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LaHood praises innovation at SC electric bus plant

Associated Press Modified: January 27, 2011 at 5:03 pm •  Published: January 27, 2011
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GREENVILLE, S.C. (AP) — U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood on Thursday praised an electric bus manufacturer in South Carolina as a shining example of the innovative businesses President Barack Obama trumpeted in his most recent national address.

"This is the touchstone example of what President Obama talked about in his State of the Union Tuesday night," LaHood told workers at Proterra LLC's Greenville facility. "This can be a model for the rest of the country."

The Golden, Colo.-based company makes hybrid and battery-powered buses for mass transit. The first bus rolled off the facility's temporary line last month, and officials expect Proterra to start work on its new South Carolina assembly plant in the spring.

During his address Tuesday, Obama called for investing in biomedical research, information technology and clean energy technology. Among his goals are having 1 million electric vehicles on the road by 2015 and 80 percent of U.S. electricity from clean energy sources, including nuclear and clean coal as well as solar and wind.

"We are the nation that put cars in driveways and computers in offices, the nation of Edison and the Wright brothers, of Google and Facebook," Obama said. "In America, innovation doesn't just change our lives. It's how we make a living."

With investment in companies with similar goals to Proterra, LaHood — who is traveling with Federal Transit Administrator Peter Rogoff — said the president's goals are within sight.

"You are going to be the backbone of what makes Proterra a success story," LaHood told the plant's 130 workers. "I came here to really congratulate all of you."

LaHood toured the warehouse that is serving as Proterra's temporary manufacturing facility while its permanent plant is under construction. The new plant at Clemson University's International Center for Automotive Research campus will eventually employee more than 1,000 workers and be able to produce 1,500 electric buses a year, Proterra CEO Jeff Granato said.

"That seems to be a very good return on government investment," Granato said. Proterra received a $6.5 million research grant from DOT's Federal Transit Administration.

Also Thursday, LaHood rode on one of Proterra's completed electric buses, watched as workers installed flooring in the body of a nearly completed bus and met with students studying at CU-ICAR.

Transportation officials said the secretary is planning to make stops at similar businesses around the country.