“Forget Tesla. If You Really Want To Reduce Vehicle Emissions…”

SEP 20 2014 BY MARK KANE 39

With the purchase of buses by King County Metro, Seattle joins the growing roster of U.S. metropolitan areas employing zero-emission, EV transit buses from Proterra Inc.

With the purchase of buses by King County Metro, Seattle joins the growing roster of U.S. metropolitan areas employing zero-emission, EV transit buses from Proterra Inc.

A rather sharp thesis drew our attention, but don’t worry – these aren’t strikes against Tesla. This is just friendly fire from the other side of the EV market and this is really not a strike at, but rather acceptance that bigger is better, even in the world of EVs:

“Forget Tesla. If you really want to reduce vehicle emissions, it’s unglamorous buses, not flashy sedans, that need to go electric.”

According to the American Public Transportation Association, buses hauled 5.36 billion passengers in 2013. City buses drives a lot – from 40,000 to 60,000 miles a year and MPG rating is rather low. According to Washington, D.C.’s WMATA, its buses in 2012 were getting 3.76 miles per gallon.

There, Proterra comes into game:

“Founded about a decade ago, Proterra originally set out to make buses powered by a different eco-friendly source: fuel cells. But as the hybrid and electric car businesses grew, and the prices of battery packs and electric motors fell, making a purely electric bus became more appealing. Proterra devised a 40-foot bus made of light materials, and then developed a fast-charging docking station that would let buses fuel midroute in 10 minutes or less.”

Proterra believes that its buses, despite being twice the price of ICE bus ($825,000 versus $447,000) will bring at least some $400,000 in fuel cost savings through the 12-year lifetime of the bus. Sadly, additional costs probably comes from DC quick chargers.

“As is the case with electric cars, electric buses are significantly more expensive than their gas-guzzling counterparts. According to the National Transit Database, in 2012, the basic city bus cost $447,000 while hybrid diesel-electric buses cost $593,000. The base price of a Proterra has fallen to $825,000, from about $1 million a few years ago. And purchasers don’t get a tax credit or rebate for buying one. “But we don’t need grant funding to make the business case work,” said Popple. Over the 12-year lifetime of a vehicle, a diesel bus can consume between $500,000 and $600,000 of fuel, while it would consume about $80,000 worth of electricity, based on average industrial electricity rates. At its current price, in other words, the lower-emission Proterra pays for itself over time in the form of lower operating costs.”

In theory, fuel savings could makes electric bus on par with ICE, however the same article notes drawbacks:

“There are complications, however. The range—up to 30 miles—limits Proterra buses to certain routes, so it’s hard for an agency to go all in. Drivers have to be trained to brake and accelerate differently, and to maneuver into the docking stations. And Doran Barnes of Foothill Transit notes that some of the cost advantage of using electricity instead of diesel can dissipate. Electric cars can be charged at night, when power prices are low. But buses have no choice but to recharge in the middle of the day, when utilities often impose higher peak usage rates.”

Very interesting numbers are at the end. As it turns out, Proterra delivered some 37 buses and “is on a pace to produce about two dozen buses this year“. Well… soon they will reach round 50 deliveries, however the company needs to sell at least 50 a year to be profitable.

To make impact comparable to Tesla, the electric bus market still must grow.


Categories: Bus, Tesla

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39 Comments on "“Forget Tesla. If You Really Want To Reduce Vehicle Emissions…”"

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What about the BYD buses? With their larger range they probably can be charged overnight. How much extra do they cost compared to Proterra buses?

BYD buses are supposed to be somewhere around $550k.

So almost $300k less, no extra cost for fast chargers along the routes needed and you get 324 kWh instead of 72 kWh or somehting like that.

And BYD have been selling them for $330k back home (and to the israelis?) so there are still margins for improvement on US/European prices which you might get if you put in a big order.

Got a link on the cost of the BYD bus.

$550k here:

The BYD website doesn’t give the purchase price, just the running costs.

As they say there, buses are custom build.

Different cities may require different specs and capacity, which will alter the exact cost.

800,000$ seems too high for this bus.

It only uses 1.5 Leaf packs.

At 40kwh and 500$/kwh the battery is 20,000$.

That still leaves 780,000$ un accounted for.

It does seem a tad swindleous…

Also, old white people don’t take transit.

Maybe Tesla will make a compelling electric bus, after they build their Ford 150 Truck Killer?

Perhaps, not in your city. But here in the real world of a major metropolitan east coast city, they do.

Unless, by “old white people”, you mean “supporters of the tea party”.

A leaf battery couldn’t take the fast charging.
The lithium titanate this uses must cost a fortune.

I don’t fancy their chances against BYD and their simple system and cheap batteries.


Looks like if you are an industrial customer (using more than 200 Kw of power) you get hit with some pretty high demand charges.

The demand charge example I found was 11$/kw.
So on your monthly bill if you had 500 kw power draw you would see a charge of 500 X 11$ or around 5000$.

Demand charges could make up 1/3 or so of your bill.


So for this proterra bus these demand charges are going to add up fast…..so then you may want to add storage to keep your demand down, but then that drives up costs so even though you are saving money by having a smallish bus battery you are getting hit on the charging side.

Anyway. I was pretty hot on this proterra bus but I’m not so much any more.

Looks like the BYD bus is a better deal as both of you said. I still think there might be a middle ground on the battery size though. Maybe not as big a battery as BYD bus would be better for some routes.

Do municipal transit agencies pay demand charges? Governments can easily pass legislation to exempt these agencies from demand charges at their fast chargers for the public good.

Good point sven. I don’t know.

