Al Gore and BMW back electric bus start-up

The corporate venture arm of BMW and the investment firm led by former US Vice President Al Gore have funnelled $55m towards Proterra, a company attempting to bring electric buses with a 350-mile range to the North American market.

Proterra received the £55m backing pledge from BMW’s i Ventures arm and Al Gore’s sustainability focused investment firm Generation Investment Management. The backing will be used to boost Proterra’s manufacturing capacity at plants in Los Angeles and South Carolina and increase research and development opportunities in Silicon Valley.

Former US Vice President and Generation Investment Management’s chairman Al Gore said: “More than ever before, cities are looking for sustainable transportation solutions that can reduce pollution efficiently and effectively. Proterra is incredibly well positioned to help accelerate the growth of sustainable cities and continue our transition to a clean energy economy.”

Proterra has already claimed around $290m from numerous funding series, including an oversubscribed $140m round earlier this year. So far, the company has sold more than 400 vehicles to US cities and communities and as of early June, is sitting on orders for 300 more vehicles.

The company’s vision is to improve urban air quality and reduce emissions by increasing the number of electric buses in circulation in the US, which has a lower uptake than other nations. Proterra’s latest model, the Catalyst E2, can cover 350 miles on one charge and stay in service for around two decades – well above the average of 12 years.

Bustling future

The investment represents BMW’s first foray into the heavy-duty electric vehicle market, having previously take steps to electrify its passenger vehicle portfolio. Last year, BMW attempted to close the loop on electric vehicles, opening a utility-scale energy storage facility that uses 2,600 worn battery modules.

BMW’s involvement with the project falls under a “shared belief” in responsible citizenship through the decarbonisation of transport. Proterra will benefit from the carmaker’s experience in innovative solutions.

“BMW i Ventures invests in companies that will transform mobility and transportation, and Proterra is pushing the mass transit industry forward with the most innovative heavy-duty electric bus,” BMW i Ventures partner Zach Barasz said. “Due to Proterra’s efforts, electric mass transit is overtaking fossil-fuel buses as the new standard.”

Although the US electric bus market is still in its infancy, uptake has been quicker elsewhere. In the UK, 36 zero-emission electric buses will ride along the C1 and 70 bus routes, which fall under the new Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) announced by London Mayor Sadiq Khan last year. London has committed to procuring roughly 300 zero-emission buses by 2020.

In fact, the president of Volvo Buses told edie that the UK is well-placed to champion the electrification of public transport, and revealed that his company is partnering with one of the world’s largest producers of energy-efficient infrastructure, Siemens, to promote engagement with the transition.

Matt Mace

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