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News / Business

Pangea seeks presence in Ethiopia

CEO's trip to promote electric bus coincides with President Obama's visit

By Gordon Oliver, Columbian Business Editor
Published: July 26, 2015, 5:00pm

Last week, Pangea Motors invited local politicians and business leaders for a spin in its innovative electric bus that it hopes will become a common sight in some of the world’s largest and most crowded cities.

This week, the Vancouver company’s CEO, Ken Montler, is back in Ethiopia marketing its newly renamed World Bus on a trip that overlaps with President Barack Obama’s travels to the African nation. There, he attended a Monday trade luncheon in Addis Ababa with about nine U.S. Senate and House members who are traveling with Obama on his visit to Africa. Montler was to attend President Obama’s address to the African Union today.

So it goes these days for the tiny 11-person company with the outsized ambition of transforming urban public transportation in congested cities worldwide.

Montler last year met Obama in The Philippines, where the U.S. president boarded a Pangea bus that was headed to the streets of Manila, the nation’s heavily congested and polluted capital city. And he’s previously met with the president of Ethiopia, who is interested in putting Pangea’s electric buses to work in Addis Ababa.

The company’s business model is based on building and selling buses, as well as video programming and commercial messages on an onboard video monitor and advertising on the vehicles. It expects to sell domestically for military bases and other uses that could include parks, planned developments, and college campuses.

Earlier this month, a top U.S. Commerce Department official visited Pangea to recognize the company with an”Export Achievement Award. Chandra Brown, the department’s deputy assistant secretary for manufacturing, promised assistance in the company’s “international endeavors.”

Pangea is nothing if not nimble. Montler promoted the company’s 16-passenger electric bus just this month as a Comet vehicle. But last week, the name had been changed to World Bus, although he said the bus could be branded by different names in the various nations where it operates. The name Comet “didn’t always translate well,” he said.

The company’s manufacturing plan calls for partial assembly of the buses in the U.S., with components put together at sites near the buses’ destination cities. The initial assembly is where Vancouver comes in.

Earlier this month, Montler said he is trying to secure $15 million in investments to pay for construction of a local manufacturing plant that in three years could employ 300 workers. The buses would be partially assembled here, and the parts shipped to destination cities for final assembly.

Those job prospects were enough to attract Vancouver Mayor Tim Leavitt, as well as city council members Bart Hansen, Larry Smith, and Bill Turlay, for a recent spin around Esther Short Park with other invited guests from the Columbia River Economic Development Council and other business organizations.

Montler said he wants the U.S factory to be built in Vancouver, where it could be a hub for a cluster of electric vehicle designers, builders, and suppliers.

“So, I think, for Vancouver, this is not just bringing in a new manufacturing plant, this is bringing in an industry,” he said.

Ariane Kunze of The Columbian contributed to this story.

Columbian Business Editor