You have to remember that they are a very very small company with barely no buses sold or produced. Then it takes a lot of money to get every bus on the road.

It will be very hard for them to compete in any way with giants like BYD or the traditional bus companies when they go electric.

Just so.
Three buses is almost prototype level, and costs are going to reflect that.
BYD is building thousands of buses.

Most buses drive at below 25% passenger capacity most of the time.

If you really want to cut emissions drive an electric bike.

Or just pack more people into it 🙂 Look to China, India and Japan for the packing density 🙁

Or, run smaller buses in routes that are often runnign empty.

Yeh they can put 2 adults, 1 small child and 2 weeks of groceries on a Honda 90.

You forgot the pet dog…

A Honda 90 motorcycle can carry two weeks of groceries, two adults, four children, and two pet dogs. Don’t forget to count the puppy!

Anything is possible in India.

I think hybrid busemakes more sense. If bullet trucks (18 wheelers) with 65000 lbs of load can go 17 miles per gallon at freeway speeds, there is no reason hybrid buses can’t go more than 25 mpg at the low city speeds.

Electric buses are a waste. Hybrid is the real deal.

As usual you are wrong…

A friend of mine worked as a powertrain integration engineer for a bus manufacturer until about a year ago. He told me that hybrid busses typically get .5 mpg better than ordinary diesel busses.

Hybrids are only good for irregular distances. PHEVs are alluring because sometimes (maybe 10-30% of your annual mileage) you need to drive a lot further than your range allows.

Buses have predictable routes, schedules, and stations, so they’re a perfect fit to be pure EV.

Buses are continually doing stop/stop/accelerate/brake. You don’t do that on the freeway, so why do you compare the two?
I can get 70mpg out of my car on the freeway. I DON’T get that around town…

In NYC and other big cities, transit authorities are scrapping their hybrids and converting or replacing them into/with 100% diesel buses. The reason they are abandoning hybrids is because warranties are expiring and the electric motors are burning out and are very expensive to replace. Another reason is that in colder climates the lithium ion batteries are failing faster than expected and are very expensive to replace. These developments do not bode well for BEV buses. “The main reason for the swap to 100 percent diesel is fiscal; as warranties expire on the hybrid engines, the city will have to take on the added cost of maintaining hybrid systems.” “‘The electric-traction motors are burning out,’ a source at the city’s maintenance division told the New York Post in a report published Sunday. ‘They’re so expensive to replace that it’ll be cheaper to stick a diesel engine in there.’” http://www.ibtimes.com/new-york-city-scrapping-nearly-fourth-its-hybrid-bus-engines-100-diesel-bus-engines-1329977 “. . . colder cities such as Toronto and Ottawa also discovered they had to replace the lithium-ion batteries more often than they were expecting to, at about $60,000 per battery.” “CBC News reported last October that Ottawa is so disappointed in its hybrid bus fleet, what with fuel costs being… Read more »

This doesn’t bury the concept of a hybrid bus. It just means the manufacturer didn’t execute it properly.

For tens years, after starting our with hydrogen, and now a significantly more expensive bus than BYD for far less capability, this sounds like a funded research project.

I don’t think they should buy it just to save $400 over 12 years (sorry, just had to).

Sorry,but that is the way the word works. When President Obama handed out big bucks for “green” projects, I think we all remember how that went:

Mitt Rommey, ” You (Obama) don’t just pick winners and losers, you pick losers (like Tesla).”

Well, you clearly thought that out – pandering the incorrect and deliberately misleading phrase “picking winners and losers” shows ignorance.

Providing public funds to advance a variety of new technologies is consistently more efficient than waiting for the private sector to come around. By then, it is usually too late.

Most technologies start out that way, including the successful ones.

Corrected to $400,000

Imagine if Tesla would supply battery packs for ProTerra!

these fine folks should sell the busess at $399,000 each and that will enable more municipalites to buy more and bring down the costs.
Proterra is short sighted. they should play the long game like tesla…stop nickling and diming every buyer and you’ll sell 4-times as many….fools

I don’t get why buyers of these buses don’t get any tax incentives. H2 fuel cell class 8 trucks get incentives, why not these?

It wasn’t stated that they do not get incentives… believe me, they have and they do.

It was stated that they can make money without incentives at $800k each and 50 busses per year.

I’m not a specialist on buses, diesel, hybrid, fuel cell, or otherwise, but why not consider what we have here in Philadelphia. Electric busses that don’t have batteries, and have a functionally infinite range (along a confined route).

Called “Trackless Trolleys” by locals, this system is the oldest in the country, and second oldest in the world.

Seeing as the infrastructure is shared between all units on the route at the same time, it seems to me to be even more efficient that other options proposed.

Just as the “Baker Electric” has been around “since the beginning”, so have these. Sadly, just like the electric vehicle industry, there was also a lull in development for much of the 20th century.

Yes, I know that building out the infrastructure would be a challenge for any city, so would building out a fuel cell infrastructure.

Two good points to remember…
1.) As there is no battery on board, there is no argument about the potential for toxicity or recycling.
2.) As they are on their own “circuit”, they continue to operate even during minor power outages.


Yes, in other cities they call these “Trams”.

They gain in efficiency since there are no charge/discharge losses (but there is a bit of line loss, and power conversion loss for those that dont operate on single phase AC.

The BYD large battery model could work for those areas without an existing tram wiring network, and are aestetically more pleasing (no overhead wiring), and what they lose in efficiency they gain in less demand/ more baseload use (I’m not going to call it the other thing since some get very mad).

Seattle has a similar system through part of the city.