Demand for the company’s new 14- and 18-seater electric shuttles is high, said Forest River Bus Division President David Wright, citing a list of potential customers that included transit agencies, public transport companies, universities, car rental companies and private contractors.
Forest River Inc., the Indiana commercial vehicle, recreational vehicle, boat and bus maker, owned by Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc., on the verge of more than tripling its electric bus sales in Canada, said David Wright, president of the bus division company, in an exclusive interview with Autonomy Electric Canada.
The catalyst: a successful $ 850 million deal that Forest River struck in August with electric vehicle and powertrain supplier Lightning eMotors of Colorado.
The deal will see Lightning eMotors supply up to 7,500 electric powertrains for installation in existing Forest River bus configurations for Ford E-Series and F-Series Class 4 and Class 5 vehicles, in 12-plus seats. 2 and 16-plus-2. configurations, between 2021 and 2025.
Wright tells Electric autonomy that of the company’s 400-500 units sold in Canada each year, less than a dozen were electric vehicles before the announcement. Although he declined to offer a precise estimate of how many electric bus sales are now expected, Wright says Forest River has already cited 40 units for delivery in Canada, for customers ranging from large and small agencies to. public transportation to universities, car rental locations, and private contractors.
Strong demand from Canadian dealers
This, Wright hopes, is just the start. He says demand for electric buses among Canadian Forest River dealers is high, supported by continued incentive support from the federal government and some provinces for the electrification of commercial fleets. Bus products from Forest River and its subsidiaries are currently distributed through 12 dealer groups serving Canada, most of which are located in Canada, and form a network that Wright says is well positioned to support the deployment of its vehicles. electric.
“[Our] dealers tend to be around population bases, so coverage is good as electrification continues to increase, âWright said. âIf we find areas that [need more coverage], we are happy to expandâ¦ the territory of the dealers that we already have.
Wright notes that part of the success of the Lightning eMotors deal is because he and Forest River are both American manufacturers. This means that buses can be purchased by US transit agencies under the Federal Transit Administration’s Grants for Buses and Bus Facilities program.
Under this funding model, up to 80% of a transit agency’s costs to replace, refurbish, purchase or lease buses and related equipment can be covered by federal grants, provided the vehicles meet Buy America’s requirement of at least 70% of their total construction cost being domestically manufactured products.
Buy America activates the Canadian market
This federal support creates enough demand to make the project viable, Wright says, making the product affordable enough to be offered in sufficient volume to be sold in other markets, including Canada, where lower demand levels. would otherwise make such an endeavor costly. prohibitive.
âIt allows us to commit to more volume, and the more volume we can commit to, it reduces battery costs,â says Wright. âSo even though units coming into Canada are not eligible for Buy America, our Canadian dealers may add up to the lower overall cost. “
While the shuttle market is a natural fit for urban markets driving electrification, another area that Forest River is investigating for its potential is the EV market. âWe’re definitely talking about it internally,â says Wright, acknowledging that it may still be a bit further away than the buses.
âI think you’re going to see a wide acceptance of electric RVs, especially when you think of the environment and the outdoors,â he explains. âObviously in the RV market there is a lot more travel and longer distances. As the lineup continues to expand, which it sure will be, and the price continues to drop, I think over the next couple of years you’ll see more and more EVs. And I think Forest River will be at the forefront of that because it’s a priority for us.