Elon Musk and Tesla have been getting a ton of buzz this week after the electric automaker announced it is opening up its patents.
Musk is willing to share his ideas so initiatives that address climate change can progress more quickly. Basically, the more electric vehicles out there the better, and Musk is ok if Tesla doesn’t have a monopoly.
With this news, one sector in particular should be pretty interested — public transportation. It may be difficult to convince individual people to shell out $US70,000 for an electric car, but $US2 for a ride on an electric bus? That could work. And then once people get used to the electric bus and understand how electric automobiles are better for the environment, maybe Tesla could convince you to buy one of its cars.
One company that’s already working on getting electric buses on the streets is Proterra. The company, which happens to be run by former Tesla employee Ryan Popple, has rounded up a total of $US100 million in funding for its electric buses, according to Bloomberg Businessweek.
While Proterra’s buses have come down in price since their original $US1.2 million sticker price, the $US850,000 cost is still pretty steep, especially compared to the standard $US300,000 diesel-run bus. But the early investment pays off in the long run: Each bus requires about $US5,000 to $US10,000 a year for electricity; in comparison, the average diesel bus costs about $US50,000 annually and natural gas buses cost about $US30,000.
“The engines [buses] currently use are atrociously inefficient,” Popple told Business Insider.
Standard buses today get about 2-4 miles per gallon, but Proterra says its buses get more than 20 miles per gallon, allegedly saving transit operators about $US50,000 of fuel per year. Popple claims the buses pay for themselves in as little as two years.
Popple also believes that within five years, he can get the cost of Proterra’s buses down to a price that’s competitive with diesel buses.
Currently, a Proterra bus can only drive about 50 miles before needing to recharge, but the company is working on improving its charging stations. Popple could see working with Tesla in that realm to develop better charging technology — especially now that Tesla is sharing its patents.
Another way Tesla has helped Proterra is with the increased general awareness of electric vehicles.
“The awareness of electric vehicles is much greater today than it was five years ago,” Popple said.
This helps everyone involved in electric vehicles, including both car and bus makers. And the cycle goes both ways: After riding an electric bus, someone may be more likely to buy a Tesla. After buying a Tesla, someone may be more willing to push for electric public transportation.
Proterra has sold out its first-generation bus, providing 50 buses to 11 cities including Reno, Nevada, Los Angeles, and San Antonio. And it’s developing a second-generation product to launch sometime next year.
Despite all the work going on in the field, it still may be pretty hard to convince municipal governments to invest in Proterra’s pricey buses, but the long-term implications could be huge. And with the market opening up and becoming more collaborative, streets filled with electric vehicles may not be too far off.