Saint-Jérome, Quebec — Lion Electric Co. is a small, Que-based electric school bus manufacturer that is making waves in the electric auto-sphere.
Chief executive Marc Bedard spent the last eight years working with EVs before moving onto electric trucks.
Bedard was worried he was being too ambitious promising the production of EV trucks in just two years, however, he still made the announced at Atlanta’s 2018 Auto Show and by surprise, landed two marquee clients.
“The spotlights are on us,” he said. “A lot of fleets didn’t know Lion existed and now they know and understand we’ve been here for a lot of years.”
Over the next 18 months, he learned that Amazon Inc. was listening and interested in his ideas. Lion welcomed Amazon to its factory, located in a suburban town with a population that’s 1/13th of the size of Amazons total workforce, for multiple drive testes and inspections from Amazon mechanics.
No contract had been secured yet, however, Bedard wasn’t worried since Amazon kept coming back with more questions, which made him feel closer to landing their business.
In mid-September, Lion Electric announced it had secured a contract to provide Amazon with 10 battery-powered trucks to be used for shipments between fulfillment centres. And just two weeks earlier, Lion had secured the largest contract in company history with a Canadian National Railway Co. order for 50 Class 8 electric trucks. That CN deal was worth more than 20 million, Bedard said.
As of now, these partnerships have already led to several inquires from leading Canadian and American companies.
Lion Electric was founded by Bedard under a different name—Lion Bus—in 2008 when the goal was to be a school bus manufacturer. With the unique industry only producing 45,000 unites per year, Lion would face hard competition from Georgia-based Blue Bird Corp. and Thomas Built Buses Inc., In North Carolina.
But Bedard took on the challenge and his first models were diesel powered, but then he oversaw the creation of a line of buses that were wider than usual so they could accommodate seatbelts without losing passenger space. The buses also incorporated plastics and fibreglass into the exterior so they wouldn’t corrode as easily in Northern Canada.
The diesel buses hit the market three years later in 2011, with Bedard knowing full well that this model wasn’t where the company’s future lay. By then, he had already decided to focus on building electric vehicles going forward.
“We looked at compressed natural gas, liquefied natural gas, hydrogen, propane and electric … and at the end of 2010 we said the future of Lion is electric because the future of society is electric,” he said.
The LionC school bus debuted in 2015. The bus, still one of the company’s most popular products, ran on a combination of LG Chem Ltd.’s lithium-ion batteries and a TM4 SUMO MD motor, which allowed it to travel up to 250 kilometres before requiring a charge