Lightning eMotors, Forest River strike $850M electric shuttle deal

Lightning eMotors and Forest River Inc. have announced plans to enter into a strategic partnership agreement to manufacture up to 7,500 zero-emission shuttle buses.

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 4½ years. 

Lightning eMotors will manufacture the zero-emission-vehicle (ZEV) powertrain systems at its 231,000-square-foot facility in Loveland, Colorado, and ship the powertrains to Forest River’s factory in Goshen, Indiana, for final assembly of the Class 4 and Class 5 all-electric passenger buses. 

EV shuttle contract

Forest River is the leading shuttle bus market leader in North America, with eight manufacturing buildings and more than 500,000 square feet of production space. The Elkhart, Indiana-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 a statement.

He noted that Forest River’s family of shuttle bus companies — including top name brands like Starcraft, Glaval, and Champion — maintain a dominant market position, selling more than 10,000 units per year in the Class 4 to 6 shuttle-bus space. 

Class 4 and Class 5 shuttle buses

“Forest River’s sales volumes allow us to provide a price point to their dealers and customers that results in a very compelling ROI (return on investment). We believe this commitment from the largest shuttle bus manufacturer in the U.S. demonstrates that they believe that commercial vehicle customers are now demanding Lightning eMotors’ zero-emission vehicles over ICE (internal combustion engine) vehicles,” Reeser said. 

The vehicles that Forest River and Lightning eMotors will co-produce are Class 4 and Class 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 configurations will have between 12 and 33 passenger seats with ADA options available, and bus lengths of 20 to 34 feet. 

Advanced features

Other features include a modern digital-dash display, hill-hold functionality for safety, advanced telematics and analytics, and a mobile app for drivers and fleet managers. All vehicles will be compliant with the Federal Transit Administration’s “Buy America” requirements 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. 

Wright added that he was impressed after visiting the company’s manufacturing facility in Colorado, driving its vehicles, and talking to its 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,” Wright said. 

Important partnership

Kash Sethi, chief revenue officer of Lightning eMotors, said that the partnership between the publicly traded 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. 

But 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. 

Improved availability

He said, with this deal, Forest River is demonstrating it will continue being the leader in the commercial bus market by offering sustainable zero-emission buses as part of its core product portfolio. 

“We believe that will greatly improve the availability of premium-quality, cost-effective electric buses. We look forward to working with Forest River, and their dealer network, in leading the industry through this transformation,” Sethi said. 

Forest River’s 100-plus bus dealership locations throughout the United States and Canada will have the opportunity to sell and service these vehicles. Manufacturing of Forest River Lightning EV shuttles has already begun, 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.


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