By early next year, Porterville will see the first electric-powered bus roll off the assembly line of GreenPower Motor Company which finalized Tuesday its purchase of 9.3 acres of land near the Porterville Airport.
“We will be ramping up very quickly,” said Fraser Atkinson, chairman of GreenPower Motor Company Inc., during an interview with The Recorder Wednesday.
The Vancouver, Canada, based company will build its first plant in the United States in Porterville and its impact will be significant on the city. The company will employ approximately 400 workers at the assembly plant initially, but that number could grow. In addition, he said they will bring those suppliers who are not already operating in the United States to Porterville. That includes the company currently overseas which provides the batteries for the buses.
Established in 2010, in 2014 GreenPower launched the EV350 transit bus, which is an electric-powered transit bus deploying electric drive and battery technologies with a lightweight chassis and low floor body, states its website. GreenPower integrates global suppliers for key components such as Siemens for the two drive motors, Knorr for the brakes, ZF for the axles and Parker for the dash and control systems.
Atkinson explained the Buy America program requires a certain percentage of vehicles sold in the U.S. to have been manufactured in the U.S. Right now, all its buses are built outside of the U.S.
“Ultimately, the frame and other components will be made here,” he said.
The company purchased the land on Hope Drive for $660,000, but Atkinson said they plan to expand. He spoke of the plant being very energy efficient. “We’d like to have a solar system with battery storage. “That’s what our customers look for. We want it (plant) to be a showcase,” he said. Construction of the plant is expected to take four or five months.
The principals who will be in Porterville will be Atkinson and Phil Oldridge, company CEO.
Atkinson said they will also be bringing in and hiring “a significant number of technicians,” as well as skilled welders and electricians.
“We will need quite a range of skill sets,” he said, adding they are looking at regional universities and colleges for trained workers. He said they have not set a date to begin hiring workers.
The company plans an approximate 138,000 square foot (sf) u-shaped building which will be 100 feet wide, giving them room for multiple assembly lines. Eventually, the company could operate two shifts a day.
There will also be a two-story, 6000 sf office at the site.
GreenPower offers seven different buses, ranging in length from 35- to 45-feet, including a double-decker bus. They hold anywhere from 25 to 100 passengers and have a range of 175 to 240 hours. All can come with air conditioning.
Atkinson said it takes approximately 150 days to build the double-decker bus which can hold 100 passengers, and 120 for the more standard 40-foot bus which holds 40 passengers. The smaller buses take 90 to 120 days to assemble.
Atkinson and Oldridge said they looked at sites all over the United States, but in the end they focused on California and eventually Porterville.
“For Phil and myself, we’re all about the people,” he said, adding many states and cities offered a lot of incentives, but it was the friendliness and helpfulness of Porterville which convinced them this was the best place for them.
Also, Porterville is in California and the two men said if you are in the green business, then California is the place to be.
“It became crystal clear that the epicenter of this industry will be in California,” said Atkinson.
“We understand that we will be the only manufacturer of all-electric heavy duty buses in the San Joaquin Valley so we will be seeking to become the preferred supplier,” he said in a press release.
He said they looked at the south coast area of California, but it was too expensive so they then turned to Central Valley.
“At the end of the day you get to a point we’re going to need some help — local colleges and technical schools. We need to have groups we could sit down with and plan. People like Jenni Byers and John Lollis were extremely helpful. They went that extra mile. That did not go unnoticed.
“This is a community that will work with us.”
Mayor Milt Stowe returned that compliment.
“They were outstanding to work with,” he said, adding, “They were looking for a partnership and Porterville was willing to give them that.”
He added, “Staff did an outstanding job to get them here and to stay here.”
He was referring to the company having to look at two other sites, even coming very close to purchasing each, before finally buying land from the city. And, Stowe said, they did not ask anything of the city.
City Manager Lollis gave the credit to Byers and Jason Ridenour with the city’s economic development team. “They did the bulldoging for this things,” he said.
Atkinson said the electric-powered bus market is ready to explode. They already have several orders to fill, including for two of the double-decker buses, but he sees California being the leader towards the purchase of electric-powered buses. Gov. Brown has already made it a goal to have 1.5 million electric vehicles on the roads in the next five years, plus a million charge stations spread throughout the state.
“We’re looking at a sector that will just blow up in the next two or three years,” said Atkinson, adding the electric-powered bus is further long in terms of value than electric cars are today.
“In our case, most transit systems operate at 30 mph or less. We can do 16 hours a day or 200 miles. It’s now economically viable to buy an electric bus.
“We are at a place we know where this industry is going. Five years from now the batteries will be half of the cost they are today.”
It’s first big customer could be the City of Porterville. The city has more than $11 million in its 2016-17 budget to purchase electric-power transit buses for which the city is seeking a California Air Resource Board grant.
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