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GM Ventures invests in battery-electric bus company Proterra

Proterra
Comparing fuel costs and fuel efficiency. Source: GM. Click to enlarge.

General Motors Ventures LLC will invest $6 million in Proterra Inc., a leading maker of battery-electric commercial transit buses. GM Ventures is part of an investment group, led by venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, that will invest a total of $30 million in the bus manufacturer.

Proterra’s EcoRide BE-35 battery electric bus (earlier post) is averaging up to 24 mpg (diesel equivalent) in service, a more than 600% improvement over a typical diesel bus. Using technology developed by Proterra, the lightweight, composite-body bus recharges in about 10 minutes.

This equity investment further demonstrates GM’s commitment to electric propulsion and supports our commitment to identify and invest in technology solutions that help advance the global transportation industry. While this investment will help Proterra commercialize its electric bus and fast-charging technology, it also helps to address the future challenges of urban mobility.

—Jon Lauckner, president of GM Ventures

Proterra Inc. was founded in 2004 and is currently manufacturing buses in a temporary plant in Greenville, S.C. near Clemson University International Center for Automotive Research. Proterra’s TerraVolt energy storage system consists of 54-72 kWh lithium titanate battery packs that recharge in 10 minutes using the company’s roof-mounted Fast Fill recharging system.

Three EcoRide BE-35 buses are currently in a test fleet near Pomona, Calif., with additional buses to be added, and new buses and charging stations are also headed to San Antonio and Tallahassee, Fla., later this year. This investment allows Proterra to complete federal validation testing of its bus, roll out additional pilot fleets and complete initiatives to significantly reduce costs and increase volume production at its Greenville, S.C. manufacturing plant, which will have the capacity to produce 400 buses annually.

With up to a 40-mile (64 km) range for the under 10-minute fast charge application, the EcoRide BE-35 can replace 80% of diesel buses in typical transit and shuttle use without altering schedules or passenger service. The EcoRide can also be configured for longer ranges while charging at a central location.

General Motors Ventures, LLC, is a subsidiary designed to help the company identify and develop innovative technologies in the automotive/transportation sector. General Motors Ventures, LLC, has been funded with an initial investment of $100 million, and is currently exploring equity investments in a number of auto-related technologies and business models.

Comments

HarveyD

Excellent idea with excellent prospect. Electrified city buses is the best near term solution to reduce both oil consumption and pollution. Whoever can mass produce this product at a competitive price will have an edge on a large world market. Competition will be fierce but that would be very positive to develop improved quality, lower cost products.

The total world requirement is for 1,000,000++ units. Yearly production rate will have to be increased at about 10,000++ units.

SJC

"averaging up to 24 mpg (diesel equivalent) in service, a more than 600% improvement over a typical diesel bus"

awesome...

Davemart

Between these and the Smith Electric vans we are moving on to a situation where electric vehicles can be justified in pure economic terms, which in turn will drive battery costs down.
Fantastic news.

3PeaceSweet

Now Government Motors is in bed with a company called PROTERRA why don't they just go right ahead and say they hate our country and hate our freedom!!11

BTSRSLY 50-70kWh's charging in 10 minutes is pretty impressive

GreenPlease

These would be perfect for downtown Chicago. Honestly. Perfect. You could ditch the big battery pack as well and substitute a ~20kw/h battery pack to make the bus lighter still and more affordable. You could have a quick charge station once every 5 miles (which is the end of the route for about 80% of Chicago's busses) where the bus could pause and charge before heading back the other way.

SJC

It seems like contact charging could be done under the bus. The driver parks in the right place and the connection is made with pads/rails under the bus for ten minutes and you are done automatically.

HarveyD

3PS...are you sure we're still doing OK?

GP....it could be one of many options but 20 Kwh e-storage is not enough to move a rather large city bus + A/C, Heating, ventilation, lights etc. Make it 50+ Kwh and it may be workable option. I would rather go with 100+ Kwh for many overloaded runs. Since electricity required is 6 to 9 times less costly than liquid fuels and on-going maintenance would be a lot less, battery cost would be fully recovered in about 2.5 years for most buses.

