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Pangea’s profile grows globally

Clark County maker of electric vehicles attracts attention of political leaders

By , Columbian Business Editor
Published: July 16, 2015, 12:00am
3 Photos
Chandra Brown, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Manufacturing at the U.S. Department of Commerce, presented Vancouver-based electric vehicle manufacturer Pangea Motors with an "Export Achievement Award" on Monday. Company CEO Ken Montler received the award. The small Vancouver company has established a foothold in Manila and is looking for expansion in other major cities and at U.S. military bases, among other markets.       (Gordon Oliver/The Columbian)
Chandra Brown, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Manufacturing at the U.S. Department of Commerce, presented Vancouver-based electric vehicle manufacturer Pangea Motors with an "Export Achievement Award" on Monday. Company CEO Ken Montler received the award. The small Vancouver company has established a foothold in Manila and is looking for expansion in other major cities and at U.S. military bases, among other markets. (Gordon Oliver/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

Few Clark County companies have ambitions as large as those of Pangea Motors, an electric vehicle maker with just 11 U.S. employees that aims to transform public transportation in the world’s most chaotic cities.

Despite the company’s small size, Pangea’s grand vision has attracted the attention of political leaders in developed countries on several continents. It operates 15 of its 21-passenger buses in the Philippines capital of Manila, where public transportation is dominated by pollution-heavy vehicles called Jeepneys, and an assembly plant in Manila is expected to produce hundreds more. Pangea has signed an agreement to build an assembly plant in Ethiopia, where officials ambitiously hope that the company will eventually build 10,000 of its vehicles. In addition to other promising prospects around the globe, Pangea aims to generate half its sales in the United States. Its vehicles that would be used in such places as military bases, airports, college campuses and planned communities.

Pangea so far has won more than a few believers in high places. It scored a public relations coup last April when President Barack Obama climbed aboard one of the company’s Comet mini-buses during his visit to the Philippines. Pangea made sure that a photo of Obama on the Comet was on prominent display at its west Vancouver headquarters on Monday when CEO Ken Montler played host to government officials including U.S. Commerce Department official Chandra Brown, who was in town to present an “Export Achievement Award” to Pangea.

Brown, deputy assistant secretary for manufacturing at the U.S. Department of Commerce and the former CEO of the Oregon Iron Works subsidiary United Streetcar LLC, said her visit to Pangea was one of the highlights of her West Coast swing. “As an ex-electric streetcar builder, I’m absolutely thrilled by your success,” Brown told Montler.

In one sign of the company’s attention-getting success, Brown was joined Tuesday by staff members from the offices of Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, Rep. Jaime Herrera-Buetler and Gov. Jay Inslee. The visitors were treated to a ride to Fort Vancouver on a Comet that was still being assembled as the visitors arrived. The bus and its passengers took a quick tour to the Fort Vancouver National Site.

Pangea’s most immediate need, Montler said, is to establish a manufacturing base in the United States, where components of the Comet vehicles would be partly assembled and shipped overseas for final assembly. He hopes to build that site in Clark County, and is in the process of trying to secure $15 million in investments to pay for construction. Montler said the local operation in three years could employ 300 workers.

“We believe we can be the Ikea of electric cars,” he said. The company’s plans for vehicle assembly “will allow us to move systems around the world.”

But that’s not all. Pangea and its partner, GET, or Global Electric Transport, have established a structure of working with local business partners to build multiple revenue streams. The buses have onboard video terminals that display advertising, adaptable to the demographics of a route’s passengers and the time of service. The partners also will earn revenue from bus ads on the side of the COMET vehicles, as well as from passenger revenues and the sale of debit-type cards.

It it all comes together, the company can achieve its grand ambition of playing a pivotal role in transforming chaotic, polluting and dangerous public transportation services in some of the world’s most impoverished and congested cities. It makes a strong pitch that its buses and related operational services would not only improve transportation, public health, and safety, but also significantly reduce pollutants that contribute to global warming.

At the Monday presentation to Brown and other officials, Montler acknowledged the company has learned difficult lessons about overseas manufacturing challenges and countless technical, cultural and political issues. We have a few arrows in our back,” Montler said. But hard lessons haven’t undermined the soundness of the basic business model, he said.

“It’s been a rough road,” Montler acknowledged. “But it’s a model that works.”

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