said.

The nine-time F-1 constructors’ champion and bus operator Go-Ahead Group Plc 14 months ago agreed to make six prototype vehicles with flywheels that recoup energy from braking, a system Williams developed for racing. Williams and Go-Ahead are testing one prototype off public roads that has shown “very promising” fuel saving, Burns said, without being more specific.

The project is “moving quite quickly,” Burns said in an interview last weekend at the Circuit de Catalunya near Barcelona. “The potential market is huge once we get into volume and driving cost down.”

Williams is diversifying as success eludes it on the racetrack, adding 100 research and development staff last year, according its 2012 accounts. The team won the most recent of its nine championships in 1997 when driver Jacques Villeneuve also took the drivers’ title, and finished eighth of 12 teams last year. It’s yet to score a point after five races this season.

Newcastle upon Tyne, England-based Go-Ahead is London’s largest bus operator, controlling about one-fifth of the market, according to its website. The street trials will initially be without passengers, Burns said.

Braking Ballpark

The kinetic energy a double-decker generates is “in the same ballpark” as a Formula One car braking at as much as 200 miles per hour (322 kilometers per hour) because its weight makes up for a lack of speed, Burns said. Although the flywheel is better suited to heavier double-decker buses, Williams is also in talks with single-decker operators, Burns added.

Williams is also developing a flywheel for trams with Alstom SA, the world’s third-largest power equipment maker, Burns said. That project is less advanced, he added.

Williams bought startup Automotive Hybrid Power Ltd. in 2010 to help develop the flywheel as the technology was shelved in Formula One that year on cost grounds. Last year about one quarter of Williams’ 127 million-pound ($195 million) sales came from outside the sport, Burns said. The group made a 5 million-pound loss in 2012.

“The aim is also to do better in Formula One, which will attract more” revenue from prize money and sponsorships and bring stability, Burns said.

In another project, Williams is tapping experience of making simulators for racetracks to make a simulator to train young people, and taxi and emergency-service drivers to navigate public roads safely, Burns said.

Williams has a development contract with Qatari taxi operator Mowasalat, and is in talks with other groups in the Gulf region, Burns said.

“We are now at the stage when we have a saleable product” that could grow into a “substantial” business, he said.

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