If you’re planning to roll out a hybrid or electric fleet vehicle technology in China, it’s nice to have the government on board. That’s what powertrain developer Adura Systems (not to be confused with lighting management company Adura Technologies) has found. Two-year-old Adura — a self-described “stealth mode” startup until today — has pulled back the curtains on its ambitious plans to sell modular series hybrid powertrains for buses in China, and eventually license the technology to major automakers for cars and trucks on the U.S. market.
When I met with Adura founder and CEO Marv Bush recently, he said the basic scheme is to focus on powertrain sales in China — a rising player in the race to develop affordable alt-fuel vehicles — for the first year or so. The startup aims to build up a “large sustainable revenue stream” there with a nudge from the China Automotive Technology & Research Center, the country’s chief technical analysis group for vehicle technology and a go-between for industry and government (it sets standards for the industry and serves as a think tank for some government agencies). Adura announced a partnership — the startup is selectively stealthy — with the group at the beginning of last year, and in our meeting Bush likened the group to the U.S. Department of Transportation — with a big difference. Since it’s “not democratic,” Bush said, it can make decisions — and choose winners — much faster.
Why choose Adura? Modularity, relatively low cost and scalability seem to be the company’s key promises — although whether it can deliver in large-scale production (a big hurdle for many cleantech startups) remains to be seen. Bush said fleet operators will be able to tailor the all-electric range of buses using Adura’s powertrains on a daily basis by swapping out different kinds of batteries (the design is “chemistry agnostic”). And as battery technology advances, investments in Adura tech — $155,000 per powertrain — won’t go down the drain, Bush said, because they can adapt to the best or cheapest tech at the time. For fleets with different kinds of vehicles — buses, trucks and cars — Adura’s same basic design can theoretically be scaled up or down.
Bush also claims buses with Adura powertrains will have minimal maintenance costs because they have only two moving parts. They have a microturbine generator, rather than a diesel one (used in most of the hybrid buses on the road today), which according to Bush can have hundreds of thousands of moving parts.
Adura has won over CATARC, but its ambitions for the U.S. remain distant at this stage. After about a year, Bush said the company will begin looking at the U.S. market. He sees the Chinese bus market as a good runway in part because “the opportunity is very large and our competition is very small.” But that’s not as true in the U.S., where the hybrid bus market is now dominated by General Motors, Allison Transmission, British Aerospace Engineering Systems and ISE Corp., according to the Union of Concerned Scientists’ HybridCenter.org. After 5-6 years, he thinks Adura will be ready to focus more on IP licensing — convincing companies to drop the now-standard systems-integration approach and start building vehicles with the complete Adura system instead.
Adura pulled in an undisclosed amount of investment from wind developer New Frontier Renewable Energy just over a year ago, and according to spokesperson Eileen Elam, it has enough to “carry it forward the next few years,” although it will likely apply for funding under the U.S. stimulus package. Makes sense — because hey, if you’re aiming for world domination, having the government in your corner (or at least its money in your pocket) can’t hurt.