MAN Truck & Bus

The Story of electric Buses

In scheduled service with battery trailers

Electric transport is booming like never before. It is the propulsion system of the future – and yet already has a long history. We’ll show you a few of the highlights in our journey through time.


29th January 1886: Any car fan surely knows this date. This day marks the birth of the car – at least as far as the internal combustion engine is concerned. That’s when Carl Benz applied for the patent on his motorcar, which is generally regarded as “the first automobile”. However, what few car fans know is that five whole years earlier, Gustave Trouvé had presented the first vehicle with an electric motor in Paris, the Trouvé Tricycle of 1881. And nor was his electric tricycle unique: various sources tell us that in 1900 in the USA there were more electric automobiles on the road than models using internal combustion engines!


Electric cars were also developed in Germany over 100 years ago. One of the first models was the Elektrische Viktoria, built from 1905 by the Siemens-Schuckertwerke in Berlin. The vehicle was used as a hotel taxi, a minibus and a delivery van. Its top speed was 30 km/h, and the Viktoria’s range was 60 km with the smaller battery and 80 km with the larger battery. Depending on the version, the Elektrische Viktoria would have cost between 11,000 and 17,500 marks. Around 50 models were built.


In the next few decades, internal combustion engines made all the running. Electric vehicles disappeared almost completely from the streets for almost 100 years. But not entirely: on 13th February 1970, MAN and its partners, RWE, Bosch and Varta, presented a fully electric city bus after two years of development. Eleven months later, the Koblenz public transport authority began a one-year trial, using prototypes on scheduled services. The electric bus could take 99 passengers and had a range of 50 kilometres. The batteries were housed in a trailer and lasted for two to three hours. By June 1971, the MAN electric bus had covered around 6,000 kilometres of scheduled services in Koblenz, without significant problems and emissions-free.


However, it was not just in Koblenz that MAN buses with alternative drive systems were used. At the Munich Olympic Games in 1972, the athletes were driven between the Olympic park and the Olympic village in two electric buses and a further eight running on natural gas. The vehicles plied their routes for up to 20 hours a day, taking the world’s top sportsmen and women to their destinations in a safe and environmentally friendly way.


1974 saw MAN hand the first of its next-generation electric buses over to the city of Mönchengladbach. The city used second-generation SL-E type electric buses with a range of up to 80 kilometres until 1979. MAN e-buses were also used in Düsseldorf and Frankfurt in the 1970s.


How about today? Today, MAN has not only developed its electric drivetrain still further, it also offers alternatives in the form of highly efficient diesel and gas engines that can be much kinder to the environment thanks to their use of hybrid technologies and biofuels. The fully electric MAN Lion’s City E, launched in 2020 and already on the streets of many of Europe’s cities, is spearheading MAN’s campaign for an emission-free bus sector.


The Lion’s City E is available in two versions: as a 12.2-metre version (12 E) with space for 88 passengers and a central electric motor, and an 18.1-metre version (18 E), which has up to 130 seats and two driven axles with two central electric motors. It has a range of up to 350 kilometres. Let’s see how far we can make it on each of the ten stages of our Electrifying Europe road trip! All the downhill stretches in the Swiss and Austrian Alps offer the perfect opportunity for regeneration, giving us a few more kilometres.


MAN is working on more than just different drivetrain technologies on its path into the future. Our company and the people’s needs are constantly changing. The bus of the future might look completely different from what we see on the streets today. Key questions such as automation, dimensions and interior and design concepts will play a crucial role for the “future bus”. The focus, however, will always be on people – customers, passengers and bus drivers.

Text   Boris Pieritz
Photos   MAN (7), Wikimedia/CC BY-SA 4.0, Siemens Historical Institute

Black arrow up