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Chasing a Dream

In Focus
NAME:Patricia Vasconcelos
LOCATION:Lisbon, Portugal
The forward-thinking CaetanoBus CEO is building toward a zero-emissions future, one electric bus at a time.

It’s easy to imagine the idyllic city of the future: an urban utopia where lush greenery prevails over dour concrete, where breathable air replaces choking chemicals, where zero-emissions bicycles outnumber toxic cars and of course, where all moving vehicles are powered by alternative fuels – be it electricity, hydrogen or indeed another miracle source that science is on the precipice of discovering. Life here could be wonderful, right?

“In Eberspächer’s partnership with Caetano, there has always been open communication, trust and mutual respect. Both sides work together to achieve common goals, solve problems, and – as a result – continue to foster our long-term relationship.” – Henning Tomin, Global Director Sales & Marketing, Eberspächer Group


As CEO of both CaetanoBus, a global powerhouse in the production of electric buses, minibuses and coaches, and COBUS, the world’s market leader in airport bus transportation (of which CaetanoBus is the manufacturer), Patrícia Vasconcelos is motivated to be part of this vision. But sometimes, even dreamers can be closet realists.

“We all say, ‘There will be no cars in cities.’ But there is no city at the moment that is using this model,” she says. “So we have to design this together. How is this going to work? What kind of buses do you need in order to take cars out of the cities? What kind of infrastructure do you need in order to make this possible? It’s very, very exciting.”

Grasping the Sustainability Baton

Vasconcelos’ role in a brave new world of electric mobility began in earnest in 2020 when she took the reins at CaetanoBus. The company had already launched its first electric buses five years previously, initiating the gradual switch from diesel, but as global momentum toward clean travel intensifies, the Portuguese visionary has run with the sustainability baton.

“People use the word sustainability without really knowing what is behind it,” Vasconcelos says. “You have the product itself, the buses, that will give us a better quality of air, but sustainability for us is much more than that.

“It’s social responsibility: the way we treat our people, the way we train them, the way we treat safety at work. Then there’s environmental sustainability: the materials we use, the way we treat the waste in our factory, the way we use energy.”

“We all say, ‘There will be no cars in cities.’ But there is no city at the moment that is using this model.”

Even though Vasconcelos admits that “sustainability has a price”, the company’s initiatives are paying dividends. CaetanoBus expects to return to pre-COVID-19 sales revenues in 2025, thanks in no small part to its investment in hydrogen-powered electric buses – a sector in which it remains an authentic pioneer: as of the first half of 2023, the company boasted a 32 percent market share of hydrogen-powered electric buses delivered to Germany, France, Spain and Portugal.

For Vasconcelos, however, manufacturing buses is just one cog in a larger wheel. “Our strategy is now based much more on providing a complete service to the customer,” she says.

“In the past, we used to sell the product and that’s it. But today we have to be very close to the customer in order to help them know this new technology, to know how to use it, to know how to get the best cost-benefit out of it.”

Fail Fast, Fix Fast, Learn Fast

As with many global businesses, the COVID-19 pandemic presented an existential crisis for CaetanoBus and created several challenges, including issues in the supply chain. But around the company’s corridors in Vila Nova de Gaia, just outside Porto, there’s a saying: “Fail fast, fix fast and learn fast”.

“We have been working with our main suppliers for long, long years,” Vasconcelos says. “But the supplier environment has been even more challenging after COVID-19. We’re not only in the same boat, we are in the same compartment of the boat. A bus is made of several thousand parts. Whenever you change a component, you have to go through the whole homologation process again. You have to reinvent and reinvest in the development. That’s why we need a very good relationship.”

Vasconcelos’s enlightened, down-to-earth approach with CaetanoBus’ 20 key suppliers — which include hydrogen fuel systems provider Hexagon Purus and automotive specialists Eberspächer Sütrak — also filters down to relationships with her employees.

“Our fundamental commitment is to zero-emissions mobility. At the moment, we are producing and selling buses but we need to do more.”

“Transparency is important in an unpredictable environment,” she says. “My door is always open. I always say to the team, hiding the truth is not tolerated, but admitting a mistake and realizing that something is not moving, it’s okay. We need an ambience where people feel free and aren’t afraid to tell their problems. It’s the only way you can move forward with younger generations.”

Move forward: an apt clarion call for a progressive transportation company, and a world in a precarious state of flux. Fresh from unveiling its new H2.CityGold hydrogen-powered electric bus at the Busworld Europe exhibition in Brussels in October 2023, CaetanoBus continues to fix its gaze on cleaner, bolder horizons.

“Our fundamental commitment is to zero-emissions mobility,” Vasconcelos says. “At the moment, we are producing and selling buses but we need to do more. We will give the customer the bus, the infrastructure, the financing, the maintenance. We will monitor the fleets, manage the depot. We will provide a complete service.”

The dream is well and truly alive.

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