In the Tarn, Safra, Gallic village of the hydrogen bus

There is Professor Tournesol at Vincent Lemaire, the president of Safra: the round glasses, the jovial face, the bald head and this permanent desire to test, to experiment, to put the hands in the grease. Sunflower and Asterix, too. This is reflected in a constant vitality, a need to go where we did not expect to defend his business, his meadow, his Gallic village. Or rather Occitan.

Safra is a separate object. This SME with a turnover of 12 million euros and 200 employees located in the suburbs of Albi (Tarn) has risen, in ten years, from the status of obscure bus renovator to that of he European player in hydrogen mobility based in the land of rugby.

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The cause of this rise in the transport hierarchy measures 12 meters, weighs 20 tonnes and bears the trade name of… Businova. This is the hydrogen (H2) bus that the SME has been developing since 2012 and which taunts more powerful competitors: the Belgian Van Hool, a pioneer in the field, the Polish Solaris and the Portuguese Caetano, a subsidiary of Toyota.

“A panoramic view of all technologies”

However, Safra’s Businova is not shy. He even entered a huge melee which the metropolis of Dijon is at the origin. This has launched the largest French call for tenders for hydrogen buses for twenty-five vehicles. Faced with its competitors, Safra is highlighting its “made in France” strategy. The hydrogen fuel cell of the bus is signed Symbio, a subsidiary of Michelin and Faurecia, all the software part is designed in Albi by Safra, which has hired 60 developers, and the tanks of the vehicle offered in Dijon – generation 2 – will be produced by Faurecia .

“We are going to transform the entire rear part and add a third door”, explains Mr. Lemaire, slipping under the carcasses of the buses being assembled to show the modifications. It must be said that the boss knows every cable, every unit of the vehicle. He is a “doer”, typical of those who, like him, were trained in the Arts and Crafts. This appetite for technique made him climb, in thirty years, the levels of this family business created in 1955, where he arrived as a young engineer and of which he acquired the majority of the capital in 2007.

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At that time, Safra was content to renovate buses, coaches, but also trams or subways in order to extend their life, an activity that continues today. “This gives us a panoramic view of all technologies, of all French public transport customers. “ An asset that made Vincent Lemaire take the plunge in 2012: Safra will produce its own zero-emission vehicles. Hybrid buses first, then it will be the bet of hydrogen. The technology, which consists of transforming H2 gas into electricity using a fuel cell, is still in its infancy and controversial. However, engineer Lemaire believes it: “Hydrogen seems to me more suitable for public transport than the battery. “

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