Proterra is becoming the Tesla of transit busing. Delivering clean, quiet, emissions-free buses to public transit agencies for about five years, the Burlingame, Calif., startup has sold more than 400 electric vehicles to 42 different transit agencies in 20 states.
Now, it’s adding another type of bus to its lineup — electric motor coaches, or luxury passenger buses, that are used for long-distance travel.
“Just like the public transit world, there’s a ton of interest in electric vehicles for corporate transit,” said Matt Horton, Proterra’s chief commercial officer.
Proterra said Monday it will partner with Belgian coach maker Van Hool to build battery electric motor coaches.
Unlike transit buses, which have hundreds of stops and starts each day, and passengers that get on and off the vehicles quickly, motor coaches are “generally more comfortable and luxurious,” Horton said, because the passengers travel longer distances.
Motor coaches have a higher floor, meaning the ride height is taller, and there’s also room for luggage under the floor, “so they’re two vehicles that look similar but have evolved to meet two very different needs in the marketplace,” he said.
The electric coach is targeted at the large Silicon Valley corporate-sponsored commuter shuttles. Google is Van Hool’s largest North American customer and primary driver for the coaches — the 45-foot-long CX45E and 35-foot CX35E. Deliveries for the CX45E are scheduled to begin in 2019, with the shorter CX35E available shortly thereafter.
Proterra will outfit Van Hool’s CX Series buses with the same E2 battery technology that Proterra used to break the world record for electric-vehicle range last month. Outfitted with the E2, the Proterra bus traveled 1,101 miles on a single charge.
“The technology we’ve developed allows our transit buses to perform very well at freeway speeds in addition to traditional bus routes,” Horton said. “That’s something that coaches also need to be able to do, so that’s why we feel the technology we’ve developed for bus transit is a great fit for over-the-road coaches as well.”
Proterra’s work on transit buses has enabled it to “absolutely push the envelope” and is pushing other bus and coach manufacturers to develop electric vehicles, said Jimmy O’Dea, vehicles analyst with the Union of Concerned Scientists.
“An electric truck is going to be five times, or even more, fuel efficient than a traditional combustion vehicle,” said O’Dea, with the Union of Concerned Scientists. “That translates to savings in operations and maintenance with fewer moving parts, fewer repairs.”
Designed for long-range, intercity travel, Proterra says the Van Hool CX45E will be the most efficient, highest-performing long-range e-coach in the U.S.
Van Hool is a well-established coach builder based in Belgium. It has more than 10,000 coaches and buses in service today, many of them used by the Silicon Valley commuter shuttles services.
The deal with Proterra demonstrates Van Hool’s long-term commitment to the North American coach market as well as its “responsiveness to the overall demand for zero-emission vehicles,” especially for over-the-road coaches, said Filip Van Hool, the company’s chief executive.
In addition to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, the electric buses provide passengers a cleaner and quieter ride.