Careers at Proterra
Proterra’s mission is to deliver clean, quiet transportation to all, by replacing heavy-duty, fossil-fueled transit buses with zero-emission electric vehicles.
Dale Hill accomplished something major with one of his early startups, a manufacturer of CNG hybrid buses. The company introduced the world’s first fleet of alternative fuel buses in Denver, Colorado, for use by the 16th Street Mall. Soon after, the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) advocated a move towards more eco-friendly fuels through initiatives such as the Clean Fuels Grant Program. This encouraged Hill to design a more ambitious fleet of transit buses, one that produced zero emissions.
In 2004 he launched Proterra, a line of electric buses. Its initial product was the EcoRide BE35, a quiet, neighborhood-friendly bus. It became the first all-battery electric bus over 30 feet long to pass the Altoona test, a federal government assessment of safety, durability, maintability, performance, and fuel economy. It also became the first full-size transit bus to meet California‘s Zero-Emission Bus Rules. The line was followed by the Proterra Catalyst series, which was even more fuel-efficient.
The next decade saw a number of milestones. In 2011 Proterra transferred its headquarters from Colorado to Greenville, South Carolina so it could be closer to the International Center for Automotive Research at Clemson University. In 2015 it received a $3 million grant from the California Energy Commission so it could build a new bus line for the city of Industry, CA. This funding prompted it to move its headquarters again to Burlingame, CA. As of the end of 2015, Proterra has manufactured over 155 buses, which have logged a combined two million miles for transit agencies.
Business model of Proterra
Proterra has a niche market business model, with a specialized customer segment. The company markets its products to transit agencies, corporations, and other organizations that want all-electric, zero-emissions buses.
Proterra offers three primary value propositions: performance, cost reduction, and brand/status.
The company’s electric vehicles offer improved performance over standard buses as follows:
Fuel-Efficiency - The EcoRide and Catalyst bus lines are 500% more fuel-efficient than a traditional CNG or diesel bus. They lower emissions by 146,000 pounds each year, even with power generation taken into account.
Charge Speed/Duration - The buses use on-route, fast-charge technology (with a 500kW charge rate) that requires only 5 – 10 minutes for a full recharge. The process enables them to travel 24/7 without typical refueling. They can cover more than 700 miles within 24 hours.
Noise Level – The buses are extremely quiet. When not moving, they create practically no noise. When moving, their sound is below a typical human conversation level. This helps to keep surrounding communities undisturbed.
Weight/Durability – The buses are touted as the lightest electric transit vehicles on the market. Their bodies have a fiberglass makeup that never rusts, as well as a high strength-to-weight ratio.
The company’s vehicles enable transit agencies to lower costs, particularly with regard to fuel consumption. Fuel savings compared to specific alternatives are as follows:
- Lifetime savings of up to $365,000 vs. diesel
- Lifetime savings of up to $225,000 vs. CNG
- Lifetime savings of up to $250,000 vs. hybrid
Further, the vehicles’ streamlined technology helps lower maintenance costs (30% fewer parts, 75% fewer brake repairs, no expensive exhaust after-treatments, no oil changes, and no liquid fuels). These reduced expenses can add up to as much as $135,000 in savings over the bus’s lifetime.
The company has established a strong brand as a result of its performance. It has provided over 155 buses to 16 university and municipal transit agencies across North America. The buses have traveled a combined two million miles. Further, it has won a number of honors. These include recognition in 2015 as one of the Global CleanTech 100, one of the Deloitte Technology Fast 500, one of Bloomberg’s “New Energy Pioneers”, and as a World Economic Forum Technology Pioneer.
Proterra’s main channel is its direct sales team, through which it acquires most customers. The company also accomplishes this task through its website, which it uses to promote its offering (along with its social media pages).
Proterra’s customer relationship is primarily of a personal assistance nature. The company maintains an in-depth training curriculum for bus drivers and maintenance employees. The program consists of extensive classroom and hands-on instruction and access to a large video library. Proterra also offers general phone and e-mail support. That said, there is a self-service component in the form of a customer web portal that features manuals, videos, and other training materials.
Proterra’s business model entails the design and manufacture of zero-emissions buses. The company operates manufacturing facilities in the Upstate Region of South Carolina and the city of Industry, California.
Proterra does not maintain a formal partnership program. Its key partners include bus part suppliers and service companies. One of its most high-profile service partners is Key Equipment Finance, a company that offers financing packages for Proterra’s customers, enabling them to spread out their payments over a period of time.
Proterra’s main resources are its manufacturing facilities in California and South Carolina. The venue in South Carolina is located near the Clemson University Center for Automotive Research (CU-ICAR), which provides research and development resources to the company. Proterra also relies heavily on its engineering team, which has significant experience working with heavy duty vehicles, advanced technology energy storage, and drive-system advancement. Lastly, as a startup it has relied heavily on funding from outside parties, raising $182.2 million from 19 investors as of June 2015.
Proterra has a value-driven structure, aiming to minimize expenses through significant personal service and frequent product improvements. Its biggest cost driver is likely research and development expenses, a fixed cost. Other major drivers are in the areas of customer support/operations and sales/marketing, also fixed costs.
Proterra has two revenue streams:
Product Sales – Revenue generated from sales of its buses. The company does not publish specific rate information on its website, but other sources indicate that pricing varies by battery configuration. Customers can buy a vehicle and lease its batteries for around $550,000. Alternatively, they can buy the vehicle as well as the batteries (along with full battery configuration) for around $800,000. Most packages are estimated to sell for around $700,000.
Maintenance Fees – Revenue generated from fees charged for maintaining and repairing buses. Pricing information is not publicly available.
info: Ryan earned a Bachelor’s degree in Finance from the College of William & Mary and an MBA from Harvard Business School. He previously served as a partner at venture capital company Kleiner Perkins Caufield Byers and as Senior Director of Finance at Tesla Motors.
info: Matt earned a B.S. degree from Brigham Young University. He previously served as CEO of Propel Fuels, a clean transportation firm, and has worked as a venture capitalist, helping countless startups get off the ground in Silicon Valley.
info: Charlie previously served as CFO of Martex Fiber Southern Company, CFO and COO of Bel Art Products, VP of Finance at Fisher Scientific, and as an executive in many functions at Ford Motor Company. He has more than 20 years of experience in finance.
info: Gary earned a Doctor of Engineering in Industrial Engineering at Cleveland State University. He previously served as VP of Powertrain at DENSO International and as Executive Director of Engineering Operations at General Motors.
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