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Electric bus maker Proterra files for bankruptcy

A 40-foot electric transit bus made by Proterra, courtesy of Proterra.

Proterra, which makes electric buses, chargers and power systems, has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

Why it matters: The nearly 20-year-old company was an early electric vehicle startup success story, but struggled in recent years in the face of public market headwinds and competition from Chinese EV bus makers.

Driving the news: Proterra filed for bankruptcy in District of Delaware bankruptcy court on Monday, listing total assets of $818.77 million and total debts of $609.50 million.

  • A list of creditors with the largest unsecured claims include Korean battery maker LG Energy Solution, truck makers Nikola and Volta Trucks, and transit agencies and cities (which bought Proterra's transit buses), including Miami-Dade County, the Canadian city of Edmonton, Idaho's Valley Regional Transit, the Los Angeles Department of Transportation, the Chicago Transit Authority and others.
  • A list of some of the largest equity security holders includes Kleiner Perkins, BMW iVentures, Daimler Trucks and G2VP.
  • Proterra released a statement saying it's "exploring a recapitalization or sale of our product lines through Chapter 11, in an effort to strengthen our financial position."
  • Shares in the company's stock, which is listed on the Nasdaq, dropped more than 63% in after-hours trading on Monday and traded at 25 cents Tuesday morning.

Catch up quick: Proterra, based in Burlingame, Calif., went public via a SPAC with ArcLight in June 2021, in a deal that was once valued at $1.6 billion.

  • The company's shares soon sank after its debut, following the overall stock slump and reflecting a particularly cool reception for unprofitable public companies in 2022.
  • Before Proterra went public it was funded by hundreds of millions of dollars from venture capitalists and investors.
  • Investors that have been involved in Proterra rounds at various stages include Kleiner Perkins, G2VP, GM Ventures, Edison Energy, Tao Invest, Mitsui Global Investment, Constellation Energy, Franklin Templeton, BMW i Ventures, Daimler, SE Ventures, Soros Fund Management, Energy Impact Partners, Chamath Palihapitiya, Fidelity Investments, and BlackRock.

Of note: Department of Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm used to be a Proterra board member, but resigned before becoming secretary. She sold all of her Proterra holdings in May 2021 with a net capital gain of $1.6 million.

Zoom in: Proterra's core business has always been challenging.

  • In its early days it largely sold electric transit buses, and that still remained the majority of its business according to its last quarterly report. Transit agencies in the U.S. are slow-moving and conservative and heavily reliant on government grants.
  • In later years Proterra began selling electric drivetrains, battery technology and charging infrastructure.
  • The company's electric buses were relatively high-end and expensive compared to offerings like Chinese electric bus giant BYD.

What's next: We'll be watching to see if the company can find a buyer of its product lines or investors that are looking to recapitalize it.

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