“Gas or diesel” — that is the question, or rather was the question that many have been asking since the end of the trolley car era. With the shift from electric rail to personal vehicles, investors followed the lead of auto manufacturers and began investing in big oil companies that would power the cars and buses transporting the public.
Now as cities are increasingly looking to become more green, the allure of low-carbon or carbon free transit alternatives is becoming more intriguing. Cities such as Vancouver are in the midst of a major green shift and others are feeling the pressure to follow along. So let’s take a look at the two Canadian companies leading the charge.
Now I know that the aviation division of Bombardier (TSX: BBD.B) has hampered the company in the past year, but the electric transit technology coming out of is too fascinating to overlook. Bombardier has just launched its first real world beta test of its PRIMOVE eMobility solution.
Rather than using cumbersome overhead cables to power electric buses, this new system can wirelessly charge buses. It is done through a process called wireless induction. It’s a technology that would make Nikola Tesla proud as it is able to charge a bus wirelessly through charging pads under the road at each bus stop.
The beta test in Braunschweig, Germany, is already under way with one bus currently carrying passengers, and with four more coming online in October. Back home, the second round of testing is scheduled for Montreal next winter. If this technology is successful it could be expanded to accommodate passenger vehicles, light trucks, and even trolley style light rail. Provinces such as BC and Manitoba that are powered through their hydroelectric capabilities could see this type of investment as a major green play.
Success of the PRIMOVE technology would wonders for Bombardier, by giving it a unique market play while its aviation division is still pulling out of a nose dive. The company could use some good news, as its stock has been a rough spot since bottoming out in February.
New Flyer Industries
Speaking of Manitoba, Winnipeg-based New Flyer Industries (TSX: NFI) is also a growing part of green transit, offering both natural gas (CNG) and electric powered buses. While diesel remains a major part of New Flyer’s revenues, demand for alternative fuels is growing. This is evident thanks to a 180 CNG bus order from BC’s Translink. The transit authority responsible for Metro Vancouver and the lower mainland already has 50 CNG and 262 electric buses in its fleet along with 1,340 diesel counterparts.
BC is undergoing a major cultural shift to natural gas and Translink expects the save 50% per bus on fuel expenses. That’s an important factor as CNG buses cost around $75,000 more than its diesel predecessor, priced at $410,000. New Flyer has had a long history with Translink supplying over 1,100 buses since 1991. With the Vancouver 2020 green initiative and provincial promises of a great natural gas powered future more orders could be on the horizon.
Over in New Flyers’ backyard, the City of Winnipeg has ordered five of the first-ever, made in Manitoba electric buses. These new buses are collaboration between New Flyer, Manitoba Hydro, Mitsubishi and Red River College. The new buses will be able to fully charge in 20 minutes, or reclaim one hour’s worth of power in four minutes. Though not as impressive as Bombardier’s wireless technology, it will use a bar and connector on select stops to recharge.
New Flyer’s stock has remained rather stable in the past year with a 52-week range of $9.58 to $11.99, closing Tuesday at $11.69.
Don’t look too far from home for tech winners
For investors looking for interesting tech plays, some of the brightest ideas can be hiding right here at home. The opportunity to take advantage of new or improved technologies becomes less risky when the tech can be timed with a change in culture.
For major cities like Vancouver, this technology can help it achieve its green goals. Or for other cities like Winnipeg, it can be a way to distract people from the fact that you just built a 33,000-seat stadium with only 5,000 parking spots, forcing everyone to take the shiny new electric bus.
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Fool contributor Cameron Conway does not own any shares in the companies mentioned.