Proterra, an electric vehicle startup focused on mass transit, is looking to expand the reach of electric vehicles with a new electrically powered bus. The design ditches the dirty, noisy diesel bus familiar to most city dwellers for a pleasantly quiet conveyance from Proterra.
CEO Ryan Popple pointed out the importance of the plan, “We're taking a technology that's used to power $100,000 sports cars, and we're putting it into the absolute most accessible transportation asset in the country.”
The former Tesla employee explained the rationale behind the company’s choice to design the vehicle from the ground up, "I think it's important to cut ties with the legacy technology. If you tell your engineering group one of the rules they have to stick by is they have to use all the old parts from the parts bin, you're going to end up with a terrible product."
The weight savings from a carbon fiber body allowed for a smaller battery system than would not have been possible with a steel frame. The lack of a large diesel engine, located at the rear of current buses, meant that the Proterra could take advantage of more even weight distribution, allowing for better handling and acceleration.
As if that weren’t enough, the carbon fiber design also allows for a more streamlined manufacturing process when compared to traditional buses, explains Popple, “They're building buses like you'd build a house. They build a steel frame, they rivet things onto it. At our factory, we take in a composite body just like an aircraft fuselage."
With a range of nearly 260 miles, and charging times as little as five minutes, the current estimates on the Proterra’s lifetime cost are less than those of other options like natural gas and diesel-hybrid. Average bus routes are around 130 miles, so the current design is more than capable, but Popple expects future designs to top 300 miles.
Popple explained what may be one of the most compelling facts about his firm, “I don't know why we're encouraging people to buy cars. It's a terrible investment, you're exposed to oil prices, you have insurance costs. What we should be doing is putting out low-carbon mass transit, and helping people get back to work for pennies a day as opposed to dollars.”
Proterra has sold its first vehicles to Foothill Transit in Southern California, but expects to see every diesel bus eventually replaced by an electric.
Here’s a look at Proterra’s bus of the future: