Brendan Riley, president of GreenPower Motor Company, during his speech in October of last year at the South Valley Industrial Summit in Tulare. Photo by David Castellon
Written by David Castellon
It’s a good time to be Brendan Riley.
His company, GreenPower Motor Company Inc., is part of a small, fledgling industry of companies making all-electric buses and other heavy-duty vehicles, and business is good with strong prospects it will get better.
The Canadian company began final assembly of its buses nearly two years ago inside a rented, 20,000-square foot former hangar at the Porterville Municipal Airport, and last week Riley, the company president, inked a five-year lease agreement on a 50,000-square-foot space in south Porterville, which will allow GreenPower to assemble its buses entirely in the city, rather than having portions built in Asia.
GreenPower needs that space, said Riley, who recently issued an announcement that the company has more than 130 all-electric buses and shuttles on order and recently signed a three-year deal for Creative Bus Sales, the largest seller of buses and bus parts in the U.S., to sell GreenPower buses and parts.
That deal had generated 100 orders for GreenPower buses by the end of June, according to the company’s latest quarterly report.
Then there were the first and second quarters of this calendar year, in which GreenPower announced revenues totaling more than $5.9 million, with gross profits of more than $2 million. Earnings in the first quarter marked the first time the eight-year-old publicly traded company has been in the black.
“For the EV [electric vehicle] space we’re in right now — heavy-duty EV — we’re expecting that profitability, not like a slow ramp-up. It hits hard,” akin to the way Amazon didn’t show a profit for years and suddenly started making money, Riley said.
“We’re profitable now, and at this stage of the game, that’s not something a lot of our competitors or even people in our space were able to say,” he added. “We’ll see if we continue to stay profitable.”
“We’re no longer a startup,” company chairman Fraser Atkinson said in an interview.
“A lot of the development work is out of the way, and now it’s tooling up and building and selling. We’re cautiously optimistic that our profitability will not only maintain over the next quarters, but we’ll have a higher percentage of profitability,” Riley said.
The newly leased facility at 90 W. Poplar, part of printing company Pro Documents Solutions, will provide the room GreenPower lacks at its airport facility.
That was originally intended to be a temporary locale while plans were to build a new, 150,000-square-foot manufacturing plant nearby, across the street from the airport. But so far it hasn’t gotten past the planning stage.
Riley said plans are to access the West Poplar facility on Sept. 15, do some minor upgrades and alterations to the building and bring in a mobile gantry and get to building buses by Oct. 15.
The new space was needed quickly in order to meet the demand for buses on order as well as to meet the “made in the USA” requirements sometimes stipulated in the funding requirements for some of the buses, Riley said.
That leased facility will have about 25 employees, on top of the 15 who will continue working at the airport hangar facility.
And once the new, larger plant is built, Riley estimated it would require 75-100 workers.
“We’re very excited about it — fill the space and the employment opportunities,” said Jason Ridenour, Porterville’s economic development manager.
Riley, who recently renewed the lease on the airport hangar facility, said that after the new plant is built, it’s unlikely GreenPower would vacate the leased spaces based on how much the business will grow in the coming years.
He noted that Los Angeles is looking to have an all-electric bus fleet by 2030, “and other cities are following suit,” including Porterville, which is buying GreenPower buses and already has some in use.
Riley also noted the executive order to reduce vehicle emissions that California Gov. Jerry Brown signed earlier this year committing the state to spend $2.5 billion in an effort to get 5 million zero-emission vehicles — including buses — on the road by 2030.
“If you look at what the demand is for these vehicles and what the current supply is with all the zero-emissions manufactures, we’re not even close to meeting the demand that literally has been talked about being created by our politicians,” Riley said.
And while the state has offered some financial aid to help communities, schools and others to pay for their electric vehicles, additional dollars have become available in California and other states.
That money is coming from a $2.7 billion settlement from Volkswagen after it was uncovered the carmaker had installed software on about 500,000 VW and Audi cars sold in the U.S. to turn off emission controls during normal driving to improve gas mileage and reactivate during smog tests.
The settlement is being divided between all 50 U.S. states; Washington, D.C.; Puerto Rico and Native American lands to fund pollution mitigation. California is set to receive $423 million, $130 million of which earmarked to help pay for purchases of school, transit and shuttle buses.
“All vehicles we produce,” Riley said.
Some other states have announced their plans for the VW money that include replacing fossil-fuel powered buses, among them Arizona, which plans to use its $38 million to replace 281 school buses; Washington state, which plans to use part of its $104 million to purchase electric school and shuttle buses, along with electric trucks; and Georgia, which plans to use all its $63 million to replace old diesel transit buses.
“It’s a pot of money customers can use to buy our vehicles,” or those of other electric bus and heavy-duty vehicle makers, Riley said.
And considering how small the pool of those manufactures is — maybe six in the nation, with four of them in California — he said the VW settlement likely would bring additional customers to GreenPower.
“We anticipate even greater profits with our higher [order] volumes and ramping up production, said Riley adding, “I think we’re going to have a really compelling story by Q4 and Q1 of the next fiscal year.”