Proterra is trying to do for buses what Tesla is trying to do to cars, and it's not surprising since Ryan Popple, the company's CEO, used to work for Elon Musk. So far the company's electric buses have distinguished themselves for their efficiency, light-weight, and driving range. The latest breakthrough comes in the range department: The company has driven its latest model 258 miles on a single charge, leaving the BYD electric bus with a record of 200 miles in the dust.
This new milestone was reached by a Proterra 40-foot Catalyst XR with 8 NMC Li-ion battery packs, holding 257 kWh of energy. Average speed was 30 mph (48 kph), which is fairly realistic for a bus, and average energy consumption was 0.8 kWh/mile, which is very good for a vehicle of that size carrying this many people.
This milestone is important because once you pass the average driving range needed in a day by a bus, with a margin of safety on top, electric buses become ready for the big time:
Based on these test results, Proterra predicts its ten pack XR configuration (321kWh) will achieve 300 miles on a single charge. According to available General Transit Feed Specification (GTFS) data, typical urban and rural bus routes in the United States run less than 200 miles a day, bringing most routes within reach of Proterra’s current technology.
Part of the reason why the Proterra buses are doing this well is that they aren't just regular buses modified to be electric:
“The purpose-driven Catalyst design affords the best efficiency rating ever for a 40-foot transit bus, at 22 MPG equivalent,” said John Sleconich, Chief Engineer at Proterra. “Proterra buses are the only mass transit vehicle built from the ground up as an electric vehicle. With a unique aerodynamic body made from carbon fiber and advanced composite materials, we are able to reduce mass for maximum efficiency.”
Electric buses should also be good for transit agency wallets, as well as the environment:
Proterra electric vehicles are poised to make a significant impact on the transit market because of the Catalyst’s low operational cost per mile compared to diesel, CNG, and diesel-hybrid buses. Over the 12-year life of a bus, Proterra customers will dramatically reduce maintenance costs, saving around $135K. The environmental benefits are also making an impressive impact. Collectively, Proterra customers have logged more than 1.3 million miles of revenue service to date, preventing more than 4.7 million pounds of emissions.
Here is a video by Proterra documenting the 258 miles drive in the EV bus:
For those of you who like "where are they now?" pieces, it is notable that former U.S. transportation secretary Ray LaHood joined Proterra early last year. LaHood had surprised many during his tenure by how pro-bike and pro-transit he was, especially as a member of the Bush administration.
You can see him here give the semi-famous-in-some-circles "tabletop" speech at the National Bike Summit in 2010: