Electric bus maker Proterra raises $30M from Kleiner, GM

Electric bus maker Proterra announced Monday morning that it has raised $30 million from investors including Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, GM Ventures (GM’s VC arm), Mitsui, Vision Ridge Partners and 88 Green Ventures. Founded in 2004 (and formerly called Mobile Energy Solutions), Proterra makes drive components and energy storage systems for electric and hybrid buses, delivery vans and other commercial models, and also sells the vehicles themselves and fast charging stations.

Its flagship electric bus is called the EcoRide BE-35, and it uses an electric propulsion system from UQM Technologies, and the bus has a lightweight composite body. Proterra has designed the vehicle to operate for up to three hours and juice up within 10 minutes at inductive fast-charging stations installed along the bus route.

Proterra said in a release Monday morning that it will use the new funds to complete validation testing of its buses, to deploy more pilot fleets and to boost volume and cut costs from its factory in Greenville, South Carolina that can produce 400 buses annually.

About a year ago, Proterra deployed its first electric buses and fast-chargers to Foothill Transit, which serves eastern Los Angeles County. Foothill Transit purchased three Proterra EcoRide BE-35 electric buses, as well as two fast-charging stations, and signed on for an option to buy nine more of the model if all goes well in an initial trial period. Other Proterra models built with fuel cell range-extenders have been deployed in Burbank, Calif.; Austin, Texas; and Columbia, S.C.

Transit companies can use the electric buses to meet the state and the California Air Resources Board’s Zero Emission Bus (Zbus) regulation, which requires buses with zero tailpipe emissions to make up at least 15 percent of large California agencies’ annual bus orders starting in 2012. Foothill bought the Ecoliner buses with funds from the CEC’s Alternative and Renewable Fuel and Vehicle Transportation program.

Proterra previously raised $20 million, but this new funding from GM Ventures and Kleiner takes the company to a completely different level. GM Ventures can provide the startups it invests in commercial and research development deals, and it always looks good to be able to use a quote from Kleiner partner Al Gore in an announcement.

Updates from media call: GM Ventures (s gm) said in the call that it has invested about $36 million into startups, and will be announcing a few more investments “soon.”

Image courtesy of Proterra.