SJC

440 VAC @ 100 amps three phase is enough to put 20 kWh in those batteries in 10 minutes. If they can go for an hour around the city and then charge, they can clean the air quietly in lots of places. They say the 50 kWh of batteries and the 150 kW motor/alternator can capture 90% of the deceleration energy...excellent.

kelly

With GM's 100 year history of derailing oil alternatives and crushing EV's until US ground transport is totally dependent on oil - maybe we should be concerned about GM investing public funds($50 billion with interest ain't paid back) in oil alternative firms.

Reel$$

kelly,

I would share your concern if GM was actually run by government bureaucrats. But GM Ventures is a small venture capital fund of about $100M. GM is just one of several investors putting up a total of $30M.

It is unlikely anyone running the show over there would try to tank a winner like the Proterra bus or its very impressive battery pack from Altairnano. The days of public companies tanking competing technologies by acquisition are drawing to a close.

Altair has been around for a long while and we have always been impressed with their technology. In the Proterra and stand alone energy storage systems - Altair seems to have found the right niches. Public transit is no small market and with the TerraVolt battery pack they should have a rapidly growing order book. Nice.

http://www.ecosystm.org/altairnano_batteries_make_proterra_a_magic_bus.htm

SJC

Thanks for the link, it is good to see Altair get a design win and have a good customer.

Engineer-Poet

Looking at the figures, it appears that the charging system can supply up to 4 miles or range per minute of contact. Figure half that for service under severe conditions (e.g. unplowed snow).

If it's feasible to put in a charging station at a bus stop every 2 miles, pauses of as little as 30 seconds could keep the battery topped up all the time. That would hardly be noticeable if people are boarding. The range of the bus would be effectively infinite.

For relatively short legs like that, ultracaps could replace most of the batteries. Cost-effectiveness depends on the traffic on the route and the installed cost of a charging station.

HarveyD

There are many possible options:

1. Enough e-storage to quick recharges at route ends only or every 20 to 40 miles.

2. Less e-storage but more recharge points at every 2 to 4 miles.

3. Selective overhead or embedded short charging lines to pick up multiple quick charges on the way. The Swiss trolleys use that method already.

4. A rather small on-board genset and/or roof mounted high efficiency wide freq. band (52+%) solar panels to extend range to allow solution (1) every where.

All technologies required for e-city buses (and e-taxis) exist and total live time cost may not be higher, specially if you use longer articulated buses with twice the passengers capacity and only one costly driver.

Reel$$

"... PROTERRA why don't they just go right ahead and say they hate our country and hate our freedom!!"

Has 3PeaceSweet lost a screw or is he just alienated by good technology from people he despises??

SJC

I guess everyone is entitled to a rant now and then. Personally I read about all of the studies and labs and pilot programs, but after 20 years I see no real solutions actually being implemented in a big way for major improvements.

kelly

Reel$$ - "..The days of public companies tanking competing technologies by acquisition are drawing to a close." sounds like an idea too big to fail(or be true).

Reel$$

kelly, don't know what you mean - succeed or untrue? Yeah there's all kinda industrial espionage going on - always has been. Then again Eisenhower did warn of the present where the mil/industrial operates outside constitutional constraint and mothballs useful new stuff.

Meanwhile - we ARE getting e-buses that recharge en-route which will eliminate diesel fumes and *NOISE* from the lumbering behemoths we have now. That's a win.

kelly

Reel$$ - "Meanwhile - we ARE getting e-buses that recharge en-route.." that's the point, future tense.

How many million GM buses have BEEN sold vs Proterra buses actually sold?

When some companies were "too big to fail", suddenly $700 billion of taxpayer dollars acquired many "NOT too big to fail" companies(banks) and many technologies/companies they loaned to/foreclosed on.

The corruption of the US ruling money class makes the fall of Rome seem like a monastery.

HarveyD

Good point Kelly. Corruption gained mush weight in the last few decades. Wall Street, lobbies, speculators and friends made it almost legal. Higher you go harder you fall?. Have we reached Rome's (relative) height yet? May be? Can it be fixed?

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