Green Truck and Bus Development Creates California Job Boom

February 11, 2019 by John O'Dell

The drive to clean up California’s commercial truck and bus fleets has brought significant job growth to the state in recent years, and the ramp-up may be just beginning.

Green trucking and transport accounts for at least 10,000 jobs in California, up from just hundreds a decade earlier, according to Calstart, a Pasadena nonprofit that promotes clean transportation technologies.

The total swells to 20,000 when employment at electric passenger-car makers such as Tesla Inc. and Karma Automotive are included.

In the electrical trades alone, the outlook is for “thousands” of new jobs in California to build and maintain the charging infrastructure for all those commercial EVs, said Bernie Kotlier, head of business development for the California-Nevada region of the National Electrical Contractors Association.

A growing field

There are more than 50 companies in California involved in manufacturing electric commercial vehicles and parts or providing support for those manufacturers, according to a Calstart tally. In 2017, the state Air Resources Board counted 20 California manufacturers building zero- and low-emission trucks and buses.

China’s BYD, which makes electric buses and trucks, has its U.S. headquarters in Los Angeles and a large electric bus and truck facility about 70 miles away in Lancaster. Employment has swelled from a few dozen in 2014 to more than 800 this year.

Demand for electric commercial vehicles such as this battery-powered Proterra bus is expected to bring thousands of well-paying jobs to California in coming years. (Photo: Proterra)

Proterra, one of the largest electric bus companies, relocated its headquarters to Burlingame from South Carolina in 2015 because of the state’s support of zero-emission transit vehicles, Kent Leacock, head of government relations for the company, told Trucks.com.

“The Bay Area is where the battery development talent is, or wants to be,” Leacock said.

Proterra’s main manufacturing plant remains in Greenville, S.C. But the company opened a research and development office and an electric vehicle battery pack manufacturing plant at its headquarters in 2016 and followed that in 2017 with bus plant in Industry, an industrial suburb of Los Angeles.

Proterra started in California with eight employees; it now has more than 250 and is hiring at all of its facilities in the state, Leacock said.

Thor Trucks, a Los Angeles-based startup developing battery systems and all-electric chassis for Class 8 trucks, has “millions of dollars” in advance orders, according to co-founder Giordano Sordoni. The company has only about 40 employees – but that’s double its 2017 head count and likely will grow with demand.

Lion Electric Co., a Canadian manufacturer of electric school buses, opened a facility in Sacramento last year to promote electric buses. The site also houses a manufacturing plant.

It is slated to open later this year to do final assembly of buses manufactured at the company’s main plant near Quebec. “We’re looking mainly for technicians, and it is getting hard to find people with the right skills” for electric bus assembly, a Lion spokesman told Trucks.com.

More on the way

More new technology and manufacturing businesses should be drawn to California because of new rules
mandating tens of thousands more zero-emission trucks and buses.

One rule will replace all public transit buses with zero-emissions buses. Diesel exhaust-reduction rules could put more than 100,000 electric trucks on the road in less than two decades. Hefty incentive spending on electric vehicles – close to $1 billion so far – will help.

Businesses already making electric trucks and buses in the state – or providing parts and services to those manufacturers – also are likely to see employment swell as demand for their products grows.

“California has more transit buses than any other state; there’s a huge market here and on the West Coast,” Leacock said.

Commercial electrification

Electrifying commercial vehicles is an increasingly important job category in the state, said Tyson Eckerle, deputy director for zero-emission vehicle programs in the state’s Office of Business and Economic Development.

The demand is for engineering, software and design professionals as well as for manufacturing, electrical installation, sales, and repair and maintenance workers.

They are, in the main, well-paying blue- and white-collar posts, said Bill Van Amburg, executive vice president of Calstart.

“One surprise is that we’re seeing this bring back manufacturing jobs, which had been going out of state,” Van Amburg said. “They are coming here because this is an early launch state for electric buses and trucks,” he said.

Despite recent layoffs, Silicon Valley-based Tesla has at least 15,000 employees in California. Some are involved in development of the Tesla Semi, an electric heavy-duty truck the company has promised to bring to market by the end of this year. That could add considerably to the electric truck employment base.

Subsidies

There are substantial state and federal subsidies for those vehicles – more than $200,000 per bus in some cases – and that attracts companies that develop, manufacture and market them.

The state air board recently set a goal of making all public transit buses sold in the state after 2029 zero-emission buses. The mandate calls for all public transit buses – more than 12,000 by today’s count – to be zero-emission vehicles by 2040.

There’s also an ongoing effort to electrify the state’s public-school bus fleets, which include well over 20,000 buses. The state has ponied up more than $500 million since 2001 to replace aging diesel school buses. Today, a school district can get a state voucher good for up to $220,000 toward the purchase of each new electric bus.

thor trucks electric trucks zero emission california

Thor Trucks is one of several electric truck and bus developers that have set up shop and created new jobs in California because of the state’s liberal incentives for zero- emission vehicles. (Photo: Brian Hadden/Trucks.com)

The electric truck market isn’t as hot as the bus market – yet. Most heavy-duty electric trucks are prototypes used in test programs. Major truck makers, though, are developing electric models so they don’t lose market share to BYD and startups such as Thor Trucks.

BYD put more than 40 heavy-duty electric trucks in service around the state in 2018 and expects the number “to increase significantly this year,” said John Gerra, director of BYD Motors’ truck unit.

Increases in medium-duty market

Commercial sales already are starting to pick up in the medium-duty electric truck market.

Los Angeles based Chanje Energy sold more than 1,500 of its Class 5 electric delivery vans in 2018, and Motiv Power Systems, a developer of electric chassis that can be fitted with a variety of truck bodies, has landed a U.S. Postal Service deal that is likely to raise its visibility.

Chanje has quadrupled its employment to 40 people, mostly engineers, in the past two years. It expects to add about 100 manufacturing jobs in 2019 to keep up with demand, Bryan Hansel, the company’s chief executive, told Trucks.com.

Motiv, a Foster City, Calif., engineering company that retains contract assembly companies to build its chassis, started 2019 with 65 employees, up from 50 a year earlier.

Motiv founder and Chief Executive Jim Castelaz listed California’s pro-EV policies, its depth of technology talent and its self-made position as one of the world’s leading electric commercial vehicle markets as his reason for locating in the state.

“California is the leader, the global leader in many areas, in EV policy, and it’s good to be close to that,” Castelaz said. “We will maintain our presence here as we grow.”

Where the jobs are

More than 50 electrified truck and bus companies – including those making and supply support systems and parts – are located in California. Here is where they are by location, according to Calstart:

SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA

San Diego County
Carlsbad (2)
Escondido
Oceanside

Orange County
Anaheim (2)
Irvine
Lake Forest (3)
Orange
Santa Ana

Los Angeles County
Arcadia
Downey
El Segundo
Gardena
Industry
Los Angeles (5)
Monrovia
Pasadena
Torrance
Van Nuys

Inland Empire
Ontario
Riverside (2)
San Bernardino
San Dimas

Ventura County
Thousand Oaks

NORTHERN CALIFORNIA

Bay Area
Alameda (2)
Berkeley
Burlingame (2)
Campbell
Dixon
Livermore (2)
Mill Valley
Oakland
San Leandro
Sebastopol

Silicon Valley
Fremont (2)
Foster City
Hayward (3)
Milpitas (3)
Santa Clara
Sunnyvale

Other Areas
Fresno
Stockton (2)

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