Six hundred new jobs and $480 million.
In vehicle manufacturing.
In metro Detroit.
That’s the number of new jobs and the revenue projection by Fisher Coachworks L.L.C., a new company that’s developing a 40-foot ultralightweight hybrid bus designed for urban use, which boasts twice the fuel efficiency of current hybrids.
Fisher, which has its first prototype nearly complete, is searching for a 50,000-square-foot production building in the area and is awaiting the results of a request for a $6 million loan from Michigan’s 21st Century Jobs Fund. It currently has offices in Troy.
The company, which is introducing the bus to media today, wants to begin production by next summer. It has $6 million in hand from a U.S. Department of Energy grant and private investment. The loan is part of the $10 million Fisher needs to begin production, and a decision on it is expected Oct. 8.
“We hope to build the vehicle in Michigan,” said CEO Greg Fisher.
That hinges on funding and finding a site. California and Tennessee also are interested in landing the project, said Bruce Emmons, president of Rochester Hills-based engineering firm Autokinetics Inc., where four prototype buses are being built. They declined to offer details on the out-of-state interest.
Fisher predicts it will garner $480 million in revenue by its seventh year if it reaches 15 percent market share for hybrid buses, according to information the company provided at the recent Michigan Growth Capital Symposium.
The company is the brainchild of Greg Fisher, whose family name can attract interest. He’s the grandson of Fisher Body Co. co-founder Albert Fisher, who along with his brothers ran the car body company whose iconic coach symbol was stamped on General Motors Corp. vehicles for most of the 20th century. Fisher later became a GM division.
Now, that insignia will adorn the sleek silver buses.
“We’re essentially getting the band back together after 100 years,” Fisher said in jest. He’s also president of Troy-based Fisher/Unitech Inc., which specializes in improving production for manufacturers. Autokinetics, which first began work on the hybrid bus seven years ago, was one of Fisher’s clients.
At the heart of the new enterprise is the Fisher GTB-40 bus. Because it uses a lightweight nitrogen-strengthened stainless steel unibody and has no traditional engine for propulsion — it relies on Swiss-made batteries to drive motors for each wheel — the buses are half the weight of other hybrids and diesel models and get twice the mileage.
A small diesel engine is used to power a generator that keeps the batteries charged longer. Energy from the brakes is captured for reuse.
“It’s really a different mousetrap, a different widget,” Fisher said.
The buses are estimated in simulations to get 10 miles per gallon versus the 4 to 5 mpg for hybrid buses on the road today, resulting in a projected savings of $2.5 million in fuel costs over the typical 12-year lifespan of a bus. That savings is despite a $550,000 per-unit price tag compared with today’s hybrids that cost about $200,000 less.
The savings because of green technology has transit authorities interested. So far, the company has talked to 10 public bus agencies, including Detroit, Ann Arbor, Lansing and Grand Rapids.
Posted by Erin Rose at 5:31 PM