The City Council voted 6-1 on Tuesday to pursue an agreement to bring a New Zealand-based manufacturer of autonomous electric vehicles to Riverside.
The intention is for Ohmio, which recently completed a pilot program at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport, to set up its international headquarters in Riverside and manufacture autonomous EVs.
“The facility would be the only autonomous shuttle advanced manufacturer in the United States,” Riverside officials said in a statement.
A possible framework for the deal “involves the city spending as much as $2.5 million to bring Ohmio to Riverside, which includes about $1.5 million to lease or purchase three autonomous shuttles for testing on Riverside streets,” officials said. “All-electric autonomous shuttles sell for roughly $300,000, which would generate $26,250 in sales taxes to the City for each vehicle.”
Ohmio has its eye on a 40,000-square-foot facility on Mount Vernon Avenue in the Hunter Park industrial area, officials said, adding that the company “also would bring its research and development function to the city, test vehicles here and designate Riverside as its point of sale, which would direct future sales taxes to the city.”
The Hunter Park facility is four miles from the Southern California headquarters of the California Air Resources Board, which relocated to Riverside in 2021 and Riverside officials expect will lead to the establishment of additional businesses focused on vehicle-related research and development.
City officials also pointed out that Ohmio also likely would benefit from nearness to UC Riverside, the university’s Center for Environmental Research and Technology), as well as other colleges in the area such as California Baptist University, La Sierra University and the Riverside Community College District.
The proposed research and development center is primed to create opportunities for the Ohmio to team with local universities, providing those schools “with an opening to excel at autonomous vehicle technology research, attract funding, and shape the future of this industry,” officials said. Expectations were also high for other benefits to local academic institutions from a Riverside-based Ohmio, including career paths for students, internship programs and chances for hands-on experience and enhanced professional development in the electric vehicle industry.
“This exciting proposal is an opportunity to capitalize on our strengths as the City of Arts and Innovation,” Mayor Patricia Lock Dawson said in a statement. “The world-renowned work being done at CARB is a beacon to companies operating in this arena and sets us up for continued success.”
Ohmio Executive Chairman Mohammed Hikmet said in a statement, “We are really thrilled about this potential partnership with the City of Riverside. Our company’s vision aligns seamlessly with the city’s forward-thinking direction. The prospect of collaborating closely with entities such as the University of California, Riverside, and others in the community heralds an exciting future for our shared commitment to innovation and advanced mobility solutions.”
Councilwoman Clarissa Cervantes voted against the Ohmio agreement, requesting from the company additional safety data and calling for more involvement from the Riverside Transit Agency.
She also pointed to pending state legislation that could prevent autonomous vehicles from legally operating.
“We’re going to invest in this, but then something may come back later from the state that ultimately rules out some of the things we’re looking to invest in,” Cervantes said.
“I do understand we are trying to find green and new technologies, and I’m always for public transit and creating those types of opportunities, but I think I would like to see too a larger transit plan of how this could be incorporated,” Cervantes continued. “Seeing those clear letters of support from RTA or having them here would be important for me as well to assure that we’re not conflicting with their riders and with their employees.”
Ohmio shuttles currently operate in New Zealand, Australia, South Korea, Luxembourg and New York, city officials said. The company has plans to expand into the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and Finland.
For Riverside, “Ohmio plans to establish an advanced manufacturing facility in the City … with the first locally produced vehicles available next year,” city officials said. “The company expects to create as many as 10 jobs initially and expand to as many as 30 jobs during the next three years, from engineers to technicians.
“Experts estimate that every job created in advanced manufacturing spurs the creation of 2.5 jobs in other sectors needed to support advanced manufacturing.”
Officials observed that the presence of Ohmio’s international headquarters is in line with the city’s goal to “further define itself as a hub for innovation and a leader in the sustainable, clean and green economy, drawing additional investment to Riverside.”
The positive end result of that is attracting new talent to the Inland Empire region and greater retention of local professionals tempted to seek work opportunities elsewhere, officials said.
“Autonomous vehicles show great promise in augmenting our existing transit systems by plugging the ‘last mile’ hole that sometimes exists between an existing transit option and a person’s final destination,” Mayor Pro Tem Erin Edwards said in a statement. “These vehicles can be the key to allowing us to experience our city by bus, bicycle or on foot.”