Lightning eMotors (NYSE: ZEV), a provider of specialty commercial electric vehicles for fleets, and Forest River, Inc., a Berkshire Hathaway company (NYSE: BRK.A), announced Aug. 10 they have entered into a strategic partnership agreement to deploy up to 7,500 zero-emission shuttle buses, according to a press release.
The agreement, with a potential estimated value of up to $850 million, calls for Lightning eMotors to build fully electric powertrains and provide charging products, and services for Forest River over the next four and a half years. Lightning eMotors will manufacture the zero-emission-vehicle (“ZEV”) powertrain systems at its 231,000 square foot facility in Loveland, Col. and ship the powertrains to Forest River’s factory in Goshen, Ind., for final assembly of the Class 4 and 5 all-electric passenger buses.
Forest River is a leading shuttle bus maker in North America, with eight manufacturing buildings and more than 500,000 square feet of production space. The Elkhart, Ind.-based company has plans to dedicate 100,000 square feet to install Lightning eMotors’ powertrains.
“This has the potential to be the largest contract ever in the electric shuttle bus market, and we believe it will be the catalyst for other large commercial vehicle OEMs and fleets to accelerate their adoption of commercial electric vehicles,” said Tim Reeser, CEO of Lightning eMotors, in the news release. “Forest River’s family of shuttle bus companies, including top name brands like Starcraft, Glaval, and Champion, maintain a dominant market position selling over 10,000 units per year in the Class 4 to 6 shuttle-bus space. Forest River’s sales volumes allow us to provide a price point to their dealers and customers that results in a very compelling ROI.”
The vehicles that Forest River and Lightning eMotors will co-produce are Class 4 and 5 shuttle buses with gross vehicle weight ratings ranging from 14,500 to 19,500 pounds. The buses will feature battery configurations from 80kWh to more than 160kWh using industry-leading battery thermal management systems. These vehicles support ranges on a single charge between 80 and 160 miles and can recharge over a lunch break using Lightning eMotors’ DC fast charge infrastructure with integrated vehicle-to-grid (V2G) capabilities. Available bus floor plans will offer 12-33 passenger seats with ADA options available, and bus lengths of 20-34 feet. Other features include a modern digital-dash display, hill-hold functionality for safety, advanced telematics, analytics, and a mobile app for drivers and fleet managers. All vehicles will comply with the Federal Transit Administration’s “Buy America” and the Federal Aviation Administration’s “Buy American” guidelines.
“We decided to work with Lightning eMotors after several years of extensive research because of their market and technology leadership in the commercial EV segment,” said David Wright, president of Forest River’s bus divisions,in the release. “I was especially impressed after visiting their manufacturing facility in Colorado, driving their vehicles, and talking to their customers. It is clear why Lightning eMotors is at the forefront of fleet electrification. We’ll be providing our customers with a factory-installed electric powertrain that has proven technology relied upon by major fleets, at a price point no one else has been able to achieve. We believe this will be a game changer for shuttle-bus operators.”
Kash Sethi, chief revenue officer of Lightning eMotors, said that the partnership between the companies is important for several reasons. “Transit agencies and other shuttle operators, including airports, parking lots, hotels, and corporate and university campuses, have had an increasing selection of options for large full-size electric buses,” Sethi said. “However, supply for medium-duty electric buses has been limited to smaller EV companies working with regional dealerships to retrofit buses. This model has proven to be neither cost-efficient nor scalable.”
Forest River’s 100-plus bus dealership locations throughout the U.S. and Canada will have the opportunity to sell and service these vehicles. Manufacturing of Forest River Lightning EV shuttles has already started, and Forest River expects to deliver several dozens of the new electric shuttle buses to its dealerships by the end of this year.
Lightning eMotors’ charging division, Lightning Energy, will offer a comprehensive suite of charging and charging infrastructure related products and services to Forest River dealers and shuttle-bus operators.