President Joe Biden's favorite electric battery company got a major publicity boost on Thursday from his two most high-profile cabinet members, as Vice President Kamala Harris and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg stepped inside a Proterra bus and praised its features.
The pair's promotion of electric bus-maker Proterra came during a trip to Charlotte, N.C., to promote the administration's infrastructure spending, which includes money for localities to purchase Proterra's expensive electric buses. Harris showered the Proterra buses with praise, according to the pool reporters on the trip, calling them "very user-friendly" and marveling at how quietly the brakes work.
"The wheels on the bus go 'round and 'round," Harris said with a cackle from the driver's seat as Buttigieg looked on silently, according to the pool.
Overt praise for Proterra has become a pattern for the administration. Until this year, the company counted Biden's Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm as a major investor and board member. Biden has hawked Proterra's products, and administration events have featured the green energy company. Its investors have also gained the ear of top White House officials who crafted the infrastructure deal.
The praise from leading Democrats, however, hasn't been enough to boost the company's finances amid reports of poor performance by its buses in cities across the country. In Philadelphia, NPR reported that the city sidelined its expensive Proterra fleet due to structural defects and poor battery life. In Duluth, Minn., Proterra buses were taken off the road because the brakes couldn't handle the city's hills. "A software problem was causing them to roll back when accelerating uphill from a standstill," according to the Duluth Monitor.
Charlotte bought five Proterra buses in 2020 as part of its "sustainability" plan. But the buses do not run full routes through the city. Instead, they service the airport alone, perhaps saving the city from the problems the pricey electric buses have in other cities. Using a grant from Bloomberg Philanthropies and others, Charlotte contracted a different company, eTransEnergy, for electric buses to be used around the city.
Proterra's stock price has tumbled from its peak in January of about $29 a share to just over $10 a share at the close of the markets on Thursday.
Proterra did not respond to a request for comment about what role it played in arranging the North Carolina visit.