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.


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