By R. Bruce Striegler

Only six months after announcing the sale of ten of its EV350 40-foot zero-emission all-electric transit buses to Porterville, California, Vancouver headquartered GreenPower Motor Co. revealed in early June that it had discovered a partner in the San Joaquin valley city, and said it will build a 145,000 square-foot assembly plant and a 6,000 square-foot office in Porterville. Commemorating the event, the California Air Resources Board presented a ceremonial check for $9.5 million, which will pay for Porterville to become the first all-electric city transit system in the United States.

Brendan Riley, President, GreenPower Motor Co. says, “Our biggest bus, our flagship, the EV 550, is a 45 foot long, double-decker. We started out with the batteries and designed the vehicle around those, rather than beginning with an internal combustion vehicle design. As of this year, its cost is the same as a diesel equivalent, say, the Scottish Alexander Dennis Enviro 500.” Riley says, “As far as we know, this is the first electric vehicle that is on a price-parity with its internal combustion counterparts.” The company recently announced plans to build electric school buses, a new product line announced this year, and has said it will also roll out an electric shuttle bus which will come in 30-foot and 36.5-foot lengths

Headquartered in Vancouver, the company develops electric powered vehicles, specifically, a range of electric-powered buses deploying electric drive and battery technologies with a lightweight chassis and either low or high floor body. “The beauty of the GreenPower buses is the design and manufacture of them,” says Riley, “There’s an amazing level of detail and quality that goes into these buses.” In December last year, GreenPower reported the sale of ten of its zero-emission all-electric transit buses to the California city of Porterville. The deal included 11 charging systems to be installed at the maintenance facility and transit center for a total purchase price of approximately US$9 million. The first bus is scheduled to be delivered in the fall of this year with the remaining nine buses three to four months later. GreenPower has also agreed to make available, for use as a spare bus, an EV350 40-foot zero-emission bus when GreenPower is not using this vehicle for demonstration purposes.

“This conversion of the entire Porterville transit system to GreenPower zero emission buses is the most innovative project that I have been part of to date and it is ground-breaking for the industry,” says Riley, in a Porterville newspaper interview. “In addition, we have twenty buses available on this contract for other transit properties including the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District which is seeking to deploy not just a zero-emission vehicle, but a zero-emission solution.” In May of this year, GreenPower Motor Company Inc. announced that it had entered into a Memorandum of Understanding with the State of Washington’s Colville Gaming, LLC for Colville to acquire five GreenPower all-electric shuttle buses to replace existing legacy buses, and an option for Colville to acquire an additional five GreenPower all-electric shuttle buses. GreenPower will also provide the required charging infrastructure and the training for drivers, maintenance and support staff to create a Center of Excellence for Colville. In the announcement press release, the Chief Operating Officer of Colville Gaming said, “We are excited to be working with GreenPower to electrify our fleet. Many of our buses are outdated and significant polluters so, in addition to modernizing our fleet, we are moving to a more cost effective solution which has a positive impact on our community.”

Cost is significant, but demand continues to rise for electric buses worldwide

Every year in the North America approximately 6,500 new buses are required to replace an aging transport fleet, and the average city bus has a lifespan of about 12 years. According to transportation analysts, the electric bus market is expected to grow to US$85 billion by 2022, at a compound annual growth rate of 24.6 per cent. Growth in the global electric bus market is expected to increase at a fast pace due to rising fuel prices and increased environmental concerns, with the Asia-Pacific region leading the market with increased government initiatives in countries like India, China, and Japan. The Chinese electric bus market is expected to grow significantly, owing to the surging urbanization and development of many newly built advanced public transit systems in the smart cities of China. By 2020, China is expected to account for more than 50 per cent of the global electric bus market.

That global market accounted for volume sales of 19,059 units in 2015. The government of the U.K. launched a double decker electric bus in London earlier in 2015. Côte d’Ivoire, Uruguay, and Brazil are expected to be early adopters of the technology. Although the price of the buses is almost twice their conventional counterparts, the demand from public transit services is highest in Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa, but, the premium pricing of electric buses is limiting their acceptance in these price sensitive countries. There is often a lower level of environmental awareness, which along with lack of infrastructure, such as charging stations, creates challenges for penetration of electric buses in these public transit systems. Western countries, however, are focusing more on the pure electric buses, due their zero carbon foot prints.

Based on a flexible clean sheet design, GreenPower’s buses utilize a custom battery management system and a proprietary Flex Power system for the drive motors. GreenPower integrates global suppliers for key components, such as Siemens for the two drive motors, Knorr for the brakes, ZF for the axles and Parker for the dash and control systems. This original equipment manufacturer platform allows GreenPower to meet the specifications of various operators while providing standard parts for ease of maintenance and accessibility for warranty requirements.

In spite of the American penetration, Vancouver remains the company’s home. Riley explains that Vancouver remains the headquarters of GreenPower, the company founder and now CEO, Phillip Oldridge and his partner Fraser Atkinson (now Executive Chairman and Director of the company).They had spent a number of years advancing a handful of electric vehicle projects when they decided that, to really make an impact in the marketplace, they needed to focus on one, game-changing product. Today, the two are running GreenPower Motor Company, having launched their first product in 2014, and have continued to rack up contracts across North America. Mr. Oldridge has nearly four decades of professional experience in the field of public transportation, holding positions as President and/or Chief Executive Officer at Canamera Holdings, Inc., in Las Vegas, Nevada, and Bus and Coach International in Jennings, Kansas.

GreenPower President Riley notes that Phillip Oldridge, “Is a no-compromise person, a technical person who pays enormous attention to issues like build-quality and serviceability. He started the company and since then, we’ve been developing and refining the product so it really is ready for the market.” Phillip Oldridge was involved in the bus concept development, design process, and manufacturing. In addition, he ensured that the EV350 fulfilled all the requirements of the United States Department of Transportation. Mr. Oldridge is currently working on making the EV350 electric bus compliant with Canadian Motor Vehicle Safety Standards.

Riley adds that as far as he knows, GreenPower is the first zero emission original equipment manufacturer that covers transit, shuttle and school buses. “It’s incredibly ambitious what Chairman Atkinson and Phillip Oldridge have done.” He says that while manufacturing will be located in Porterville, Ca. where the company will do ‘complete knock-down’ assembly, GreenPower is planning to expand manufacturing with a Canadian assembly plant.