A slump in stock price and reports about Proterra's costly electric buses underperforming across the country have sent the Biden administration's favorite electric battery company into damage-control mode, retaining a top-flight defamation lawyer and inveighing against "partisan blogs" like the Washington Free Beacon and the taxpayer-funded NPR.
Proterra, the electric bus company linked to several Biden administration officials and top Democrats, has retained the services of high-profile attorney Erik Connolly, the company said. A Proterra spokesman said Connolly was hired to "address some recent false and defamatory publications about the company." Proterra also published a statement Monday night that sought to set the "record straight about mischaracterizations about our Company in recent partisan news blogs that are opposed to the widespread adoption of zero-emission vehicles."
It is unclear whether Proterra's reference to "partisan news blogs" refers to the taxpayer-funded NPR or the Free Beacon.
Proterra said that reports about its bus failures have been "twisted into an indictment of battery-electric technology," that the problems are limited to its "first-generation buses," and that its battery technology has never directly caused a fire.
The Free Beacon reported on Friday that Foothill Transit, a southern California transit agency, is considering doing away with several of its Proterra buses due to mechanical issues, including a January 2020 bus fire. The report followed an NPR investigation into Philadelphia's Proterra buses, which have been taken off the road due to performance issues.
"There has never been a fire on a customer bus related to our proprietary battery technology or powertrain," Proterra wrote in its statement.
The company's stock value has plummeted over 40 percent in the past month as Proterra's failures have garnered national headlines. The Biden administration has said it plans to support the company through its trillion-dollar infrastructure package, and both President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris have participated in public events showcasing Proterra buses. Biden energy secretary Jennifer Granholm is a former Proterra board member. Her stock holdings in the company, worth millions of dollars, were the subject of a Free Beacon report in April.
The details of the January 9, 2020, California Proterra bus fire remain murky. A spokeswoman for Foothill Transit initially told the Free Beacon that the bus caught fire while charging but said after publication that the fire wasn't a battery-related incident.
Richard Cordero, Foothill Transit's director of maintenance and vehicle technology, revealed during Friday's public meeting on the Proterra buses that the electric battery manufacturer itself was conducting the investigation into the cause of the fire.
"That bus was involved in a thermal event from the front section of the bus," Cordero said. "We haven't had any results from the investigation that was performed by Proterra's investigation team, [we are] still asking for the results of that."
The Proterra spokesman said that its technology had nothing to do with the fire and that Foothill Transit won't be receiving any additional information from Proterra.
"We have provided Foothill with all the information that it requested from us regarding the bus involved in the January 9, 2020 incident," the spokesman said. "The matter concerned third-party components located at the front of the bus. The fire did not involve Proterra's proprietary battery system or powertrain. The fire did not involve charging. The bus was not charging when the fire occurred."
Proterra boasts that its over 500 vehicles have traveled a cumulative 14 million miles. That equates to approximately just 29,000 miles per bus. A typical car lasts 200,000 miles, and diesel buses last approximately 250,000 miles.
While the company denied any responsibility for the fire, it did not address the other problems Foothill Transit experienced—the agency's public report indicates that the buses were melting in the California sun and that many remain on the shelf because Proterra has failed to provide replacement parts—or the problems that led Philadelphia to abandon its product. There, the city says there isn't enough battery power to get buses through even the city's easiest routes and that the weight of the Proterra batteries are cracking the bus structure.