Interview with Alex Naef, CEO of Hess

“We distinguish ourselves by our innovative nature”


Hess is a Swiss bus and truck builder that has been founded in 1882. Hess has been building electric buses for over 75 years and knows the advantages of choosing sustainable solutions for public transport like no other. Therefore, we sat down with the CEO of Hess, Alex Naef, to discuss the company’s innovative nature and their most recent projects.

Could you tell us a bit more about Hess?

Hess stands for efficient, environmental-friendly and reliable mobility. We develop products for both the public and private transport market. Our products range from minibuses to double-articulated buses and modular bus systems. We are 136 years old and thus have quite some tradition and experience in what we are doing. Hess started as family company, and to this day, the company is family owned.  Next to developing buses, we function as a service partner. This entails repairing and servicing the vehicles throughout the entire lifetime. We are experts in lifecycle management.

How do you distinguish yourself from your competitors?

Hess has been building electric buses for more than 75 years. So we know what we are talking about when it comes to driving electric. We are experts in building electric buses and all aspects that are related to this. An electric bus has special requirements. The weight distribution of the bus structure is completely different for example. To have the required transport capacity a lot of the equipment is on the roof and needs a body structure which supports this over the lifetime of 15 to 20 years. In addition, most auxiliaries have to be considered differently than on the old diesel drive lines. We have the know-how to solve this in a sustainable way

We see bus manufacturers that promise lifetime maintenance without having the background to do so. We know what works and what doesn’t work for the complete lifecycle. Electric buses have a longer lifecycle than diesel buses and can be used for at least 20 years. To use them for 10 to 15 years is not sustainable and a waste of energy.

When we started making electric buses, we were ahead of time. Innovation was and is a key element in our company. The transport market is very demanding and requires us to continuously improve our buses. This keeps us on our toes and motivates us to find innovations where possible. Therefore we are focused on creating sustainable forms of transport. We’ve also developed double articulated buses and modular bus system buses to help operators to transfer more passengers at once

What is your vision on sustainable transport?

Sustainability is currently a key driver in the field public transport. It is very important for national and local governments to diminish harmful emissions and to limit the noise of transportation. For Hess, sustainability is very important as it is in our company’s DNA. We are ISO 14001 certified and are always trying to improve ourselves in this field. Next to developing state of the art electric buses, we use renewable energy in the form of local wood to heat our working places.

Is innovation in your eyes a nice to have or a need to have?

Innovation is definitely necessity for Hess. We distinguish ourselves by our innovative nature. Because we are a Swiss based company we take pride in using advanced technologies to make efficient vehicles that meet the current and future mobility needs. Our innovative nature is one of our unique selling points.

Can you give an example of an innovative project in the field of electric buses?

We currently have a flash charging project for 22 buses in Nantes, France. The municipality of Nantes wants to replace their current fleet of buses. Daily, around 36000 passengers are transported on this line and this number is expected to grow to more than 40.000. Therefore, we are deploying double articulated electric buses of almost 25 metres long. To ensure a continued capacity we have developed a flash charging e-bus system. Along the line, there are three spots where the buses are recharged in 20 seconds. At the terminals, it takes approximately 3 minutes. This enables the buses to charge en route without jeopardizing the capacity or buying extra buses which are hanging around just to recharge.

In the tender for this line the main elements were sustainability and capacity. It was therefore very important not to lose capacity because the buses have to recharge and are losing time.

The flash charging technology is relatively new. It is already in use in Geneva where we operate in cooperation with ABB.

What is the future for flash charging?

The future for flash charging looks bright: the public transport market is growing and the ensured capacity for bus systems is a very important factor for a smooth operating bus line. On high demanding routes, charging buses overnight is not enough to ensure the capacity for all passengers. Flash charging is the best solution to maximize the potential of an electric bus. On high demanding routes flash charging is necessary to guarantee the capacity for the increasing amount of passengers.

Are you planning any projects in the Netherlands?

We currently run two big projects in France and Switzerland and are definitely looking towards the Dutch market because it is one of the frontrunners in the field of sustainable public transport solutions. We have 40 articulated electric buses running in Arnhem and would like to explore our options in the field of electric buses.  And who knows, we might even start up a project with PitPoint!