The company is seeking to lead the charge in transitioning the bus industry away from fossil fuels. 

Electric bus manufacturer Proterra is looking to ride the recent surge of battery-powered vehicle innovations with the Burlingame company’s charge to disrupt the public transportation industry. 

“We like to think that we’ll do for the bus industry what Tesla has done for cars,” said Matt Horton, chief commercial officer of the company headquartered on Rollins Road. 

The two Silicon Valley companies are kindred spirits, if not directly related, in their efforts to wean related industries from a direct reliance on fossil fuels and transition to more efficient energy sources. 

While electric vehicles continue absorbing larger slices of the personal car market, Horton said Proterra has enjoyed a business boost too as more juice flows into alternative energy.

“We think every bus should be battery electric,” said Horton, from an office overlooking an open workspace more akin to an mobile app development firm than a transportation company. 

Proterra’s production has doubled year over year at the company’s building plants in Southern California and South Carolina, said Horton. Each bus is made to order, and costs in the neighborhood of $700,000. 

The company, which hosts its corporate headquarters as well as research and development crews in Burlingame, touts its capacity to construct the most energy-efficient standard 40-foot bus available. 

Proterra’s buses or corporate shuttles generate zero emissions from the road and do not even have a tailpipe while offering a fuel economy equivalent to a personal sedan. 

Founded in 2004 in an attempt to build a hybrid bus, the company later switched its focus to battery power and has since developed a model capable of traveling up to 350 miles after as many as five hours charging. 

With more than a decade of experience, the company has enough of a jump-start on the alternative energy bus industry that Proterra is the trailblazer in its field, Horton said.

“We want to be a leading bus manufacturer in America,” he said. 

In fact, he said the lack of competition among electric bus makers has been a hurdle for Proterra to clear, as Horton said he wishes the industry would move faster to adopt innovation. 

Not everyone has been slow to pick up on the buzz of electric buses though, said Horton, as passengers frequently prefer the quieter and cleaner ride of a Proterra model compared to the louder, diesel-guzzling traditional counterparts. 

Demand has picked up locally for the new buses too, said Horton, as the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority recently placed an order for a few dozen of the company’s vehicles. 

In the quest to keep business humming, Proterra’s brand is bolstered by the presence of a bunch of notable backers in the transportation industry such as BMW, which announced earlier this month a $55 million investment.

The money will be used for enhancing Proterra’s manufacturing capacity, as it seeks to build on the 400 buses it has sold to cities and private companies across the nation. 

“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,” CEO Ryan Popple said in a prepared statement. “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.” 

Popple’s presence also represents the deep pockets driving Proterra, as the former Kleiner Perkins Caufield and Byers partner has taken the leading role in the bus company. The renowned venture capital firm’s presence is well represented on Proterra’s board of directors as well, accounting for two of the nine seats, alongside some from General Motors, Nest, Edison electricity company and others interested in transportation innovation. 

With a bankroll befitting its big dreams, Horton said Proterra has thoroughly enjoyed its time in Burlingame and has no plans for relocating. 

“The local talent pool is so deep,” he said, while listing off the variety of technology, science, research and development and other companies from which Proterra draws its expanding roster of workers. 

Surrounded by nondescript light industrial businesses, Horton said the local industry pioneer in its modest control center is keeping its foot on the pedal in the push toward rolling over an antiquated bus manufacturing system and cruising into a new age of public transportation. 

“We are quietly working to transform a huge part of our nation’s infrastructure,” said Horton. 


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