Hybrid Buses May Be Pioneers When We Look Back in a Few Years

2004: The first GM hybrid delivered to Seattle, looking very much like a traditional bus (http://editorial.autos.msn.com/article.aspx?cp-documentid=435202)

2004: The first GM hybrid delivered to Seattle, looking very much like a traditional bus (http://editorial.autos.msn.com/article.aspx?cp-documentid=435202)

The municipal authorities around the United States — bus systems and school systems most obviously — have been way out in front of the breaking wave of interest in greentech, emissions control, carbon footprints.  The general public is mostly still driving internal combustion-driven vehicles, in spite of the rising sales of hybrid electric vehicles like the market-dominant Toyota Prius.

By early 2008 GM was delivering its 100th GM-Allison hybrid, this one to Las Vegas, and Seattle ordered an additional 500 such buses in May 2007. http://www.autobloggreen.com/2008/01/09/las-vegas-to-the-get-the-1000th-gm-allison-hybrid-bus-this-month/.  In October 2007, New York City announced it would acquire 850 hybrid buses for $435 million.

Of course a lot has happened since the first GM-Allison bus was delivered in 2003.  Now Allison is owned by The Carlyle Group, having been sold by GM for $5.6 billion in the good old days when automobiles were still selling and car companies still looked like they had a chance of being viable.   And, of course, GM sucked up a lot of federal stimulus money and still declared bankruptcy, was dropped from the NYSE, and is now a Pink Sheets small-cap (Pink Sheets: GMGMQ,  http://www.gm.com/),  with a market cap of about $528 million as of the close of the market on Friday, and a stock price of $0.78.  A deal was announced to sell the Saturn division to Penske Automotive Group (NYSE:PAG, http://www.penskeautomotive.com/), itself arguably a small cap with a market cap of only $1.3 billion, and a closing stock price of $14.65 vs a 52-week high of $23.58.

But in the meantime, evolution has been a strong force in municipal buses and school buses, with some small players emerging as interesting companies to watch.

Proterra All-Electric Clean Bus in San Jose

Proterra All-Electric Clean Bus in San Jose

The  all-electric clean bus by Golden, CO-based privately held Proterra (http://www.proterraonline.com/)  , with batteries probably from Reno-based Altair Nanotechnologies (Nasdaq: ALTI, http://www.altairnano.com/), presents one vision of the future, built entirely of composites to minimize weight, and streamlined beyond what the bus designers of yesteryear could have imagined.  ALTI shares are still somewhat down-and-out, closing Friday at $0.94 vs a 52-week high of $2.94, and a market cap a hair under $90 million, but average trading of 500,000 shares, which may make it easier to look at as a stock to be interested in.   Autobloggreen article on the Proterra bus: http://www.autobloggreen.com/2009/02/08/proterra-touring-california-with-fast-charging-electric-bus/.

Given Germany’s reputation as a leader in greentech, it is also worth noting that Puchheim, Germany-based Proton Motor Fuel Cell GmBH (http://www.proton-motor.de/ )  has teamed up with Czech partner, Pilsen-based Skoda Electric, and announced last month a bus on a standard chassis with no internal combustion engine at ALL — just a combination of fuel cells, batteries and ultracapacitors.  http://www.proton-motor.de/fileadmin/documents_pm/press_releases/20090508_TripleHybridBusPreview_EN.pdf

Proton-Skoda Pure Electric Fuel-Cell-battery-Ultracapacitor Bus

Proton-Skoda Pure Electric Fuel-Cell-battery-Ultracapacitor Bus

Torrance, CA-based Enova Systems (Amex: ENA, http://www.enovasystems.com/)  has teamed up with Navistar’s IC Corporation to build a plug-in hybrid diesel that is now operating at the top of the western hemisphere in Alaska’s Denali National Park.  The bus is claimed to use 70% less fuel than a conventional bus. http://gas2.org/2008/07/30/plug-in-hybrid-bus-at-denali-np-uses-up-to-70-less-fuel/

Enova-IC Corp bus for Denali Natl Park

Enova-IC Corp bus for Denali Natl Park

ENA shares have been largely ignored by the market, closing Friday at $0.83, up $0.08 on a very light 24,000 shares.  The year-high was $4.70, and the market cap is a very low $17 million, but it may well be a diamond in the rough.   It is also the go-to company behind the Hybrid Electric School Bus Project, in which it is partnered with Raleigh, NC-based state-sponsored Advanced Energy, which says it has delivered school buses to Austin, Napa CA, and two school districts in NC. http://www.hybridschoolbus.com/.

We should also point out Oak Park, MI-based Azure Dynamics (TSE: AZD and Pink Sheets: AZDDF, http://www.azuredynamics.com/).  AZD announced this year a 5-year pack with Johnson Controls to supply advanced li-ion batteries for its commercial vehicles and buses, including the Altoona.  AZDDF closed Friday at $0.23 and has an average volume of 115,000 shares.  It was formerly listed on AIM, but is no longer.

Azure Dynamics' Altoona CitiBus

Azure Dynamics' Altoona CitiBus

As always we have no recommendations on these companies, nor is this an attempt to equably survey the hybrid bus market, which is also being supplied by very large companies that are completely outside our area of interest.  We write about companies that we find newsworthy.


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