Riverside may be on the verge of getting an all-electric vehicle company to come to the city.
City officials are negotiating with Ohmio Automotion Ltd. in Auckland, New Zealand, to establish that company’s international headquarters in Riverside, according to a statement released by the city earlier this month.
During its Sept. 5th meeting, the city council voted 6-1 to pursue an agreement with Ohmio that will make Riverside home to the only independent manufacturing facility in the United States that makes all-electric shuttles.
Councilwoman Clarissa Cervantes cast the dissenting vote.
The vehicles would be autonomous, meaning no drivers, but all would be accompanied by “safety drivers” in case of a malfunction or an emergency.
Riverside would use three of the shuttles in a two-year pilot program, at a cost of $1.5 million to the city. No routes have been determined, but “areas of interest” for the try-out include the six-mile “Innovation Corridor” that runs along University Avenue between downtown and UC Riverside.
Those vehicles would serve multiple purposes in Riverside, starting with enhancing the city’s public transit system, said Mayor pro tem Erin Edwards.
“Autonomous vehicles show great promise in augmenting our transit systems by plugging the ‘last mile’ hole that sometimes exists between an existing transit option and a person’s final destination,” Edwards said in the statement, which was released the day after the council’s vote.“These vehicles can be the key to experiencing our city by bus, bicycle, or on foot.”
Ohmio [pronounced oh-me-oh] would spend more than $10 million establishing a manufacturing, sales, research, and development facility in Riverside, according to the proposed agreement.
That figure would include buying equipment, hiring workers, and establishing a supply chain setting up the supply chain.
Ohmio has already invested more than $28 million in researching and developing the Ohmio LIFT vehicle, its flagship product. The research done on that would help start the Riverside facility, according to the agreement.
In June. Ohmio completed a pilot program at JFK International Airport in New York. The company has also been selected by the San Bernardino County Transportation Authority to provide shuttles for Ontario International Airport’s 4.2-mile tunnel project, which will run from the Cucamonga Metrolink Station to the airport.
That project, which will cost about $500 million, is expected to begin operating in the fall of 2027.
Ohmio’s shuttles are used in New Zealand, Australia, South Korea, Luxembourg, and New York. The company is also preparing to start operations in the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, and Finland.
Ohmio is looking at a 40,000-square-foot building on Mount Vernon Avenue in the Hunter Park industrial project as a possible headquarters site. That building would be used for research and development and vehicle tests, among other departments.
Ohmio would also make Riverside its point of sale, which could provide Riverside with up to $1.3 million a year in sales tax revenue. That figure, figure is based on a shuttle bus selling for $300,000, its current average price, according to the proposal.
The facility is expected to begin production next spring. It will start with seven to 10 workers, expand to 25 or 30 within a few years, and grow from there, said Jorge Barrera, Riverside’s economic development manager.
“The job count could go a lot higher,” Barrera said. “We expect it to scale up pretty quickly because there’s a large market for what they’re producing.”
Most of those will be clean, high-tech positions that Ohmio will try to fill locally, according to a staff report.
For several reasons, Riverside is an ideal place for Ohmio to establish its primary base of operations, according to Mohammed Hikmet, the company’s chief executive officer.
“Very few companies anywhere in the world do what we do,” Hikmet told the council. “We don’t [only] bring manufacturing, we bring research facilities and job opportunities. What we will build is a hub for technology partnerships.”
Besides being close to Ontario International Airport, Ohmio will be within a few miles of the Southern headquarters of the California Air Resources Board, which moved to Riverside two years ago. Better known as CARB, the board is responsible for fighting climate change and reducing the negative effects of air pollution.
Ohmio will also be close to UC Riverside and its Center for Environmental Research and Technology [CE-CERT), along with California Baptist University, La Sierra University, and the Riverside Community College District.
“This is a great opportunity, being so close to the universities,” Hikmet said. “We already have research and development programs that we’re going to do with them.”
The agreement calls for Ohmio to compliment – and not upstate or replace – any of Riverside’s current public transportation, but one longtime volunteer with the Riverside Transit Agency says she’s skeptical of that arrangement.
“I see this as a direct confrontation on what RTA already does,” Chavez told the council. “I love technology, like everybody else, but it’s a matter of loyalty. I believe there should be some loyalty to the systems we already have.
“If you’re doing this for the money, I wouldn’t start it up.”
But Ohmio is offering Riverside too much for the city to pass up, according to Councilman Steve Hemenway.
“This checks so many boxes for the city,” Hemenway said. “We can get synergy with CARB and [UC Riverside], and it will also put us out ahead on innovation. We are taking some risks, but this is a pilot program that will tell us whether Ohmio can be something amazing for the city, and I think It can.”