BMW follows VW’s MOIA in betting on electric mass transit

15 June 2017

15 June 2017

BMW’s i Ventures has made a strategic investment in Proterra, a Silicon Valley leader in electric mass transit, in a move that signals it shares Volkswagen’s MOIA mobility division’s vision for the future of mobility.

BMW’s venture capital arm’s investment is part of Proterra’s latest $55 million (€49 million) funding round, which was led by former US vice president and climate campaigner Al Gore, through his sustainability investments vehicle Generation Investment Management.

It is BMW i Venture’s first investment in heavy duty electric vehicle (EV) manufacturing, an area that it considers a key business area as the world moves towards future mobility. The arm was founded in 2011 to invest in high-potential startups and high-growth companies aiming to revolutionise future mobility.

Proterra says it has a 60% share of the US electric transit market. It is likely followed by China’s leading giant BYD, which was the best-selling electric vehicle brand globally in 2015.

Proterra has sold more than 400 of its electric buses across the country, from Seattle to Philadelphia. It has east and west coast production facilities in South Carolina and Los Angeles respectively. Its technology research and development takes place at its headquarters in Silicon Valley.

The company is achieving incredible success in attracting potential backers, with this latest Series 6 funding round for the company following on from an ′oversubscribed’ $140 million (€125 million) funding round in January. This means either the Series 5 security was underpriced or in far greater demand than had been expected at its launch.

CEO of Proterra Ryan Popple said: ′This is an extremely exciting time at Proterra as our customers, supporters and investors″”new and old alike″”rally behind our vision for a clean, electric transportation ecosystem. We’re incredibly grateful to our new investors, and are proud to call them partners as we strive to eliminate fossil fuel dependence throughout the transit industry.’

Al Gore’s Generation Investment Management has been investing in startups for several years in order to ′embed sustainability into mainstream capital markets.’ Other investments include in fleet management technology, bike sharing and electric vehicles.

Generation Investment Management 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 sees the key to its success as its commitment to cultivating its talented workforce, which has recently been behind the launch of an autonomous bus development project in partnership with the University of Nevada, Reno.

This suggests BMW’s partnership with the company will also give it access to additional mobility service firepower it can use to challenge that currently being built up by VW’s 13th brand MOIA.

Partner at BMW i Ventures Zach Barasz said: ′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.

′Due to Proterra’s efforts, electric mass transit is overtaking fossil-fuel buses as the new standard.’

Electric mass transit solutions in Europe also have the advantage of avoiding diesel bans in cities, including those just announced for BMW’s home city of Munich.

The use of electric powertrains in heavy duty vehicles is still fairly revolutionary, with most heavy, long range vehicles favouring the economy and range of diesel.

Proterra says that its Catalyst technology platform is capable of serving the full daily mileage of nearly every US transit route on a single charge, making it likely this would also be the case with the generally shorter route distances in Europe.

Photograph courtesy of Proterra

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