Last week Proterra, a manufacturer of EV buses, announced the sale of seven electric buses and a charging station to the Nashville MTA. The MTA selected South Carolina-based Proterra over China-based Build Your Dreams (BYD) EV-bus manufacturer after a competitive bidding process. But while Proterra may have won the battle in Nashville, the war between Proterra and BYD is far from over.
BYD’s electric buses can run for an impressive 30 hours and charge to full capacity in three to four hours. According to the Society of Automotive Engineers International, one of BYD’s buses ran for a total of 1,481 miles in New York City. It’s this track record that has made BYD buses very popular internationally, as well as earned the company recent contracts in Long Beach and Los Angeles.
But the EV bus designed by Proterra is also pretty neat. The 68-passenger machine relies on lithium titanate — a feature that allows the bus to fully recharge in less than 10 minutes. And Proterra predicts that these batteries will last eight years or more. Plus, Former US Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood — a visionary for the Obama Administration from 2009-2013 — has joined the board of the company.
“I believe in the need for dependable, lower cost, more sustainable transit options,” says LaHood. “EV is the future of transit, and I am pleased to lend my knowledge and support to building this future with Proterra – the clear industry leader and the only American EV bus manufacturer.”
“Clear industry leader” and “only American EV bus manufacturer” are Proterra’s fighting words in its war against BYD for transit contracts. When BYD got the Long Beach deal, Proterra sent a 16-page letter to Long Beach Transit in which Proterra General Counsel Marc Gottschalk wrote that BYD “has presented a bus that has virtually no US-made content, has no US manufacturing [and] has no buses in revenue service in the US.” Gottschalk also said that BYD has “a history of overpromising and under-delivering.”
These are some good shots, but BYD has fought back. About half of BYD’s shares are owned by U.S. entities, including Warren Buffett, the company’s largest shareholder. And according to Lanny Davis, attorney and spokesman for BYD, the company is projecting about 100 new American jobs by the end of 2014 and about 200 by the end of 2015 at its administrative offices in Los Angeles and manufacturing facility in Lancaster.
“When are you going to sell your shares in Proterra?” Michael Austin, BYD America’s Vice President, recently asked the media.
Which company runs the better bus remains to be seen. Nashville is only the eighth city to buy Proterra’s EV buses. Other participating cities include Pomona, CA; San Antonio, TX; Seneca, SC; Stockton, CA; Tallahassee, FL; Reno, NV; and Worcester, MA. BYD has contracts in Los Angeles and Long Beach, and just completed a pilot test in New York City as well.
In the end, we can only hope that the war between Proterra and BYD will continue and inspire these companies to improve their products, employ more Americans, and compete for new transit contracts. Living in a world where EV bus companies engage in such heated competition is a breath of diesel-free air.