In the hustle and bustle of the hectic IAA commercial vehicle trade show, the announcement of Daimler’s investment in Silicon Valley has almost been overlooked. That’s where they come from, the global Mobility Startups with the sonorous names like Tesla, Waymo & Co. And it was precisely in this category that Daimler ‘struck’ last week. In California, the Stuttgart-based company is investing as a co-lead in a 155 million US-Dollar cash injection in Proterra Inc. together with Tao Capital Partners, G2VP and other partners. Proterra already has BMW and General Motors among its investors. With this financing round, the Californians are increasing the total investment to around 600 million US-Dollars.
Proterra develops and builds zero-emission local buses
Founded in 2004, the California-based company has a proud 400 employees and is North America’s leader in the development and manufacture of zero-emission local buses. More than 675 vehicles have now been sold in the US and Canada. Of these, 90 e-buses were sold to urban, university, airport, federal and commercial transportation companies in 40 states and provinces.
Proterra builds state-of-the-art, high-performance vehicles to meet today’s rapidly growing market demand. With its configurable Catalyst platform, the company is able to meet its customers’ daily mileage requirements for virtually any transit route with a single battery charge. Proterra products are developed, designed and manufactured in the U.S., with offices in Silicon Valley, South Carolina and Los Angeles.
A number of former Tesla employees work for the company. CEO Ryan Popple is a former member of the finance team at Tesla, that helped bring the electric car innovator to the stock market in 2010. He also worked for the venture capital company Kleiner Perkins. Proterra’s COO, Josh Ensign, was a senior Tesla production manager, battery technology chief, Dustin Grace, previously developed lithium ion packages for Tesla. All this experience is useful for Proterra and plays a major role in the development of high-performance electric commercial vehicles. Especially in the commercial vehicle segment, electrification is rapidly gaining ground, as the IAA in Hanover has demonstrated particularly impressively in recent days.
1100 miles with one battery charge
About a year ago, Proterra claimed the longest test run for an electric bus. A total of 1100 miles with a single charge for one of its 40-foot catalytic converter models was achieved in a test drive. Since then, the company has announced that it will supply its E2 lithium-ion battery packs to the Belgian bus manufacturer Van Hool for coaches and drive trains for double-decker commuter buses from the British manufacturer Alexander Dennis. And now Daimler’s investment follows.
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Further joint developments between Proterra and Daimler announced
In addition to the pure investment, the Californian company Proterra in Burlingame, California, will also start developing new heavy-duty vehicles with Daimler. The two companies have also agreed to jointly tackle the electrification of selected heavy commercial vehicles.
As the first project, the two companies are devoting themselves to possible synergies in the electrification of school buses of the Daimler brand Thomas Built Buses and the option of transferring the already proven battery technology and drive train from Proterra to the North American school bus market.
In the US the electric school bus is about to go into series production
School buses are considered well suited for electrification because they cover a predictable distance per day. And in North America, Daimler Trucks is already working at full speed on electric drives. In addition to the all-electric “Saf-T-Liner C2 Electric Bus”, or “Jouley” for short, which can also be seen at the IAA, Daimler Trucks presented two new all-electric trucks from US subsidiary Freightliner at the beginning of June: the heavy eCascadia and the medium-weight eM2.
Although school buses are a new line of business for Proterra, it is certainly an exciting addition to the existing core business. School buses usually travel fewer kilometres per day than city buses and are mainly used in the mornings and evenings. This offers the opportunity to recharge the buses at lunchtime. At a California company, the vehicles can be recharged at noon thanks to abundant solar power, especially when power generation from sunlight reaches its peak.
“More than 675 Proterra electric buses already in service in the US and Canada.”
The joint work on an electric school bus offers Daimler and Proterra the opportunity to offer reliable and economical new transport options with environmentally compatible, emission-free electric technology. Ultimately, these experiences will have to be put into practice worldwide. Daimler, for example, is also pushing electric mobility in Europe. From the battery-powered eCitaro city bus to the fully electric heavy-duty eActros, which is already in customer hands, to the E-FUSO Vision One vehicle study as a preview of a fully electric heavy-duty E-FUSO truck.
I myself took part in the worldwide premieres of the eCitaro and the eActros this summer. Both vehicle types are currently being used in practice by a selected number of customers. Daimler CEO Martin Daum at the Hanover trade show: “We started working on electric trucks and buses at a very early stage, and it is our aim to set the standard here in every relevant segment. We expect the cooperation with Proterra to give us additional impetus for the development of heavy electric commercial vehicles. This will give us an even broader base in the key battery technology in particular – also with a view to North America.”
Mercedes-Benz eCitaro: Start of series production still in 2018
The new all-electric Mercedes-Benz bus eCitaro demonstrates very high energy efficiency with the help of its innovative thermal management system. And this is extremely important for buses, because it is not the journey itself that consumes the most energy, but the opening and closing of the doors to the passenger area.
The eCitaro is equipped with electric motors close to the wheel hub and has a battery capacity of 243 kWh. The eCitaro electric bus is embedded in the Daimler Buses eMobility system. It accompanies public transport companies from thorough consultation to support through intelligent charging management and employee training to service with specific services. The first orders came from Germany and abroad even before the start of series production in autumn. Hamburger Hochbahn, Berliner Verkehrsbetriebe, Rhein-Neckar Verkehrsverbund and Daimler customers in Norway were among the first to place orders.
I am curious to see when we will see the first joint electrical products from Proterra and Daimler in Europe. The investment in the Californians is a big step for the Stuttgart company. It shows that especially in the commercial vehicle segment, investments by large and established mobility providers in smaller, agile start-up teams can be successful. This is how global mobility growth works today.