$140M investment tops off Proterra’s charge

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Proterra, the manufacturer of battery-powered transit buses with a factory in Greenville, has secured its biggest single cash infusion from investors, $140 million, and the Clemson-area bus system and a Michelin test track in Laurens County played a role.

Proterra said it would use the money to accelerate manufacturing, including a tripling of production at its factory along Interstate 85 in Greenville.

The new funding brings the total amount of money Proterra has secured from investors to $290 million.

Ryan Popple, Proterra’s CEO, said the company had initially aimed to raise $30 to $50 million in its fifth funding round, but investor interest exceeded expectations after Proterra sold more than twice what the company had targeted to sell last year.

In addition, Popple said, investors were impressed when Proterra announced that its 40-foot bus had been driven more than 600 miles on a single charge at Michelin North America’s test track in Laurens. That’s evidence that Proterra buses have enough range to serve virtually any transit route in the United States, he said.

Also helpful in raising the money, Popple said, were conversations between potential investors and Proterra’s existing customers, including the Clemson-area bus system, Clemson Area Transit, which operates six Proterra buses in Seneca.

Popple said Proterra still plans an initial public offering of stock, but no longer views an IPO as necessary to its financing.

“We raised so much capital in this round, if the board of directors decides to take the company public, they can do so based on market conditions as opposed to needing to do it to finance the company,” Popple said.

Eric McCarthy, Proterra’s Greenville-based general counsel and vice president of government relations, said Proterra made about 35 buses in Greenville last year and expects to make about 100 in 2017.

The Greenville factory will manufacture a majority of Proterra’s current backlog of about 230 buses, he said.

McCarthy said Proterra plans to add about 25 people to its existing Greenville workforce of about 160.

Proterra said its latest round of investor funding was led by an undisclosed investor who contributed $40 million.

Other funding came from “several new investors,” Proterra said, and existing board-level investors, which include Kleiner Perkins, a Silicon Valley venture capital firm, and GM Ventures, the venture capital arm of General Motors Corp.

Proterra said it would use the money to launch manufacturing at a previously announced factory in Los Angeles County, Calif., in addition to boosting production in Greenville.

“Proterra will hire key personnel in Los Angeles, Silicon Valley and Greenville to support production growth, as well as implement new manufacturing equipment and systems,” the company said in a news release.

Proterra moved to Greenville from Golden, Colo., as a startup company in 2010, and later relocated its headquarters to Burlingame, Calif., in the San Francisco area.

The company initially bought battery systems for its buses from a vendor, but began making them itself in Burlingame last year.

So far, Proterra’s customer base does not include Greenlink, Greenville’s bus system, but that could change soon.

Gary Shepard, transportation director for the city of Greenville, said Greenlink plans to use $300,000 appropriated by the state Legislature as a “local match” to buy a battery-powered bus from Proterra or another manufacturer.

Greenlink hopes to secure additional money for the bus through a Federal Transit Administration program designed to promote low-emission or no-emission vehicles, Shepard said.

Shepard said he recently talked to Popple about how Greenlink and Proterra can work together.

The cooperation could include Proterra helping Greenlink apply for federal grant money and Greenlink letting the company uses its routes to test new vehicles, he said.

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