Osceola-based Envirotech moving into school bus business

by Steve Brawner ([email protected]) 1,129 views 

Envirotech Vehicles’ first five electric school buses are in final assembly and are expected to be produced by the end of this year or in the next quarter, said Executive Vice President Sue Emry.

The Osceola-based electric vehicle producer should be able to deliver the buses by the third quarter of next year.

The facility is assembling the buses from parts produced elsewhere. Its plant is being renovated so that it eventually will be able to fully manufacture the vehicles. It is hoping to use local steel.

The expansion of the company’s school bus business will come with help from the federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which was passed into law last year. It is granting $5 billion over the next five years to replace existing school buses with electric, zero-emission, and low-emission vehicles.

In October, four Arkansas school districts were announced as recipients of $4.255 million in rebates from the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean School Bus Program that will fund the purchase of 11 school buses. Alpena received $1.58 million; Blytheville received $1.185 million; Danville received $1.095 million; and Wonderview received $395,000. Emry said she is working with the Blytheville School District and the city’s mayor to ensure the city can handle the influx and to help identify ways to install the infrastructure.

Emry said the program is shifting from a rebate to a grant program, with cities required to submit master plans. Envirotech will provide a a project manager and grant writer to school districts that apply for grants. Emry said Arkansas schools will be a priority.

“While the schools can get up to 25 buses, it doesn’t mean that’s the best thing for the school district,” she said. “Can the city handle it? Can the grid handle it? Can they charge them? Do they even need that kind of fleet? So for us, it’s a holistic approach that we’re doing with the customers on our side for the electric school bus.”

The company announced in February that it was moving to Osceola from California with an initial investment of $80 million within five years. It is operating from a 580,000-square-foot former Fruit of the Loom building on 90 acres. It celebrated its first vehicle being assembled in April. In July, it announced that it had entered into a $27 million agreement with the Arkansas Economic Development Commission. The company started trading under the “EVTV” symbol on the NASDAQ exchange on July 6.

The company currently has about 30 employees in Osceola, but that number will grow. By the time it is doing full manufacturing in less than five years, it expects to have 850 direct employees. It’s in talks with foreign partners to export products overseas.

Emry said the company moved to Osceola because the building was available for manufacturing, because it is less than a mile from the Mississippi River port with rail access, and because it has access to the interstate and is centrally located.

“It was shocking to me when we were looking for a state to do our manufacturing in, that Arkansas was one of the only states that did not have a vehicle manufacturer, but you guys have everything to make a vehicle,” she said.

The company also manufactures Class 3-6 last-mile delivery vehicles like those operated by Amazon and the United States Postal Service. It shipped 20 Class 4 units in the second quarter. Third quarter numbers are still at the auditor’s office, but Emry said it will be almost double that amount.

The vehicles are similar to Mercedes Sprinter vans, but they have dual axles so they can handle twice the payload. Many of them have gone to California and New Jersey and been paid for under those states’ voucher programs. Customers have included plumbers, solar installers and a New Jersey public library, which will use the van to deliver books. Envirotech this last quarter shipped the first all-electric prison passenger van manufactured in the United States to the Cobb County Sheriff’s Department in Georgia.

It also produced what it believes is the first right-hand-drive, all-electric vehicle in the United States. Emry said such products could be common among package deliverers for safety and efficiency reasons.