California EV industry gets $467 million in venture funding

By December 8, 2011News

That is 69% of the global total of electric-vehicle venture capital investment, according to a new study. The money is driving innovation and jobs.

By Jerry Hirsch, Los Angeles Times
California is fast becoming a global center for electric-vehicle innovation and jobs.

Businesses in the state collected $467 million in electric-vehicle venture capital investment during the first half of this year, or 69% of the global total, according to a study by Next 10, a nonprofit founded by Silicon Valley venture capitalist F. Noel Perry.

California also is now tied with Michigan, the traditional center of the U.S. auto industry, in the number of patents filed for electric-vehicle technology. Both states generated 300 such patents from 2008 to 2010.

Globally, California trails only Japan and South Korea in electric-vehicle patents and leads other nations, including Germany, Taiwan and France, Perry said.

Employment also is taking off. Tesla Motors Inc. has hired 300 workers in California this year, bringing its nationwide workforce to about 1,400. It plans to double its employment next year, with most of the jobs coming to an auto factory in Fremont, Calif., that it is refurbishing to launch production of its Model S electric sedan in 2012.

“We have a huge hiring plan for next year,” said Arnnon Geshuri, Tesla’s vice president of human resources.

Tesla’s growth is starting to trickle to vendors and contractors. Geshuri said Tesla is busy upgrading and building office space at the Fremont factory.

“That means we will need more carpet, tables and desks, and that has an economic effect on the trade groups that provide those services,” he said.

Other companies, from small electric drive manufacturers to businesses that install electric-vehicle charging stations at businesses and in homes also are growing rapidly, with many having doubled their workforces or grown even faster this year.

The growth is important because it is one of the few areas of expansion in a struggling state economy, said Tracey Grose, a vice president of collaborative economics who prepared Next 10’s report.

To be sure, the venture capital being spent in California represents just a fraction of what the auto industry is putting into electric and hybrid vehicle technology. Nissan, for example, is spending $1.7 billion at its complex in Smyrna, Tenn., on a new factory to build battery packs and to retool an existing plant to manufacture its electric Leaf sedan.

And the industry is not without its setbacks; last week electric-vehicle start-up Aptera Motors in Carlsbad, Calif., shut its doors, putting its staff of 30 out of work after running out of funds.

But “venture capital and patents give us a look into innovation and are a leading indicator of emerging industries,” Grose said.

California’s status as the nation’s biggest auto market — and electric-vehicle market — and a tech-savvy population of early adopters have made the state a friendly environment for companies investing in electric-drive technology, said Jordan Ramer, chief executive of EV Connect, a Culver City company that installs public and home charging stations.

“It is the natural place for new EV manufacturers,” he said. “The market is here.”

EV Connect has hired 15 workers at its headquarters this year, including customer service representatives and technicians, more than doubling its employment. The company also has signed up 300 contract electricians nationwide to do installations.

Coda Automotive Inc., a Los Angeles start-up that is developing electric vehicles and battery technology, has hired about 225 workers in California this year. Additionally, it has contracted with an Amports facility in Benicia, Calif., to install electric drive trains into the sedans Coda is importing from China and complete their assembly.

And Fisker Automotive Inc. has more than 600 full-time workers and contract staff at its Anaheim headquarters now — up from fewer than 150 at the beginning of the year. It is just bringing to market the Fisker Karma hybrid, a 400-horsepower luxury sedan.

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