California Firm Betting on Electric Technology
A Harbor City, Calif., manufacturer of all-electric trucks and tractors has signed a $16 million deal to build 300 drive systems for inner-city buses in China, the Long Beach Press-Telegram reported.
The deal is the latest expansion of Balqon Corp.’s growing global presence in electric vehicles, boats, motorhomes and power storage systems.
Balqon, which began building electric drayage trucks for use in local ports in early 2009, plans to expand its Harbor City assembly plant and hire 150 new workers to meet demand.
“We’re seeing major evolutions and advancements in the electric vehicle industry, with new generations of batteries coming out about every 18 months and each gaining tremendously on the previous generation,” said Balwinder Samra, Balqon president and CEO.
“It’s developing like the personal computer did a few years ago, with rapid advancements in (mileage) range, storage capacity, size and application.”
The new agreement between Balqon and Winston Global Energy, a Chinese lithium-ion battery maker, gives the partnership exclusive contracts to build electric buses, trucks, motorhomes and even marine vessels throughout much of North and South America, Asia and the Middle East.
The drive systems being built at the Harbor City assembly plant cost about $53,000 each and will be exported to China during the next 18 months.
Samra has doubled his work force to more than 60 since mid-January and plans to hire another 100 or so by summer.
He sees rising oil prices, better batteries and rising demand converging around 2015 to make all-electric vehicles economically competitive with traditional diesel, gasoline and hybrid cars and trucks.
“It’s moving forward faster than anyone predicted,” Samra said. “Places like China and India in particular are really pushing research and development into battery and electric technology because they see the drain that oil (price) fluctuations can have on an economy, and they don’t want to have oil prices being a drag on their economies like they’ve seen in America and Europe. It’s smart planning. You can’t run an economy where a single commodity can swing you from growth to recession.”
The new drive systems improve on the line of electric container trucks and yard tractors Balqon began building for the Port of Los Angeles in early 2009 with $500,000 in seed money from the port and South Coast Air Quality Management District.
Since then, about 25 such vehicles have been ordered for use in local ports, with dozens more electric drive systems and motors purchased by public and private firms around the globe.
Using Winston Global’s lithium batteries and Balqon’s drive trains, the two companies tentatively plan to build 1,000 zero-emission buses for use in China within a few years.
Winston Global’s CEO Henry Chung is also working with Balqon to develop electric motorhomes.
The first one, a 45-foot prototype, was completed in September.
Another of Chung’s companies, MVP RV of Riverside, plans to manufacture 30,000 motorhomes using Balqon drive trains in the Inland Empire in coming years and export them to China.
Chung, a rising electric-vehicle tycoon, also recently announced a $10 million donation to the University of California, Riverside Department of Engineering.
“As soon as you get those batteries capable of maintaining a range of around 350 to 400 miles, which I believe will happen in the next 36 months, you’ll see interest explode,” Samra said. “The electric motor has already proven itself in terms of power and propulsion … meeting or exceeding the capability of diesel or gasoline, so the only remaining issue is battery capacity.”
If Samra’s forecasts hold, his 26,000-square-foot plant in Harbor City, nestled in an industrial neighborhood between Long Beach and San Pedro, could become one of California’s largest and only remaining auto assembly plants.
A Toyota truck assembly plant in North Long Beach shuttered most operations a few years ago, and a joint Toyota-General Motors plant known as the New United Motor Manufacturing Inc., or NUMMI, was shuttered in 2010.
Tesla Motors, an electric sports car manufacturer, has since taken over the NUMMI site and plans to build an electric-powered sedan there beginning in 2012.
“We believe that combining our lithium battery and fast-charging technology with Balqon’s proprietary electric drive systems will enable us to provide cost-competitive zero-emissions solution to a growing global demand for electric vehicles,” Chung said in an e-mail statement.