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.
China is hungry for the kind of recreational vehicles built in Southern California — at least according to the Chinese entrepreneur who struck a deal with a Riverside firm to build and export $5 billion worth of them.
The Chinese government has placed a focus on developing the RV industry as a cornerstone of the Chinese ideal of the happy home life, Winston Chung told the Los Angeles Times.
“A family with an RV is a family more in harmony with each other,” he said, speaking through a translator. “During vacations, people can get into the RV and enjoy quality family time.”
Under Chung’s agreement with MVP RV of Riverside, Calif., the company plans to manufacture the vehicles in the U.S. and export them to China. However, Chung would not rule out moving operations to China in the future.
Chung spoke about the burgeoning market in China for the motorhomes after a news conference with UC Riverside Chancellor Timothy P. White, where they announced Chung’s $10-million donation to UCR’s Bourns College of Engineering.
In an interview with The Times, a smiling Chung cheerfully detailed his plans to build and export 30,000 diesel-powered motorhomes to China, and eventually to develop electric-powered RVs. Chung, 52, is the founder of battery maker Winston Global Energy.
The nascent Chinese RV industry has the potential for high profit margins, despite high taxes on gas-guzzling vehicles, Chung said. He added that the increasing value of the yuan, the Chinese currency, will make buying an RV more affordable for families.
Headquartered in Shenzhen, China, Winston Global Energy produces batteries for electric bikes, electric motorcycles, electric automobiles and hybrid vehicles, and is currently the only company in the world engaged in mass production of rechargeable storage batteries for buses.
Last year, Chung became a majority owner in Riverside’s MVP RV Inc. The company hopes to soon begin manufacturing 10,000 tour-bus-style and 20,000 smaller recreational vehicles. They will be exported over the next three to four years. The company said it would hire 1,200 new workers, primarily in production line jobs.
Formed in 2008, MVP RV began producing primarily travel trailers but stopped production four months later when stifled by the recession. The company was exploring the idea of building electric cars when the owners were introduced to Chinese entrepreneur Chung.
He paid $18.6 million in July for the Riverside factories and headquarters that were once the home of Fleetwood Enterprises Inc., which filed for bankruptcy protection and left the area in 2009.
For now, the emphasis will be on gas-powered RVs, he said. The Chinese market “is really into gasoline RVs, so that is why we want to focus on that and trying to import it into China,” he said. “If we do move manufacturing to China, I would like it to be for the manufacturing of electric RVs.”
MVP RV has already created a prototype for the electric motorhome and Chung plans to invest more money in the development of the technology in the near future.
Chung’s interest in Southern California began with his initial investment in MVP RV, but he has business dealings in several Southland transportation firms. He hopes to begin developing an electric yacht and plans to invest in several boating companies in Southern California to do so.
Today (Jan. 25), a heavy-duty truck, tractor and electrical systems maker in Los Angeles County that is also owned partly by Chung will announce that he has ordered $15.9 million worth of electric vehicle drive systems made in Southern California for buses in China.
Balqon Corp., based in Harbor City near Long Beach, said it expects to hire 150 workers over the next 18 months to build 300 electric vehicle drive systems to power buses carrying 15 to 40 passengers each. The drive systems are being purchased by Chung’s company in China, Winston Global Energy.
“This order from Winston Global Energy validates the competitiveness of our technology in the global marketplace and will result in the creation of high-tech green jobs domestically,” said Balwinder Samra, Balqon chief executive. Chung is a major shareholder in Balqon, founded in 2005.
The UCR gift would be the largest in the school’s history, officials said. A building within the college of engineering will be renamed Winston Chung Hall and two professorships and a research center will be established in his name. The gift is to fund research related to clean battery power, solar energy and sustainable transportation, according to the university.
The research center, called the Winston Chung Global Energy Center, will focus on “life source rare earth lithium batteries,” a technology invented by Chung, bio-inspired technology and the development of clean energy and energy storage, according to the school.
The gift is “a match of his passion with our ability,” White said. Chung added that this would be his first donation to the school, but he is in talks to continue donations to the school, specifically to medical research.