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B.C. Transit still hopes to receive electric buses despite maker's bankruptcy

California maker Proterra has filed for bankruptcy protection
B.C. Transit is running an electric bus in Greater Victoria that’s on loan from maker Proterra. ADRIAN LAM, TIMES COLONIST

B.C. Transit says it is still expecting delivery of 10 electric buses from California-based manufacturer Proterra even though the U.S. firm has filed for bankruptcy protection.

Proterra, which makes electric buses and trucks, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection at a federal court in Delaware on Monday. The company said in a statement it intends to maintain normal operations and use existing capital to keep funding operations, including paying employees, vendors and suppliers.

B.C. Transit said it will monitor the situation and maintain close contact with Proterra as the company navigates the process and it becomes clearer what impact it could have on its orders.

“B.C. Transit remains under contract for the 10 battery electric buses and they are still planned to arrive in Victoria this fall,” the agency said in a statement. “B.C. Transit’s first 10 electric buses are currently on the factory line and in production, and we expect to receive them in late fall of 2023.”

Proterra in May 2022 won a $20 million contract to supply 10 fully electric buses for Greater Victoria.

One Proterra bus is on loan from the company and is in use in the capital region.

Proterra could not be reached for comment Tuesday, but in an earlier statement Proterra chief executive Gareth Joyce said the company would be using creditor protection to separate its business units “to maximize their independent potential.”

“While our best-in-class EV and battery technologies have set an industry standard, we have faced various market and macroeconomic headwinds, that have impacted our ability to efficiently scale all of our opportunities simultaneously,” Joyce said. “As commercial vehicles accelerate towards electrification, we look forward to sharpening our focus as a leading EV battery technology supplier for the benefit of our many stakeholders.”

B.C. Transit said the first payment for the buses doesn’t happen until the vehicles are released from the factory, with subsequent payments upon delivery and after passing operational milestones.

“B.C. Transit has not yet received the first invoice for the buses yet as they have not yet finished production nor left the factory,” it said.

The $20-million contract is cost-shared between the province and Ottawa, each paying 40 per cent; the Victoria Regional Transit Commission is paying the balance.

Some interpret Proterra’s intention to separate its business units and focus on supplying battery technology as a signal it will not be building vehicles.

And that may not be a bad thing, said Ted Dowling, managing director of Ebusco North America, which also makes electric buses.

“The charging infrastructure is in place and is compatible with other electric buses. Technology, with respect to bus weight reduction, range and overall efficiencies have improved immensely since this (B.C. Transit) procurement was originally awarded. In the end B.C. Transit will be better off,” he said.

Dowling said Ebusco, which is based in the Netherlands, has plans to build electric buses in Canada.

B.C. Transit said its goal to fully electrify its buses by 2040 remains on track, despite the Proterra setback.

“The electric transition is a marathon, and we are early in the race. Challenges with new technology are expected. B.C. Transit remains committed to doing what is necessary to achieve the 2040 electrification goal,” it said.

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